Tuesday, 25 April 2017

FRANCE: How to deal with Le Pen's Rise?

The post-political situation in France is at the origin of Marine Le Pen's right wing populism, ''Front National'', growing success because there is really no longer a striking difference between the policies of the traditional French parties: ''Les Republicains'' and '' Parti Socialiste''.

Center-right and center-left-parties in France offer a variant of the same kind of politics. Center-left party does not offer an alternative to the neoliberal globalization promoted by the Center-right. The only thing the Center-left can do is to manage it a bit more humanely. This creates a consensus of the center, which leaves the people without a real choice between different alternatives.

As a result, the French people lose their interest in politics – that’s why there was 22% abstention on Sunday first round election and there is a growing support for Le Pen as we currently witness across France. Le Pen's ''Front National'' at least pretend to offer an alternative: She is against the establishment; she takes the demands of the people into account and claims that she is speaking on their behalf. 

When Le Pen speaks about “the people,” she refers to an entity that is restricted to a certain category of people from which immigrants are excluded. This is usually accompanied by a xenophobic discourse, which is of course very negative for democracy. But let’s not forget the possibility of a left-wing populism in which the notion of “the people” is constructed in a different way: it includes both immigrants and all the people who are working in a specific country. The adversaries of the people in this case are not the immigrants, but the big transnational corporations and all the forces of neoliberal globalization. The development of a left-wing populism is the only way to fight against the growing success of Le Pen's populism.

In France today, Le Pen is the one who speaks and appeals to the popular sector. What we increasingly see is that ''Parti Socialiste'' ( at least under Hollande) abandons the popular classes. Hollande and the ''Parti Socialiste'' are more concerned with representing the middle classes. The result is that there are many sectors that do not feel represented. This is why people tend to be attracted by Le Pen's right-wing populism. 

In France Marine Le Pen and the Front National have increasingly added to their discourse themes which they basically stole from the discourse of the Left. The defense of the welfare state and the public sector are just two examples of issue areas that Francois Hollande and the ''Parti Socialiste'' have abandoned over the years because they have opted for the neoliberal ideology.

Marine Le Pen’s political program would be a catastrophe for France! She wants to get out of the European Union, she wants to get out of the Euro and she wants to close the French frontiers – a complete return to purely national politics. Of course this isn’t realistic! Le Pen’s program is also completely unacceptable from a moral point. It’s deeply xenophobic. For Le Pen, the Muslims are the adversaries of the French people. She presents them as a threat to the secular principles of the French Republic. The assumption is: Muslims cannot be integrated because they do not accept our values concerning the equality of gays, women etc. Of course this kind of politics is not compatible with a pluralist conception of democracy.

In order to counter the growing success of Le Pen's right wing populism in France, we need to create a ''Left wing populism''. That ''left-wing populism'' would have to take into account the concerns of the people by proposing other solutions and by trying to find ways to fight against the neoliberal globalization. That's the reason why Macron's catch-all movement ''En Marche'', a disguised form of center-left with a mix of left wing populism, becomes the cure against Le Pen's right wing populism.

Of course, the aim is not to reject globalization – that is simply not possible – but to fight for an alternative version of it. Le Pen simply rejects globalization. She wants to come back to the traditional nation state, which is impossible today. The tricky question for the Macron's center-left- left wing populism is how to take account of the popular demands that call for an alternative to Neoliberalism and to envisage what could be a realistic alternative in the present circumstances.

Many will argue that it is a bit too easy to say that left-wing populism is the solution in the fight against right-wing populism. After all, even left-wing populism is a kind of populism. Although right wing populism is quite dangerous, it is still a necessary dimension of democratic politics. There is a necessity to take into account the demands of the people and to create a collective will. The crucial issue is how  “people” is constructed. This also requires us to acknowledge another dimension that I think is very important: the role of passion in politics. 

The passion in politics refers to everything that is related to the affective dimension that is mobilized in politics. The affective dimension is at the origin of collective forms of identification. To create a people you need to mobilize this affective dimension in order to create a collective will and to make people identify with a project. But in the post-political situation that we witness at the moment, both center-right and center-left believe that passion is something that can only be used by the Right end of the political spectrum. I think that’s a very dangerous appraisal: 
If you leave the affective dimension to right-wing populists, there is no way to fight against them. Not only has the affective dimension to be acknowledged, but it also has to be recognized that this affective dimension can be shaped in a much more progressive way. The two main passions in politics are fear and hope. 

Le Pen uses fear – that is why she is fighting against immigrants. And it’s important for Macron to mobilize the passion of hope: to show that there is an alternative to the current situation with the growing gap between rich and poor and the destruction of the welfare state. Le Pen is also very much aware of the importance of using this affective dimension. It is therefore crucial for Macron to acknowledge it and to intervene, to mobilize and to foster affect in order to create collective forms of identification that could deepen democracy.
To counterattack Le Pen's populism, Macron must rally the people around a project that will put forward a different kind of France. I am convinced that the lack of alternatives to the current neoliberal France is one of the reasons why there is so much rejection of traditional French parties. 
Not so long ago, the traditional parties were something that people could identify with. But over the last ten years things have changed: we’ve seen a growing movement of '' anti-systéme''. The reason for that is clear: people today can’t identify with this neoliberal France. They experience that it does not take into account their concerns, especially when it comes to jobs. Quite the contrary: many center right-center-left policies are destroying jobs. One way to reverse this, is to create a a new version of French project that people can identify with. French people have to know that if they don’t want an old version of France, they can always create a different one. 
The lack of debate of this new version of French project is another reason why we witness a growing movement of ''anti-systéme''. Such a debate would certainly contribute to fostering interest among people. The disinterest in French elections results from a feeling that nothing important is at stake here.
This debate should not be a question of destroying the current order and to abandon the market. The problem is that the Anglo-American model has become increasingly dominant in France/Europe. We have to recover what is at the core of the French/European identity. It is nearly a given in a social democracy with its emphasis on equality, social rights, and the welfare state. It certainly needs to be adapted to the present situation and include the demands of the social movements, without going back to the welfare state we had thirty years ago. But those values – social rights and the ways in which they can be implemented and deepened – is something really important. 

In France, some experts prefer to use the term: “radical democracy.” In order to deepen and extend current democratic institutions, this project of radical democracy should be opposed to the notion that we need a revolution, that liberal democracy has to be destroyed in order to construct a real democracy. Liberal-democratic institutions can be radicalized; they can be made more democratic. To work within the system is about transforming its institutions, making them much more accountable, more representative – and this is an objective towards which parties and social movements need to work together.
This radical reformism or radical social-democratic project is certainly something that can be envisaged through an immanent critique of liberal-democratic institutions if we accept that the ethical and political principles of liberal democracy are liberty and equality for all – one can’t find more radical principles. The project of radical democracy consists in pushing our societies to really put into practice the ideals that they profess.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-Getty-Images of ''Front National'' Leader Marine Le Pen