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The Uncertainty of the Presidential Elections and the “Organic Crisis” of French Capitalism

“It’s like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie”. This is how two editors from Le Monde began an article describing the series of unprecedented events and the high level of uncertainty in the French presidential elections.

Juan Chingo

February 20, 2017
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“It’s like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie, one of those B movie pastiches, where each character who seemed to be playing the leading role is taken out with the blast of a Magnum. One of the favorites is down… Boom! He’s on the floor now, eliminated by the voters who seem to have turned this presidential race into a playoff.” This is how two editors from Le Monde began an article describing the series of unprecedented events and the high level of uncertainty in the French presidential elections, just three months away from the first round. Their words express confusion about what is behind the political storm that has shaken French politics at the end of Hollande’s five-year term.

They go on to say: “Scandals, the elimination of ‘prominent’ candidates, the weakening or division of traditional parties, a tense international situation… The political scenario is unprecedented, just three months away from a crucial election. ‘The political situation has never been so unstable, worries François Bayrou (a right-wing politician, A/N), who will announce in February whether he will be in the running. Twenty years ago, the end of Bérégovoy’s was terrifying, but although the left had it rough, the Republican right was fine.”

This time, the Republicans (Les Républicains, LR) are under threat. On January 25, the weekly publication Le Canard enchaîné revealed that François Fillon had hired his wife for a job that he is having a hard time proving actually existed, and the owner of Revue des Deux Mondes paid 100,000 Euros for a job as an “editorial advisor” that seems to have been limited to two readers’ notes. For the first time, the right, which started out in a favorable position, is secretly pondering the unthinkable: a defeat in the presidential and legislative elections.

An Exacerbation of the Organic Crisis: An Ousting Trend among the Masses

According to Antonio Gramsci, an organic crisis is different from a conjunctural crisis or movement in that it is a “comprehensive crisis” (economic, political, and social) that lays bare the fundamental contradictions that the ruling classes cannot resolve by regular means. This sets the stage for a period of historical questioning – not of particular policies or specific leaders, but of the orientation of the entire ruling class – which is expressed in the conflict between political regimes and traditional bourgeois parties on the one hand and their bases on the other.

The most general reason for this phenomenon, which is seen in the main imperialist countries, is that the prolonged economic and social crisis, the application of tough austerity plans, has made it clear to millions around the world that the traditional parties – social-democrats and conservatives – and the bourgeois democratic regimes based on the rotation of these parties in power, govern at the service of capitalists. This was clearly expressed in the famous rallying cry of the Spanish indignados: “They do not represent us” and has led to a profound crisis of the “center consensus,” built around the neoliberal program in the past few decades.

In the case of France, this trend towards an organic crisis became evident earlier than in other European countries, as shown in the 2000s by the elimination of the Socialist Party in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections, the failure of the European referendum and the uprisings in the banlieues in 2005, and particularly the wave of class struggles that took place throughout 1995- 2010, which hindered the neoliberal offensive, although it was unable to defeat it. A decade later, this trend has taken shape in the unprecedented conditions of the end of Hollande’s term, in addition to aberrant terrorist phenomena and the strong Bonapartist and reactionary trends that have sparked reverse political reactions, such as the recent movement against the labor reform, which has been the most long- lasting social movement and first mass reaction from the left against the Socialist Party.

These situations are interregna in which, as Gramsci explained, the old is dying and the new struggles to be born, and in which aberrant phenomena emerge. One such phenomenon is the Front National (FN), which is merely the latest manifestation of the “French disease” with its long history. Today, Marine Le Pen does not have to say much to continue to draw the attention of people on the right who polemicize “against the system.” She is currently leading the polls.

But more recently, Emmanuel Macron (former Minister of Economy under Hollande) is successfully attempting to gain the support of elected officials and desperate members of the traditional parties. This former manager/partner of the Rothschild banking organization, who just published a book called “Révolution,” represents a kind of Extreme Center populism, an aberration, a Beppe Grillo dressed up in Armani, as portrayed by the right, which is worried that this “Mr. Nobody” will gain enough support to steal its neoliberal program).

Their hope is that the victory of Benoît Hamon (candidate of the left wing of the Socialist Party in the primaries, he was a minister of education under the current administration, who ran against the openly social-chauvenist former Prime Minister, Manuel Valls) will end up dividing the reformist wing of the Socialist Party, which does not support the candidate and accuses him of helping to sabotage the party’s five-year term. That makes two active forces driven by their rejection of the traditional parties.

The volatility of the political scenario, and especially the rage that has begun to be expressed by sectors of the masses foreshadow an increasingly ungovernable scenario, in which an ousting trend is beginning to develop from the grassroots. “Few times in my life have I seen as much exasperation as I see now,” wrote the candidate of La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on Sunday night on his Facebook page. And I suppose the society’s “trend towards dégagisme” is going to increase. “Dégagisme” is a term he coined during the 2017 campaign, “a reference to the slogan for democracy in Tunisia against Ben Ali’s government,” said Mélenchon, presumably to avoid a comparison with Pierre Poujade’s brand of politics [1].

Based on these elements, a hypothesis can be ventured: If the next president does not truly take into account this exasperation and errs in the assessment of the balance of power on applying and explaining their reactionary plans, will this not clear the way towards historical independent mass actions. As Henri Guaino, a LR deputy from Yvelines, a candidate in the 2017 presidential elections and former special advisor to Nicolas Sarkozy, warned Fillon (and his program of tough austerity policies): “Laval’s deflation cleared the way for a victory of the Popular Front in the spring of 1936,” in reference to the Draconian austerity measures taken by France in the face of the 1930 crisis, which sparked a proletarian revolution in France one year later, and which was co-opted by Leon Blum’s Popular Front, with historical gains like paid vacations.

“Nothing Is Stable” or the Difficulties Faced by the Regime’s Parties in Building a New Historical Block

Behind this “slide election” [2] is the fragmentation of the electorate and clear difficulties in building new majorities. This in turn reveals the prevailing social polarization, as described earlier on, since Sarkozy’s elimination in the right-wing and center primaries. “Since 1965, when I was 14 years old, I have never experienced a presidential election like this one,” says Jean-Christophe Cambadelis: “There are no more central ideas or rules.”

The first secretary of the Socialist Party aptly described this absurd election: ‘the unfindable presidential election,’ a reference to the term “unfindable people” used by historian Pierre Rosanvallon in 1998 to describe the growing disaffection of voters with the main political parties. In the afternoon of Thursday, January 2, on the sidelines of a meeting in Alfortville (Val-de-Marne), another Manuel Valls supporter, the Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, Jean-Marie Le Guen, lamented: “Nothing is stable. It’s a huge mess.” “Each presidential election creates unforeseeable circumstances that could create an abyss,” says, similary, someone close to former President François Mitterrand. However, the primaries are decidedly machines that create that disorder…” Some are even secretly speaking of a “regime crisis.”

The reality is that there are too many structural weaknesses in all political camps, including Marine Le Pen’s [3], in spite of the strong support they garnered in the first round and favorable international tailwinds. Not only do the results of the presidential election remain to be seen, but furthermore the circumstances reveal that whoever the next president is, they will find it very difficult to govern, and the difficulties will probably make those of Hollande’s weak five-year term pale in comparison.

New Ways of Thinking: The Challenge for Revolutionaries

Along with this “crisis of the regime,” or exacerbation of the organic crisis, and the incipient disaffection of broad sectors with the traditional parties, another key phenomenon is emerging, which is essential for considering the prospects of anticapitalists and revolutionaries: After years of “business as usual,” broad sectors of the masses, particularly the youth, are changing their way of thinking and actively seeking out political alternatives to the neoliberal consensus. This consensus was clearly expressed by Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement that there was no alternative to neoliberalism. In the latest movement against labor reform, this was expressed in the development of broad vanguard anticapitalism.

What these presidential elections illustrate is that the current social polarization and radical phenomena have not yet found a clear political expression on the left in the form of a new, sufficiently powerful independent and revolutionary workers’ alternative. This vacuum is now being capitalized by the old, recycled Social Democrat Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who wants to appear as the most innovative politician, given that he has a popular weekly YouTube show, when in truth there is nothing new about his neo-Mitterandism with a dash of Green flavor.

The other figure who is able to benefit from this situation is the winning candidate in the recent Socialist Party primaries, Benoît Hamon, who has been advocating the “fake good idea” of a universal income. This is one more reason, and maybe the most important reason of all, to support the anti-capitalist candidacy of Philippe Poutou of the NPA, and to leave behind the strategic defeatism of the extreme left, born out of the bourgeois triumphalism and its “end of history” after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which with Brexit, the election of Trump and the combined crisis of neoliberalism and the post-war world order is now facing its historical refutation.
*Most of the quotes in the article are from the news publication Le Monde, from 1/31/2017, “De Fillon à Hamon, récit d’une campagne présidentielle chamboule-tout”, by Raphaëlle Bacqué and Ariane Chemin

[1] According to Wikipedia , Poujadism, a term stemming from the name Pierre Poujade, was a French political and union movement that emerged in 1953 in the district of Lot (France), and disappeared in 1958. The movement claimed to defend small businessmen and artisans from the threat posed by the emergence of large commercial areas after the war, and also criticized the inefficacy of the parliamentarism of the Fourth Republic. The terms poujadism or Poujade movement was thus used to refer to the activities of the Union de défense des commerçants et artisans (the union led by Pierre Poujade) and the Union et fraternité française (the association used by Poujade and his supporters to participate in politics). The term poujadism gradually acquired a negative connotation, in reference to a corporatist political movement with reactionary tendencies, supported by the middle classes, also defined as petit bourgeoisie conservatism.
[2] As defined by the Socialist senator from Val-de-Marne, Luc Carvounas, a supporter of Manuel Valls in this election, in which a sitting president has declined to run for a reelection. A former president was defeated, as well as several Prime Ministers, and the favorite candidates in the left and right primaries later have fallen out of the running, like Fillon, first due to opposition to his politics against social security and now because of Penelopegate.
[3] Based on the opinion polls and the FN’s electoral results in the midterm elections, it has strong chances in the presidential elections. But the second round of the regional elections have confirmed that it is unlikely that it will win the second round of the presidential elections in 2017. So in spite of the high degree of electoral volatility, all the surveys continue to confirm Marine Le Pen’s defeat against the candidate for LR or even against Macron. The reality is that as time passes, it becomes increasingly evident that the FN is similar in its practices to the parties it denounces. The scandal involving Francois Fillon, has obscured the scandal threatening the president of the FN. The European Parliament is demanding 340,000 Euros from the National Front for having employed two people with European funds who obviously did not work at the institution as parliament assistants.

Translated by Marisela Trevin

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Juan Chingo

Juan is an editor of our French sister site Révolution Permanente.



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