Thursday, February 01, 2007

France presidential elections: left in splinters, neocon in ascendancy.

Given the level of working class struggle over the last year in France, and given the successes against the CPE and the EU Constitutional Treaty, you would think that there would be an opportunity for a united altermondialist candidacy. The non-PS left in France could, after all, pull itself together for both the 'No' campaign on the EU Treaty referendum, carrying a substantial portion of the Socialist Party with it, and over the CPE. But it is divided several ways for this coming election. The candidates already included Olivier Besancenot for the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire (LCR), Arlette Laguiller for the Lutte Ouvriere (LO) and Marie-George Buffet for the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). Now José Bové has thrown his hat into the ring. It's worth mentioning that the PCF-linked newspaper, L'Humanite, is crawling to the Socialist Party, and one assumes that the PCF despite previous indications will enter into a coalition government with the PS. Since the Lutte Ouvriere is consistently sectarian, and increasingly a retirement home for former PCF supporters, there was probably no chance of engaging them in a unity coalition. As Stathis Kouvelakis writes, the main chance of a unity candidate was in a coalition between the LCR and PCF. However, since the PCF wished only to impose its candidate as the 'unity' leader (that old black magic known as ballot-stuffing), while keeping themselves open to collaboration with the PS, and since the LCR appear to have decided that to fight for a unity candidate would be a waste of time, the coalition fell apart. Ideally, the charismatic and popular Bove would have been the man to head such a coalition, since he is affiliated to neither of the main party blocs in it. As it stands, it certainly looks like Royal will take most of the left vote, particularly if there is a fear that the final race could come down to a choice between a karcherising Vulcan and a blustering fascist.

Of course, both of the main candidates are pitching a neoliberal agenda, and both, curiously, are Blairites in a fashion. Royal has long been an advocate of Third Way politics, who has expressed admiration for Tony Blair, while Sarkozy has recently cuddled up to Blair, describing how European "socialists" could be proud of what "one of ours has done" - he corrected himself: "one of theirs". He wants the flexible labour markets that Britain has, and has indicated that he would like to try to extend the CNE (Contrat nouvelles embauches) bill, a precursor to the CPE (Contrat première embauche) which was defeated by opposition last year. The CNE was an opening shot in the attempt to revise and strip down France's labour legislation. It allows small businesses (those with under twenty employees) to fire any young job seekers whom they hire at any point in their first two years of their employment, without giving a reason. MEDEF, the French version of the CBI, would like such legislation to be extended to all workers. Knowing the public mood, however, Sarkozy's UMP colleagues weren't too happy about his announcement, and it was publicly announced by the vice-president of the party that an extension of the CNE was not being considered. Royal was publicly opposed to the CPE, and this, alongside the sense that she would be different to the usual run of grey, male politicians, contributed to her success in the PS leadership run. However, she comes from the wing of the PS that ardently supported the EU Constitutional Treaty, and she is for reviving the Constitutional Treaty, hoping to sell it to her constituents by refashioning its promise as a more 'social Europe'. She is also, like Sarkozy, very right-wing on social issues.

It is obvious who is preferred by the neoconservatives, Atlanticists and Israel-lobby: Sarkozy, by a mile. For a start, CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish community in France is, according to Haaretz, trying to reorganise itself as an equivalent to AIPAC and has thrown its weight behind Sarkozy. He's been babbling about how close he feels to Israel. Andre Glucksmann has already pitched in for the Atlanticists, supporting Sarkozy as the next best thing to Bernard Kouchner. He has been accompanied by Pascal Bruckner, who co-signed a letter of support for the Iraq war with Glucksmann. Bruckner was apparently pissed off that Francois Hollande, the PS leader, said he didn't like rich people, and has described Sarkozy as "brilliant". Marc Weitzmann and Max Gallo, a couple of old PS supporters, have also thrown their support behind Sarkozy. Bernard Henri-Levy, who American newspapers inexplicably refer to as a philosopher (yeah, they think Harry Potter's a fucking philosopher), is deeply disappointed with Royal, but has not yet come out for Sarkozy. While critical of the Iraq war (he has to be), Sarkozy is positioning himself as the most pro-American candidate in the French elections. The PS have tried to capitalise on this by calling Sarkozy a neocon, which he more or less is. Sarkozy has countered this recently by offering mealy-mouthed criticisms of US foreign policy - the language is unmistakeably that of the Atlanticists who wish America would 'engage' with 'the world' more.

One interesting development is the pressure that both Royal and Sarkozy feel under to temper their authoritarian rhetoric with some verbal concessions to France's black population, following the revolt by migrant communities in Autumn 2005. Royal, typically vague in order to avoid her repeated pratfalls, says it is essential to integrate France's minorities. Elsewhere, of course, she advocated compulsory military service as the remedy. Sarkozy calls for a version of affirmative action for France. Yet, both are authoritarians, and both will probably end up pandering to that substantial section of French voters who still think it's too bad that France lost all her colonies, and who think that the way to deal with an insurgent Algerian is to force-feed him soapy liquid, stuff a towel in his mouth and leap up and down on his stomach. Royal has already opposed the regularisation of 'sans-papiers'. And Sarkozy - well, we know what he wants to do with the 'racaille'. Sarkozy has been strongly criticised by French football players for racialising the problem of crime. One of Royal's leading supporters in the PS had to be kicked out of the party recently for his racist comments about there being too many black players in the French football team.

The most recent polls indicate that although the two leading candidates have been neck and neck for some time, Sarkozy now has a ten-point lead over his PS rival, albeit this may now be in question if the scandal over his alleged use of his post as Interior Minister to spy on rivals turns into anything. That particular scandal may have legs. It was recently revealed that the same unit of the police alleged to have spied on Royal has been looking after Sarkozy's campaign headquarters and driving its candidates around. The same poll that puts Sarkozy ahead gives the centrist candidate and the fascist eleven points each, while the left-of-left candidates together muster about 10.5%. Of this, Bove so far only gains 1%, while Laguiller gets 2.5% and the PCF and LCR candidates tie at 3.5%. Most votes for Bayrou, the centrist candidate, would go to Sarkozy rather than Royal at the moment. So, if it comes down to Sarkozy v Royal, then Sarkozy could have the election bagged.

It is an utterly absurd situation. Both of the main candidates stand for unpopular policies, and the altermondialist left should have had an excellent chance in this election after all the opportunities supplied by recent victories. I don't mean that it could ever have won the Presidency, but it could have made a serious bid, enthused voters and forced Royal to tack left at the same time. There is still over two months before the first round of voting takes place on April 22nd, and the deadline for candidacy endorsements is still three weeks away, so things could yet change: but on whose initiative?