August 24, 2005


France's Socialist Party, as it approaches a full Party Congress in November, is more divided than ever -- and now leaders of the party's right wing are threatening a split and the formation of a new party if the opposition to the current leadership wins a majority at that Congress.

In an interview in the latest issue of the Nouvel Observateur -- left-of-center and Michel_rocard France's largest newsweekly -- Michel Rocard (left, Socialist Prime Minister from 1988-1991) declared that, if the opposition to current party leader Francois Hollande -- led by left-wing Senator Jean-Luc Melanchon and Laurent Fabius, who was Socialist Prime Minister from 1984-86 -- prevailed at the Party Congress this coming November, it would be an "earthquake" and time "to consider the creation of a new party." In his interview, Rocard delivered a vitriolic attack on the party's left wing, which he labeled captive of a "Marxist fetish" and incapable of fully embracing the market economy.

Now one of the most visible socialists -- Bernard Kouchner (right), former Socialist Bernard_kouchner Health Minister, founder of Doctors Without Borders (from which he later split), UN representative in Kosovo from 1999-2001, and now identified too with the Socialist Party's right wing -- has echoed Rocard's threat of a party split. Today, in an interview with the conservative daily Le Figaro, Kouchner declared, "I approve the idea launched by Michel Rocard to confront the pseudo-Marxists and their ragged utopias....Should we risk a split in the in the Socialist Party? Yes!" The accusations of excessive "Marxism" by the party's left wing on the part of Rocard and Kushner are, of course, absurd -- the party's left is more Keynesian than anything and there's not much of Marx left anywhere in the Socialist party; and this rhetorical device by Kouchner and Rocard (themselves both former left-wingers in their youth) is simply designed to undercut the left with the party electorate.

Francois_hollande_ii_2There has been a growing chorus of demands to replace the party's lackluster current leader, Francois Hollande (left) ever since the May 29 French referendum, in which the proposed new European Constitution -- supported by Hollande and the party's right-wing leadership -- was defeated, with three-quarters of the left's electorate voting "No" on the Constitution. Hollande's response was to consolidate his control over the party apparatus by expelling Laurent Fabius (then the party's Number Two leader) and other leaders of the sizable "No" faction in the party from the Socialists' executive committee, which only added to Hollande's unpopularity with left voters (for background and a guide to the principal players in the Socialist Party drama, see my previous post from June 4, "A Suicidal Purge by France's Socialists.")

The current threats of a party split by Hollande allies like Rocard and Kouchner amount to a form of political blackmail, designed simultaneously to frustrate the presidential ambitions of Laurent Fabius to become the Socialist's candidate in the 2007 presidential elections, to reinforce Hollande's ambitions for that nomination, and to frighten the Party Congress into both rejecting the programmatic resolutions being put forward by the party's left wing in November and re-electing Hollande as party leader.

Jockeying for the Socialists' presidential nomination plays a large role in all of this maneuvering. Kouchner, for example, recently formed an advisory committee to prepare position papers and public relations initiatives for a possible presidential Laurent_fabius_ii_1_1 candidacy himself. Fabius (right), an aging yuppie dandy (now 53) who was the most visible leader of the "No" camp on the referendum on the European Constitution, has found himself in an unnatural alliance with the party's left -- when he was Prime Minister, it was Fabius who carried out then-President Francois Mitterrand's abandonment  of socialist economics to embrace a vast austerity program that included privatization of most state-owned banks and businesses, and the sale to private interests of television and radio franchises. Fabius' alliance with the party left is part of the political face-lift he's engaged in, without which his chances of securing the presidential nomination were slim (his faction of the Socialists counts for only some 20% of the party's membership). His current rhetorical shift to the left, therefore, is widely considered as crass opportunism that contradicts his life-long political identification with the party's right Dominique_strausskahn wing. But, with Hollande's presidential star currently fading, the contest for the Socialists' presidential nomination in 2007 increasingly looks like a three-way contest between Dominique Strauss-Kahn (left), a party right-winger and Hollande ally, former Minister of the Economy under Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and a corporate lawyer-consultant; Jack_lang_best Fabius; and Jack Lang (right), another Hollande ally, the former Culture Minister for a decade under Francois Mitterrand who is the most popular Socialist politician with the voters in all the public opinion polls, thanks to his endless TV appearances on the talk-show circuit and his (entirely ghost-written) books, nearly one a year. (Lang, however, has little in the way of an organized base in the party apparatus and among the dues-paying party membership whose votes will select their candidate in 2007.) [Update: In an interview in the issue of Le Monde dated August 25, Lang formalized his break with his former ally Laurent Fabius, putting his finger on Fabius's weak point by declaring: "I can't accept a see-saw socialism that says, 'everone to the left' when in the opposition but which is conservative when in government." Lang also criticized the Rocard-Kouchner attacks on the party's left as "Marxist," saying, "Let's not dress up personal competitions in ideological clothing." This interview was a clever way for Lang to cut a path between the two opposing camps and appeal to the broader left electorate uneasy with both of them.]

The swing votes in the upcoming Party Congress belong to the moderate reformist Nouveau Parti Socialiste faction, which got 16% of the vote at the past Congress in 2003. Led by Socialist deputy (i.e., member of parliament) Arnaud Montebourg -- an Arnaud_montebourg_4 outspoken critic of political corruption in the financing of all political parties who argues for a new French Constitution and the creation of a VIth Republic -- and Eurodeputy Vincent Peillon, a former official Party spokesman, the NPS faction has been courted by all theVincent_peillon_2  presidential candidates. Both Montebourg (left) and Peillon (right) are extremely ambitious personally, both see themselves as possible successors to Hollande as party leader, and are in something of a rivalry for undisputed leadership of the NPS faction, which meets this week to decide its orientation before the Party Congress.

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Posted by: laptop battery | Oct 12, 2008 10:42:57 PM

Answers to Paul, Zombie, and Yves --
Paul, there is unfortunately no single party-political figure on the French left who is both charismatic enough and uncompromised enough to emerge as THE leader around whom a new political formation could be crystallized. Fabius is an opportunist whose leftism-of-circumstance is entirely the product of his strategy to win the Socialists' pre3sidential nomination. The two principle leaders of the Socialist Party's left are Senator Jean-Luc Melanchon and Deputy Henri Emmanuelli. Melanchon hs chosen to totally align himself behind Fabius' presidential candidacy. Emmanuelli, a former president of the Assemblee Nationale (parliament) was party leader (First Secretary) for a year, 1994-95, then ran for the Socialists' '95 presidential nomination but was beaten handily by Lionel Jospin. Emmanuelli, however, drags behind him some heavy baggage: he was twice indicted and convicted in two affairs of corruption during the 1990s scandals relating
to the financing of political parties, which touched all major parties of left and right (except the Greens). Emmanuelli was condemned to a suspended sentence of 18 months in prison in one corruption affair and suspension of his civic rights (meaning, his eligigility to run for office) in another (l'affaire Urba). While he subsequently regained his seat in parliament after his ineligiblity was lifted, this record -- and the fact that he's already been beaten once badly in a national election -- don't make him a terribl8y attractive figure around whom to organize a party.
As to Jack Lang, it's not correct to say that Lang is "openly" gay. It's hardly a secret in the Parisian political-media microcosm that Lang is gay -- everyone knows his marriage to Monique is one of convenience -- and in the gay commmunity it is a matter of some acid humor that Lang is a closet case who continues to pretend to be completely heterosexual for political purposes. The press, however, never speaks about Lang's longstanding same-sex orientation, and as there has been no polling data on this question it is unclear how much of the broad French electorate is aware of Lang's closet. Lang has never made any public declaration about the same-sex side of his nature, and indeed has on a number of occasions gone out of his way to avoid identification with embarassing gay circumstances (as in l'affaire du Coral, which is too complicated to explain here.)
--Doug Ireland

Posted by: Doug Ireland | Aug 26, 2005 4:38:04 PM

A split would be okay if it were followed by the formation of a new left party, as has happened in Germany with the Linkspartei. But Doug's report suggests that Fabius is not like Lafontaine. Is there anyone out there on the French left who would have the appeal that Gregor Gysi has to the left in Germany? (And Gysi's appeal is not just in the former DDR, I suspect.)

Posted by: Paul Lyon | Aug 25, 2005 5:35:07 PM

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