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What is the French left to do?


The next presidential election set to rock the geopolitical status quo will take place in France next spring. Currently, the two leading contenders are a pro-globalization hardline Catholic—François Fillon—and a protectionist white supremacist—Marine Le Pen. The French left, undermined by François Hollande’s abysmal performance as president, is in disarray and fighting an uphill battle. Given this situation, Sylvie Mikowski, a professor of English literature at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France, examines the strategic electoral options for leftist French voters in the upcoming primaries and general election. Check out an excerpt of her article below, or read the whole text at the website of the journal Social Text.

The left in France has abandoned these voters, the most negligent faction being the Parti Socialiste. Its think tank, Terra Nova, once explicitly advised party leaders to stop trying to attract the working class and to pull all the party’s efforts towards the educated, urban, liberal upper-middle-class, those who for a decade have been called the “bobos”—for “bourgeois-bohemians.”

François Hollande was elected in 2012 on promises to curb unemployment, to fight social injustice, and to oppose what he declared to be his main enemy: the world of finance. He reneged a few months after assuming power. Pleading for the end of austerity in the EU, he promoted an €40 million pro-business program. What’s more, after nearly three hundred people died in the terrorist attacks that occurred between January 2015 and July 2016, Hollande deeply divided his own supporters by proposing to deprive terrorists of their citizenship, even those who were French nationals.

Hollande’s popularity declined to a historical low point, and on 1 December the President announced he would not run for re-election. This was a first in the history of the Fifth Republic. Since then, his Prime Minister Manuel Valls has stepped down from office to run in the primaries organized by the PS (Parti Socialiste). The Barcelona-born Valls, described as authoritarian and rigid on matters of public secularism (France’s famous “laïcité”) still has to contend with other former members of Hollande’s government.

And in the meantime, two outsiders have adamantly refused to take part in the primaries of the left-wing parties: Jean-Luc Mélanchon, the leader of the Front de Gauche, now re-baptized La France Insoumise (France Undefeated). Once beaten by Marine Le Pen in a local election, he is often accused of resorting to populist rhetoric. The other outsider, Emmanuel Macron, is a thirty-seven-year-old former Rothschild banker. Hollande appointed him Minister of the Economy but, Brutus-like, he is now running against his own side.

Image of Marine Le Pen via Politico.