|Emmanuel Macron/Wikimedia Commons|
So it might come as a surprise to some when I express the absolute glee with which I greet the near demise of the French Socialist Party in both the presidential and legislative elections this spring. To put it simply, the Socialist Party must die so that socialism in France may one day live.
I have made my principal home in Paris for 29 years now, although I am now organizing a move back to the United States later this year (more in a future post about why I would, at this critical juncture, abandon a country which has rejected reactionary, racist and xenophobic politics for a nation in which a large segment of the population has embraced them.) So I know something about France and French society. I have lived under two Socialist presidents, François Mitterand and François Hollande (the other two presidents were rightists, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy; Emmanuel Macron was a member and minister in the Socialist Party, but no longer.) Did French society become more egalitarian and more just under Socialist Party presidencies? No. The reasons are both complex and simple at the same time. I will stick with the simple reasons for now.
The Socialist Party has never tried to transform France from a capitalist to a socialist society. Instead, like most social democratic parties worldwide, its main role has been to try to make capitalism more palatable to those who suffer from its injustices, without changing the basic relationship between the wealthy--who control the economy with a vice-like grip--and the rest of the populace. This sleight of hand, which should be obvious to us all, has been perfected in France as in few other places.
No wonder that France has gone back and forth between left and right governments, just as the United States has done. The Socialists (or Democrats) get voted into office on the basis of their promises, which are quickly broken, and the rightists or conservatives take their place promising to make things better, etc and ad infinitum and ad absurdum. This should be obvious, and is to many, but gullibility, stupidity, apathy, and ignorance--qualities encouraged by those who have control over our societies, both explicitly and implicitly--insure that nothing changes.
So now to our new French president, Emmanuel Macron. To me it is remarkable that he has done so well, because in many ways his politics reflect the Socialist Party out of which he came, but with a twist: He wants to make it easier for French capitalists to hire and fire workers, and is well known here for advocating this. This orientation is the main thing that distinguishes him from the Socialists, who have sometimes tried to enact similar policies but always immediately caved to their base, workers and professionals. I sympathize with the hostility to policies that would erode France's important job security guarantees, in large part because employers don't really want to make it easier to hire workers--they only want to make it easier to fire them. We see a parallel in those employers and politicians in the USA who vehemently oppose raising the minimum wage or even oppose having one at all. Jobs, jobs, jobs, they claim to care about, when all they really care about is their profits (and the data shows that raising the minimum wage increases job numbers in most situations, you can Google those studies or I will discuss them in a future post.)
You can tell that I am still a socialist from what I have written above.
But here's the rub: French unemployment is so chronically high, and the French economy and French society in general are so resistant to change of any kind, that with some exceptions the nation can be characterized by a state of stagnation and a serious lack of dynamism. This is why so many bright young professionals get out if they can. But unless we find a way forward to socialism, the only choice we have is to try to make capitalism work better. And, I hate to say this, but that is probably France's future in the near term.
This is why Macron is so popular right now: In effect he promises to make France's capitalist system work better, while safeguarding social protections such as universal health care, maternal leave, unemployment and disability coverage, etc. The irony of the current situation here, and any comparisons with the USA, is that even the most right-wing parties in France--including Le Pen's National Front--are TO THE LEFT OF THE US DEMOCRATIC PARTY WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL PROTECTIONS. I REPEAT: TO THE LEFT OF THE DEMOCRATS. No serious politician in France would suggest repealing them.
I put that last bit in caps because Americans really need to understand how totally retrograde US society is even under the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. What happened when Bernie Sanders and others argued for universal health care? What was the reaction of Hillary and Barack when progressives advocated for this? You know as well as I do.
Well, it may seem I am off on a tangent now; actually I am not. But I think you get the point. More on these subjects soon. Meanwhile, I wish Macron and his enthusiastic supporters well as they go through this necessary transition, which promises to be a long one.