I’d never bet cash on anything before the first round of the French presidential election this year. I threw down, in total, a hundred bucks on Jean Luc Mélenchon winning the whole affair. Had he only made it through to the second round I would have been able to pocket $313 in the deal.
7, 060, 885 votes later and the forecast for my pocketbook is the same as that for France: austerity and disappointment. The upshot of it all was that when the final round of the election was held everyone’s favorite fascist auntie, Marine Le Pen came in third in an election with two candidates. Emmanuel Macron failed to win 50% of the electorate.
48% of those who voted for Monsieur Macron told pollsters their motivation was only to block Le Pen. Despite deceitful characterizations in the English language press, Macron is no political magician, and the country was not swept away by the former finance minister’s verve and sophistication (and certainly not by his charisma); only 8% of his voters called his personality the reason they cast their ballot for him.
France is a country in which nothing seems to be over. It’s never over yet. <<Résistance>>, broken into three solemn and hopeful syllables can still credibly be chanted. Those in France who are the same age as myself have a clear eyed and inspiring assessment of their role in the country’s future: 61% say they would join a large scale uprising against the government.
The next parliamentary chance for such an uprising is in June’s legislative elections. The political movement Mélenchon ran under and has charged up, La France Insoumise, polls at 15% before the first round next month on the 11th. This is not enough for a parliamentary majority. Though the hope charging through those on the socialist left who have observed Mélenchon’s astounding electoral feat is that he will now become a combative prime minister to stop Macron in his tracks, at least at the moment this does not seem likely.
But the numbers and the support for a movement which is swiftly shifting into a political party, just as Macron’s En Marche! has fast put on the skin of orthodoxy to become La République en Marche!, is heartening. And rather than aping the parties that came before it as Macron’s faction does, FI retains a commitment to heterodoxy, if only in its spirit and architecture.
The French retain their revolutionary spirit. Despite the shortcomings and betrayals of the Mitterand government, it is still remarkable that a major Western country had communists in its government, despite the limits of their influence and early departure. And while that tenure was marked by an inauthentic commitment to the project ostensibly embarked upon and strongly supported (Mitterand won his first election in 1981 by a little more than a million votes), it is a testament to the French tolerance and desire for the direction socialism promises, if not its destination.
In Western Europe outside of Italy it would be difficult to find a recent headline like “French Workers Paid Not to Blow Up Factory.” In looking back at a similar incident which I had read about just the other day, I found in France a remarkably robust recent history of these type of actions. That title itself comes from an instance in 2009 at a manufacturing factory in Bordeaux. The outcome was laid off workers being paid €30,000 apiece in severance and in exchange for removing the gas cylinders from the industrial equipment in the factory. At the time the article was reported it was the third such instance that month. And this month there are rumblings of the same. At an auto-suppliers plant for GM&S Industry in La Souterraine 280 workers facing the loss of their jobs have rigged gas tanks around a large liquid oxygen container. On the container is written <<On va tout peter>>. The means “we will blow everything up,” and has a witty tinge to it in ‘peter,’ which also means ‘to fart.’
And in 2009 Nicolas Sarkozy’s government was marked by a rash of so called bossnappings, a French word if there ever was one. The name describes it well. Workers making demands for negotiations and concessions barricaded company officials in offices or factories until they got what they wanted. In one case they served their captive moules-frites. Predictably, Sarkozy condemned the tactic, and predictably its practitioners had the support of the French people.
At FI‘s legislative convention last Saturday, Mélenchon acknowledged these tactics, if not to the effective extreme France takes them to. Speaking on the importance of building a parliamentary majority, he noted that if the movement is not able to attain that aim the only tools that will remain will be those of the strike and that of the manifestation.
Macron has already started to put together a staid, technocratic government filled with aging mandarins, a far cry from the gushing he receives as a youthful renewing figure.
It might be unfair though to dispute Macron’s renewing power. Every day of the rest of month is packed with strikes scheduled all across the country, and his pick of the right wing ENAiac Edouard Phillipe (Alain Juppé’s spokesman during the Les Républicains primary campaign) will do him no favors in earning further the already healthy ire of the left (Mélenchon said Macron had “annexed” the right, and Pierre Laurent, head of the Parti Communiste Français, riffed on Macron’s anodyne slogan, calling the new government “neither left, nor left”).
France’s Parti socialiste long ago became a partner to a grudging and not unhappy capital. Phillipe tracks a similar political evolution as Macron; from a soi disant homme du gauche to the free marketeering type of manager he is now.
Monsieur Mélenchon’s presidential campaign defied this trajectory not just in terms of policy. He brought a political imagination to the proceedings, a passion entirely absent from Macron’s school of thought, and a sense of history that the president does not have or even want to have.
I do not see Mélenchon becoming France’s prime minister this June. But his movement has capitalized on the failure of Hollande’s government and broken the phony PS into a thousand pieces.
And all that’s left to do is scatter them to the wind.