Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon’s campaign is now at an impasse, because he couldn’t see that the neoliberal fox would refuse to accommodate to the socialist hen, while Mélenchon takes an opposing strategy, write Cédric Durand and Razmig Keucheyan. First published in Libération. Translated by David Broder.
Elections were for long time rather boring. Carried forth by a liberal wind, there was a seamless exchange of office between the self-assured Right and the lightweight Left — these wholehearted converts to market modernisation — in the eternal present of capitalism. Capitalism had been made master of a globalised space and a financialised time. Endemic unemployment, consumerist exultation and terrorist/criminal horror made up the three dramatic extremes of a little game buzzing along, spiced up only by the candidates’ antics or the scenes made by betrayed friends.
2017 is not that kind of vintage. Beneath the slow trickle of twists and turns of electoral competition, a political map is taking shape, with clear dividing lines. In France, history is back. Here as elsewhere, the social tectonics of the great economic crisis of 2008 are doing their work. The routine presidential stables are recomposing at great speed. They are realigning political forces around the three options nestled within the infra-world of our political modernity. These are three irreducible colossi, destined to confrontation.
For the first of the three, the watchword is free and undistorted competition, financial stability, the brotherhood of selfish calculation. It is already hegemonic in most of the sites of power, and it intends to remain so with the help of outrageously favourable media coverage and the frantic mobilisation of the latest electoral marketing technologies. Its sense is the self-evidentness of the dominant discourse; its force is its repetition; and its weakness is its failure.
Internationalised and financialised economic élites can only base their legitimacy on an economic prosperity that drops sufficient crumbs to take the edge off the harshness of a subaltern existence. Alas, with the stagnation that is now taking root, indecent inequalities are becoming more and more unbearable. Weariness takes root, rancour builds up, and little by little it starves the extreme centre — the political hero of our neoliberal times — of oxygen.
The second of the three is a monster that feeds on the despair and isolation caused by the first. This is the party of order and of small property, the party of resentment and loss of class status. This is the camp of the "losers" who dream of a stingy revenge on those weaker even than themselves. Nationalist, authoritarian, xenophobic, its popular anchoring becomes stronger with ever inch it is conceded when it offers the necessary arrangements to the powerful. Division, oppression and confinement are stitched into its grey mantle, abhorred by all friends of democracy.
The third is called the Left, the real Left. Audacious and strong from the battles it fights, its gaze is far-reaching and embraces both suffering in the immediate and the destiny of the human race. In recent decades restricted to pestering the electorate and falling back on social and environmental struggles, today it is again a candidate for power. From southern Europe to the Anglophone countries it is pushing back — internally, or from the outside — the old social-democratic apparatuses that had passed into enemy hands, as it again picks up the banner of emancipation.
Friend or enemy
Benoît Hamon’s victory in the Socialist primary and [former Socialist Prime Minister] Manuel Valls’s defection [calling for a vote for Emmanuel Macron] have accelerated this wide-scale political recomposition. Certainly, the former Prime Minister’s disloyalty is extremely discourteous. But fundamentally, Manuel Valls is right to place ideas before process: the Left cannot be reconciled with those who bear the responsibility for the calamitous last five years [François Hollande’s term], who think his sin was a lack of neoliberalism rather than its excess.
As Machiavelli wrote, it is always preferable openly to declare oneself a friend or enemy. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has taken the leadership over the Left because he was very early in operating this strategic reconfiguration. Conversely, Benoît’s campaign is at an impasse precisely because he was unable to see that the neoliberal fox would refuse to accommodate to the socialist hen.
No one can underestimate the importance, in these troubled times, of the arrival in power — in a major country like France — of a Left no longer revolving around neoliberalism. That is exactly what is at stake in the possibility of Benoît Hamon rallying to Jean Luc Mélenchon’s campaign. There are differences between their programmes, but they are not insurmountable.
In particular, on the European question, Mélenchon’s articulation of a Plan A and Plan B leaves a great degree of latitude to find the right balance between the attempt to refound Europe and the determination to carry out policies of social and ecological justice. The rapprochement between the two seems inevitable: the only question is whether it will take before or after the presidential election.
In the extreme centre, the alliance of Macron, François Bayrou, and Manuel Valls takes up its place in continuity with François Hollande’s term in office and the European orthodoxy; stronger than ever, the far Right is today in battle order. Carried by the ill wind blowing through our times, it has reason to believe it has a chance. In this critical moment, the Left only has one candidacy capable of bringing the future to us: the vote for Mélenchon. If this vote becomes a rallying point, then victory is within reach.