Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economics

Photo: radiowood/flickr

The marriage of social democracy and neoliberal market economics has created what Belgian political philosopher Chantal Mouffe calls "post-politics."

On the economic issues of how wealth is produced and distributed, the social democratic left in the U.K., France and Germany -- once elected -- have bought into the "globalization is good" agenda promoted by the conservative right.

This left-right consensus means that voters are not offered a choice at election time.

If both left and right agree on who gets what -- let the impartial world market decide -- then politics as social conflict between profit seekers and employees becomes irrelevant.

What Marine Le Pen and her Front National represent is a world divided between friends (the French people) and enemies (others).

The Front National appeals to strong emotions: attachment to country and its flag, anthem and patriotic symbols.

With France shaken by dramatic incidents of violence and assassination, Le Pen plays off the 21-century "war on terrorism" and its associated Islamophobia to stoke fear and distrust of recent immigrants and French Muslims.

While the results of last Sunday's first round of voting for the next president of the French Republic showed support for LePen at 21 per cent, the French Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon gathered only six per cent support.

The French Socialist party has split three ways. The neoliberal supporters of outgoing President Hollande quietly joined with globalist Emmanuel Macron who led the polls with 23 per cent, propped up by his one-year-old En Marche! movement, post-politics to the core, claiming to be neither left nor right.

Benoît Hamon and those who remained faithful to the program of the Socialist party could not overcome the five-year legacy of the outgoing Socialist president who had abandoned policies he defended to get elected, and failed to dent unemployment.

Those loyal to left ideals (as exhibited in Nuit Debout protests against labour market liberalization for instance) joined Jean-Luc Mélenchon under his campaign banner La France Insoumise (unbowed).

The Mélenchon campaign attracted seven million-plus voters. It fell two percentage points short of replacing Le Pen on the run-off ballot -- a frustrating result, with two per cent of voters submitting blank ballots and another two per cent voting for two marginal candidates of the left.

The legacy of the Mélenchon campaign is promising.

By refusing the post-political consensus, Mélenchon opened debates over how to defeat European Union-imposed austerity, end economic practices that contribute to ecological disaster, introduce a new constitution to replace the Fifth Republic monarchy, and break with NATO- and U.S.-led military interventionism.

France Insoumise operated successfully through innovative social media campaigns, borrowing ideas from Podemos in Spain, and Sanders in the U.S., and engaging youth voters.

The success of his campaign led to widespread attempts to demonize and discredit Mélanchon, and it had an impact on the election results; but his ability to defend himself in public debate also generated support for Mélenchon from disaffected voters coveted by Le Pen. 

Le Pen received less than five per cent of the vote in Paris. Her supporters number those with small capital: businesses and farmers worried about economic survival, and those disenchanted with Europe.

Emanuel Macron and En Marche! were financed and supported by the 40 French corporations that constitute the CAC stock exchange index.

In recent years, ownership of French media has become increasingly concentrated and liberty of expression reduced. The new media lords strongly supported Macron.

In June, France elects its parliament. The ability of Macron, the likely winner in the May 7 run-off against Le Pen, to put together a stable legislative majority is much in doubt.

En Marche! has been recruiting and interviewing candidates for the legislative elections.

Trying to break with the old parties, Macron has promised to name to cabinet only people who have never been ministers in earlier governments.

The (Gaullist) Republicans and Socialists who have dominated the National Assembly will not go down to defeat, just because Macron asks people to vote En Marche! 

The Front National has only two current members in the 577-member National Assembly. The two-round voting system has kept them from winning seats.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise will challenge Le Pen and post-politics as practiced by the Socialists, Gaullists, and incarnated by Macron and En Marche!

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: radiowood/flickr

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