La Primaire Populaire

27 January 2022

Voting begins today in the so-called Primaire Populaire, or People’s Primary. The impulse behind this “election” (which should more properly be classified as a poll, an Internet survey conducted without much rigor or organization) is understandable. If one adds up the votes currently dispersed among the seven or eight candidates who can for one reason or another be described as belonging to “the left,” the total is enough to yield a contender in the presidential election. The dream of unifying the dispersed and ever-fissiparous left is perpetual, and seldom fulfilled.

Mitterrand pulled it off in 1981 with his Florentine maneuvering. This year’s well-meant but clearly doomed initiative will not repeat the miracle. It’s easy to understand why. The fundamental reason is of course that there is no unity on the left. Staging a “People’s Primary” does not alter the fact that the People, in the sense of les classes populaires as the French phrase goes, have long since and in large part abandoned the left for either the far right or the ranks of the abstentionists. All of the left candidates pay lip service to ecological issues, but then so do all of the candidates of the right and center. Mélenchon and Hidalgo share little common ground on almost any issue you could name. Taubira, the only candidate actually committed to heed the verdict of this primary, is a latecomer to the race who has instrumentalized this pseudo-vote as a means of translating name-recognition into the political advantage that none of the candidates who entered the race earlier have been able to achieve. Jadot’s forlorn hope is that the good fortune of the German Greens will somehow manifest itself in France, even though the French Greens have not duplicated the German effort to mature from a protest movement to a political party.

Hence a primary intended to unify the left has merely exposed its divisions and shortcomings all the more cruelly. Debate has focused on the validity of the vote rather than on the differences that actually divide the candidates, which in any case are irrelevant if none of them has the slightest prospect of arriving in the second round. No electoral gadget can compensate for the absence of new thinking about what “left” means today.

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1 Comment

  • FrédéricLN says:

    These appreciations are a bit hard, as the team behind “la Primaire Populaire” (and the fuzzy political currents feeding it, that exist since ~10 years) precisely worked a good deal about what “left” means today (often not using the word “left”, but taking is as granted).

    Imho, this elaboration delivers much more than existed in the 2000’s with e.g. the Euston manifesto (something like “staying leftist means staying leftist while rejecting totalitarism”).

    But — these ideas did not disseminate much farther than the intellectual classes. “Les classes populaires as the French phrase goes” did not take a large part to the effort, nor to the “Primaire populaire” vote. A local communist leader just told me this morning that some of the card-carrying members he knew considered voting for Zemmour (if I understood him well).

    The “primaire populaire” understanding of “the left” is a bit idealistic, as is the name Samuel Grzybowski gives to the electoral base he targets: “le bloc de justice”. Is justice a block, a coalition? Indeed, that motto works for some islamist parties (PJD in Morocco), but in France, I still don’t see that coming.

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