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So is France Really about to Bushicize?

by wegerje Tue Apr 17th, 2007 at 12:13:49 PM EST

I have actually met Diana Johnstone. Like myself, she is well above average height-wise. She is enough older than me, five to seven years (I'm 61) to have not been so swept up in a lot of the crazinesses of those times known as the 60's. She also probably had a much more solid grounding in left-wing politics. While my father was taken to socialist marches on his immigrant father's shoulders during the times of Wobbly strife in Chicago, he himself settled on a solid respect for FDR's role in the Great Depression. He died during my twenties, so I never got a real chance for a true peer exchange of political history from his perspective.

But I digress. I became a fan of Diana Johnstone from the days of her writing about Europe for "In These Times". She has always been a radical's radical. I fully realized that when she defended Serbia during the breakup of Yugoslavia. But if you don't already have an appreciation for Johnstone's political complexity I will not be able to do her justice.

So here's the point of this post. I am looking for some fine-tuning of the observations she and Jean Bricmont bring to the current presidential race going on in France. She says a lot of things in this article, "A Coming Political Tsunami", over at "radical" CounterPunch and I will blockquote a bit. But feel free to read and comment here on any part of the article.

Despite a dozen candidates to choose from, a striking aspect of this campaign has been the enormous number of undecided voters. This is an effect of the crisis of European democracy : more and more powers have been devolved to the central EU bureaucracy in Brussels, in general with the support of the Socialists and the Greens. The European left (especially the Greens) have defended this devolution as the necessary cure for "nationalism", condemned as the greatest evil. The result is that economic policy is firmly under control of powerful business lobbies intent on transforming Europe into a profitable field for financial investment, notably at the expense of wage costs, social welfare and public services. People recognize by now that no candidate can possibly redirect economic policy and therefore keep his social promises, whatever they are. The only autonomy left, assuming the European construction does not make further "progress" towards "integration", is in foreign policy, which, in France, is the prerogative of the president of the Republic. That is where a Sarkozy victory might make a big difference, since he would eagerly align himself with the U.S. and Israel.

The polls are made highly unreliable by the large number of undecided voters, not to mention those who refuse to tell the truth or who simply hang up on the telephone pollsters. It is by now well known that Le Pen's voters, in particular, are reluctant to reveal their true intentions.

So what can be expected on April 22 ? Le Pen may do well where least expected, in ethnically mixed working class areas, while possibly losing votes on his right to Sarkozy, who has been fishing in National Front waters. The radical left is too fragmented to fulfill the promise of the 2005 referendum movement. Royal has been playing too much to the center to gain "useful" votes from the radical left, although she will probably take votes away from the Green and Communist Party candidates, who appear to be heading for humiliating defeat. Still, the mainstream left once again risks not making it into the second round, and if it does, risks being defeated by Sarkozy.

The only candidate who, according to polls, has a good chance to beat him is Bayrou, whose electorate is the least stable. The worst case scenario, improbable but not impossible, would be a Le Pen/Sarkozy runoff, leading to a huge victory for Sarkozy. This would be the ghastly climax of a process that started with Mitterrand and led the left, including the CP, into increasing isolation from the working class.

I note that the article is co-authored by Jean Bricmont, who co-wrote Alan Sokal's book against postmodernism.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 17th, 2007 at 12:19:59 PM EST
I did mention the co-authorship, but since I have no history with Bricmont, I slanted my diary Johnstone's way. I assume the two are close politically.

I am also unsophisticated as regards to Alan Sokal and I am unable to converse on postmodernism.

So since I am unable to read between those lines, perhaps you might expand them for me?

Jeff Wegerson - Prairie State Blue

by wegerje on Tue Apr 17th, 2007 at 12:36:30 PM EST
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Hello, wegerje - lately a number of people with low user IDs here (like you) have taken to posting diaries, let's hope the trend continues!

The Counterpunch piece is of course very different from some others we've been looking at (NYT, Globe and Mail, Marianne...). By and large there's a much better appreciation and knowledge of French political life in the article. I would differ over Le Pen and the Front National, though it's essentially true that Marine Le Pen (subject to whether she manages to keep the FN together after her father's demise) is leading the party towards the mainstream.

There's some confusion, and repetition of right-wing talking points gleaned from the MSM, over Ségolène Royal's candidature. At one point the authors say:

With the risk of Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal not even making it into the second round, many people on the "left of the left" are likely to cast a "useful" vote for her in the first round.

and at another:

Royal has been playing too much to the center to gain "useful" votes from the radical left,

though the difference may lie in what Johnstone and Bricmont consider is the "radical left". Above all, while noting the unreliability of the polls that we have been talking about here, the authors seem to be using them to base their opinion of the weakness of Royal's challenge. For an idea of what the polls (in spite of their unreliability) say about this, here is a chart made by NordicStorm which averages all the polls:

Of course, the first round of the election is next Sunday, and many undecided voters have yet to make up their minds. But there doesn't seem to be much evidence in that chart (from last Sunday, but polls since don't show an adverse trend) that Royal will not be in the run-off.

As to the main question, will Sarkozy "Bushicize" France if he wins, the answer is probably yes and no. The authors are right he's not a Gaullist (though they are mistaken imo in saying he has cleared Gaullism out of the Gaullist party, that was happening anyway, he is a symptom rather than a cause). He certainly has more globalising and neo-liberal (economic) tendencies than Chirac. But the authors seem to me to be waving a scare flag without producing much evidence. The idea that he would set up a dictatorship (supposing he could) seems particularly overstated. That he would come up against opposition and that France would go through turbulence is not, however, to be discounted.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 17th, 2007 at 03:43:05 PM EST
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

I regret to tell you that it is not likely I will be posting more diaries here again soon. I try to pay attention to what's happening in Europe, but it is always as a learner rather than someone with the solid groundings needed for diaring.

I very much appreciate the existance of the ET blog and its community of English language Europeans. I do very much desire that your community grow and remain strong and will try to keep a look out for opportunities to participate either with comments or diaries of my own.

Thanks so much for the reprint of the polling graph. That is worth it's pixels in gold. Of course only to the extent that it's drifts are born out.

With structures like the EU and NAFTA I sometimes fantasize Illinois or even Chicago becoming an "independent" country, tied to our neighbors still in many ways but then less tied in others. But as always such fantasies usually assume that the connection between the local and the central is more democratic than either the current U.S. and the current E.U. Both are still overly favorable to big money and corporate structures.

I suppose Royal to be comparable to Edwards and Obama, neither of whom are "progressive" enough for my tastes but each with potentially redeeming qualities.

Thanks again for your thoughtful and informative reply.

Jeff Wegerson - Prairie State Blue

by wegerje on Wed Apr 18th, 2007 at 04:20:51 PM EST
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