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June 04, 2005

A SUICIDAL PURGE BY FRANCE'S SOCIALISTS

Francois_hollande_ii France's Socialist Party -- under the heavy lash of its presidentially ambitious but colorless leader, Francois Hollande (photo left) -- today purged the party leadership of those who supported the victorious campaign for the No against adoption of the proposed European Constitution last Sunday.  But this purge is a suicidal move -- Hollande has forgotten the most elementary rule of politics: that winning elections is a matter of addition, not subtraction.

Evicted from his post as the party's Number Two is a Hollande rival for the party's 2007 presidential nomination: Laurent Fabius (photo right -- the former Socialist Prime Minister under FrancoisLaurent_fabius_ii_1 Mitterrand in the early '80s, and president of the Socialist-controlled National Assembly, or parliament, in the '90s.) I have little love for Fabius -- an aging yuppie dandy and a leader of the party's right wing, best remembered for executing the party's abandonment of socialist economic policies for a program of austerity, privatization, and deregulation when he was p.m. in the early '80s. (I also cannot forget Fabius' murderous role as prime minister in the HIV-contaminated blood scandal, which killed thousands -- I wrote about the rigged trial that let him walk away from punishment for his crimes for POZ Magazine.) But Hollande's house-cleaning of No supporters is, in my view, a form of electoral hara-kiri. At the same time, the Hollande-initiated purge targeted a gaggle of No supporters belonging to the party's left wing, as well as supporters of Fabius, also fired from various national party offices and secretariats. This means, in effect, that the French Socialist Party risks finding itself in the same disastrous position that defeated it during the earth-shaking presidential election of April 2002. Here's why:

In the first round of that election three years ago, the Socialist Party'sLionel_jospin_1  then-presidential candidate, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (photo right), saw himself defeated for a place in the run-off by neo-fascist National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. How did that happen? Because too many disillusioned Socialist voters, disenchanted by the centrist drift and neo-conservative economic policies of the Socialist-led coalition government in the face of rising unemployment and capital flight, defected and cast a protest vote for the candidates of two much smaller Trotskyist parties -- in large enough numbers to cause the defeat of Jospin. (See my article in The Nation on the reasons for the French left's 2002 electoral disaster, "The Center Folds."

Now, today's purge -- headline news throughout France -- sends a Ps_logo_1 highly negative symbol to the left electorate. Why? Because, in last Sunday's EuroConstitution referendum, a whopping 69% of all left voters of all stripes voted No. And, by so visibly punishing the party's No advocates, Hollande and his allies not only appear to be turning a deaf ear to the disavowal of their Yes position by 54% of the specifically Socialist electorate, and by the broader "peuple de gauche" (or "the people of the left," as the wide swath of multi-tendency left voters -- the overwhelming majority of whom are not formal, dues-paying members of any party -- are referred to.) Hollande and Company also appear to be actively and vengefully dismissing the left electorate's astonishing revolt last Sunday as meaningless or irrelevant.

Executed with the connivance of another presidentially ambitious SP figure, Dominque Strauss-Kahn (photo right -- an economist and Dsk_4 corporate lobbyist, Strauss-Kahn was Minister of the Economy and Number Two in the Jospin government, and is now a leader of the Socialists' right wing -- Hollande's purge doesn't stop with the party leadership. As the daily Liberation reported yesterday under Attac_1 the headline, "No Quarter for the 'Treason' of ATTAC,' Hollande's revenge will extend to include ATTAC, the grassroots anti-globalization (or, as the froggies say, "alter-mondialiste") organization which -- together with other groups of what's called the non-party "associative left" -- played a key role in convincing the broad left electorate to vote No in the course of the campaign leading to last Sunday's referendum. ATTAC's 30,000 members organized, throughout France, house parties of 20, 30, and 40 people -- particularly in the working-class and low-income quartiers, suburbs, and housing projects -- to study and debate the EuroConstitution and its defects, a tactic which helped convince many wavering left voters (especially those hesitating because a No vote would put them on the same side of the question as Le Pen and the aristocratic, ultra-right nationalist leader, Viscount Philippe De Villiers, who also rejected the Constitution.)

(At left, a referendum campaign poster for the Hollande_and_sarkozy_1No from ATTAC, reproducing the cover of the magazine Paris-Match -- for which the Socialist chief Hollande and the hard conservative Nicolas Sarkozy posed together to urge a Yes vote). Hollande is now calling ATTAC a "serpent" that is behaving as a virtual political party. One of Hollande's liege-men -- Kader Adif, head of the Socialist's globalization department -- told Liberation that "a third of ATTAC's members are Socialist Party members. They can't belong to two parties at once." But ATTAC's founder and honorary president, Bernard Cassen -- the director-general of Le Monde Diplomatique -- denounced Adif's estimation of the ATTAC-Socialist overlap as a "grotesque" exaggeration. The Socialist leadership's threat to ATTAC is overwhelmingly economic. ATTAC has benefited extensively from subsidies accorded by Socialist-controlled regional and municipal governments. For example, Liberation noted that, for three years running, the large "summer university" run by ATTAC as an educational conference for its members, received 30,000 Euros a year from the Socialist-controlled government in the Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur region, which includes Marseilles).

This year, ATTAC was expecting a 22,000 Euro subsidy for its summer university, this time to be held in Poitiers, from the regional council in Poitu-Charentes. But the president of that regional government is none other than Socialist party chief Hollande's long-time companion and the mother of his children, Segolene Royale. Segolene_royale   So, given the Hollande household's unity behind the revenge strategy, it's more than unlikely that ATTAC will get that money this year. Other parts of the "associative left" that receive subsidies from governing Socialist-led left coalitions in cities and regions may well also suffer ATTAC's fate.Attac_poster (At left, an ATTAC referendum campaign poster). Taken together, the purge of the Socialists' No supporters and Hollande's aggressive attempt to weaken and destroy ATTAC will be perceived as a slap in the face by many in that majority of the Socialist electorate who voted No on the Constitution. This is particularly true of younger leftists and anti-globalization activists, whose energy and enthusiasm will be badly needed if the Socialists' 2007 presidential candidate is to defeat the expected candidate of the right, the popular and demagogic hardliner Nicolas Sarkozy (recently profiled on DIRELAND). The emergence of a newly-reinforced "left of the left" coalition for the 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections threatens to take even more votes away from the Socialists two years from now than the two Trotskyite presidential candidates did in 2002. The reason is that, spurred on by the huge No victory among the left electorate, negotiations are already well under way with thePcf_1 French Communist Party (formerly part of the Socialists' "governing left" coalition that included the Greens in 2002) and with other non-party activist organizations. The decimated Communists (once France's largest party, now only some 3.5 % of the electorate) are expected to join in a coalition with their former enemies -- the largest Trotskyist formation, Alain Krivine's LCR (Revolutionary Olivier_besancenot_3 Communist League), and its popular and charismatic 2002 presidential candidate, the young postman Olivier Besancenot (photo right) , now the LCR's media spokesman and a frequent and effective guest on the TV talk show circuit -- in an electoral alternative to the "social-liberalism" of the ideologically bankrupt Socialists ("liberalism" in the French language means unrestricted free-market economics). The CP and the LCR took a major first step toward a future alliance by coordinating their campaigns for the No in the referendum -- a harbinger of things to come. In a close election, the CP's defection from the Socialist-led coalition could spell the difference between victory and defeat. Especially since, according to France2 TV, the CP picked up 3000 new dues-paying members from its efforts for the No, a not insignificant amount for France -- the first good news the party has had in years (and CP members are required to be street campaigners, not armchair activists.)

Last Sunday morning, before the referendum voting Jack_lang_ii began, another of the Socialist presidential candidates, Jack Lang (photo left -- the oleaginous former Minister of Culture under Mitterrand, and the most popular Socialist politician in the public opinion polls, thanks to his incessant TV appearances) ran into ATTACBernard_cassen founder Cassen in a television studio. "You're killing Europe!" cried Lang. "Calm down," replied Cassen (photo right), "you may have need of us one day." That same advice could equally apply to Hollande and his presidential designs. Regardless of which of the Socialist Party's "elephants" (as the old guard leadership of Hollande, Strauss-Kahn, and Lang are referred to) emerges as the party's '07 presidential candidate, without the quasi-unanimous support of last Sunday's left-wing No voters, that candidate will be doomed to defeat. (By the way, Dr_jack_and_mr_lang_1 for more on Lang, I recommend the irreverent and revealing investigative bio by Nicolas Charbonneau and Laurent Guimier, published last year by Editions le Cherche-Midi, nicely entitled "Dr. Jack et Mr. Lang" It recounts, among other things, Lang's very serious flirtations with the right after the Socialists were kicked out of power, and he was looking for any way back to a Minister's armchair -- and this is the same Lang who is now helping purge the No supporters for "breaking party discipline" ?)

Moreover, the coming emergency Socialist Party Congress, which Hollande has scheduled for November, appears likely to break out into open civil war. Hollande had to twist arms today to get the party's national council to endorse his purge, which it did by Vincent_peillon_1 a rather close vote of 167 to 122, with 18 abstentions -- and loud catcalls and disapproving whistles from some members of the party's decision-making body greeted Hollande's announcement of the purge. An angry Vincent Peillon (photo left) -- cofounder, with the deputy Arnaud Montebourg, of the moderate-left, proceduralist, and anti-globalization Nouveau Parti Socialiste tendency in the party -- is quoted in Le Monde's account today of the purge as demanding that, "The presidential ambitions of Francois Hollande, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Laurent Fabius should be put in the freezer." The leader of the Socialists' left wing, Henri Emmanuelli -- a former party chief -- reacted to the purge by saying that, "In response to the lamentable spectacle being offered by the right, the Socialists are offering the lamentable spectacle of a score-settling gunfight at the OK Corral."Typewritersquad_1 And Senator Jean-Luc Melanchon, co-leader with Emmanuelli of the left-wing Nouveau Monde tendency in the party, said on France 2 TV after the purge: "The Party has put Fabius in front of a firing squad, crucified Melanchon, and crushed Emmanuelli. That's their response to the way the French voted."

By getting rid of Fabius and the No supporters, Hollande may have  temporarily weakened a presidential rival -- but he has undoubtedly shot himself, and his party, in the foot.

UPDATE: Sunday, June 5, 6:45 PM EST: France2 TV has just reported a new poll to appear in tomorrow's Liberation: 74% of Socialist voters disapprove of the purge of Fabius and the other No supporters.

P.S. One innovative aspect of the No campaign in the referendum was the newly significant role played by bloggers. The BBC thought this so important it devoted a story to the No bloggers earlier this week, who were light years ahead of the Yes campaign both in time and in creativity, and were an integrated part of the coordinated No campaign by the "left of the left." A coordinated blogging effort will, in future, help this nascent alternative-left electoral coalition convince and mobilize, despite a lack of money compared to the treasury-rich Socialists (as well as offering a way to reach the Socialist rank-and-file directly, over the heads of Hollande and the elephants.)

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