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Memo to French Left: Don't Swallow a Thing

After some clashes with police following the victory of right-wing nut Nicholas Sarkozy, François Hollande, the Secretary of the (losing) Socialist Party told supporters to "swallow your anger, your frustration, [and] your fear to channel that energy into another vote [and] into a movement that must conduct itself within the confines of the republic and democracy..." In other words: Don't get angry, don't do anything radical; just vote for us next time. This should sound very familiar to people in the US. With wimpy rhetoric like this, why does anyone wonder why the Socialists got beaten again?

I say, "N'avalez rien." We are counting on you, France, to continue to be a main point of resistance to neo-liberalism and the cuts in social services and labor rights that everyone else has "swallowed." That will require taking to the streets and standing up to Sarkozy. It will also require taking more radical action besides electoral politics. But I don't need to lecture the French about this, they're better about it than we are.

I personally, am not too panicked about Sarkozy's victory. To be sure, it's a victory for the Right internationally, but either way, France was going to have a fight on its hands. There has been heavy pressure for the country to fall in line with the neo-liberal agenda, and the talk from some Socialist Party leaders after their defeat about how the left needs to "modernize" sounds a lot like the rhetoric of the "New Democrats" and "New Labour." Ségolène Royal seems to have been playing to the right anyway and may have actually been able to get away with more attacks on the social welfare state precisely because she was a nominal "socialist." Perhaps Sarkozy's ham-handed, belligerent tactics will provoke a reaction from the French population. As Jean Bricmont and Diane Johnstone put it:

But the Sarkozy conversion, if it happens, will be only a surface event on a highly unstable and volatile social reality. The rebellious nature of the population makes it unlikely that any president will be able to impose his will, short of establishing a real dictatorship.
What's more important than the election is what the French people do in social movements that take to the streets. Movements resisting the EU Constitution and a law that would have allowed businesses to fire people under 26 with no cause during a two-year trial period were largely successful. Let's hope the trend continues.


Anonymous said...

excellent points!

Mark D. Snyder said...

I love this post. I was sad to see Royal lose, but all along I was criticizing her for the same reasons you bring up when Wing (who is studying in France this semester) and I were talking about the campaign. I love when you can articulate my jumbled up feelings into meaningful words...

I have to also mention that one of Wing's teachers is an immigrant and she teared up when talking about the prospects of a Sarko win.

I think that even though a lot of times in a general sense there is not a lot of difference between say a big capitalist republican and a big capitalist democrat (In the US) the "small" differences make a big impact on individuals' lives. It may mean thousands more people get healthcare, it may mean a workplace non-discrimination law doesn't get passed, or the likes...