An Opposition Emerges?

Arthur Goldhammer
16 March 2018

With the news that Stéphane Le Foll, le dernier vieux grognard du Hollandisme, has withdrawn from the contest to lead the Socialist Party out of the wilderness, it is now certain that Olivier Faure will become the new leader of the PS. Does it matter? The PS is generally described these days as moribund if not already dead. I have described it that way myself on this blog. So does it matter who leads the funeral cortège?

Perhaps. Because the election of a new party leader will coincide with the first stages of organized labor opposition to Macron’s proposed reform of the SNCF. The unions have agreed on a new tactic: a series of rolling strikes designed to disrupt railway traffic 2 days of every 5, thus causing maximum perturbation with minimum lost work hours. This could prove to be a more effective tactic than the short-duration strikes of past years or the uncoordinated wildcat walkouts by militant dissident factions.

Macron has surprised everyone to date by pushing through significant reforms without arousing much organized opposition. He has of course been abetted by the complete disarray of all opposition parties. This may be about to change. Although Wauquiez seems intent on shooting himself repeatedly in the foot at LR, and Marine Le Pen remains distracted by the need to remake her party yet again, this time to distract not from her father’s dérapages but from her own failure as a candidate, the election of a new PS leader could in the context of rising opposition to Macron, not only from the cheminots but also from elders upset by CSG increases, could mark a turning point. But will Olivier Faure be the man to exploit it.

That remains seriously in doubt. Faure is a party apparatchik in the image of François Hollande, whom he served for a time as deputy. In a televised debate among the contenders for the leadership he failed to impress. As party leader he will either develop the TV persona he singularly lacked in the debate or be doomed to failure. He won the leadership by assiduously cultivating the party federations, visiting their local headquarters and courting local leaders. But getting on well with the last bureaucrats of a dwindling party will not do. He must find a way to create the image of a revived opposition at the grass roots. This will require a mastery of the media comparable to Macron’s (whose image-building, not to say image-manipulation, has lately been much criticized without diminishing its effectiveness). Faure’s gifts are wholly untested. And he is unknown to the public, at the head of a party that has lost all of its well-known personalities.

And then there is Mélenchon, who has consoled himself for his failure to make the second round of the presidential election by relishing his crushing of the Socialists. His immediate goal will therefore be to cut Faure’s legs out from under him. Meanwhile, Benoît Hamon has linked his Génération-s movement to Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM (Democracy in Europe Movement). Even together they remain inaudible. Such is the state of the opposition today. And the pity is, Macron needs a opposition. It might remind him of the need to curb his arrogance, which is his greatest liability.

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6 Comments

  • Jacob Hamburger says:

    If Faure can work well with the unions, that would be a big advantage compared to Mélenchon, who seems to prefer the unorganized wildcat-style actions you mention. Building a grassroots movement, though, will be more challenging.

    • Arthur Goldhammer says:

      Faure in my estimation is closer to the technocratic wing of the PS than to the union rank-and-file. Pierre Moscovici just tweeted his approval of the Faure nomination, for example, and all but endorsed (without naming) him before the contest. And backing the unions in the rail strike is tricky, because public sentiment can shift quickly from vague support to outright hostility after weeks of disruption and inconvenience. We’ve seen this in the past.

  • bert says:

    The current eurozone institutionalises the split in the PS. If the question is about who inherits what niche in the political marketplace, the Fabius legacy will be as important as the Hollande one. A successful PS leader will be able to reconcile this split, or straddle it, at least.
    Macron’s reform agenda allows him to square the circle. Before En Marche, he was very much part of the PS tendency – party-building, risk-averse and ideologically lite – that you call technocrats. He shed their timidity. A new PS leadership needs to devise a similarly sellable line to explain why the French national budget must be subjected to ongoing approval and amendment by the European Commission, particularly given that there is necessarily no scope for either a France-focused monetary policy or for exchange-rate adjustment to incoming shocks.
    Two points follow.
    – In the absence of such a reconfiguration on the left, Mélenchon has a solid base and will remain a wearyingly familiar face.
    – As a necessary precondition any revival of the PS may depend on the emergence of serious setbacks for Macron. Happily for him, the eurozone cyclical upswing allows his squared circle to assume the pleasing shape of a sustainable policy.

    • Geof says:

      Re: your two points:
      1) Agreed, Melenchon’s elevated profile owes much to the lack of an alternative. As I’ve said here before, he is not going away and in fact, should not be underestimated.
      2) A fly in the ointment to a Eurowide upswing could be Mr. Donald Trump. His nationalist agenda would not only be a threat to the Global recovery (which is the underpinning of the Continent’s rebound,) but would also validate the inward-looking arguments of the Eastern European (and Italian) nationalists. And just as Scholz in Germany is starting to make some headway! Oof.

  • bert says:

    I see the spammers are saying hello.
    Hello spammers.
    The one-column layout on the main page is a good improvement. From a subjective commenter point of view, having the number of comments for each post on the main page is handy – particularly if you’re commenting on more than one post – and it gives you an idea of where the discussion is happening on the blog. I’d also think about having the full text of each post on the main page as well, the way it was at the old place. That’ll spare people a certain amount of clicking back and forth between the main page and individual posts. It’ll also break up the flow of the main page, where a bit of variety would be good just as a visual thing. At the moment on my device the main page is a column of regular blocks, each constrained to the dimensions of the accompanying photo.

    Anyway, migrating a blog is a headache even when it’s not part of a wider launch. Best wishes for the whole project and congratulations on the achievement thus far.
    That’s it for the unsolicited feedback. Please forgive any inadvertent slippage into unwanted advice.
    🙂

  • Bernard says:

    The blog is much improved by the redesign, bravo, especially since I had previously complained: It is only now with this redesign that I have realised that there had been a post on Italy recently.

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