Un dialogue de Nupes

15 October 2023

It’s almost indecent to talk about the disintegration of the French Left while the disintegration of the Middle East is ongoing. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the latter is the cause of the former, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the many previously existing tensions in the coalition known as the Nupes have been brought to a head by Mélenchon’s refusal to name Hamas a “terrorist organization.” Olivier Faure blames “the Mélenchon method,” while the Communists bluntly assert that the Nupes has become a “dead end.”

Beyond the clashes of personality and interparty rivalries is the more fundamental question of what the Left thinks it needs in order to revive its flagging fortunes. What united the Nupes, insofar as it was ever united, was the search for a radical break–une rupture, as the French like to say–with the status quo. But to consummate a rupture, one needs to know what comes next, and the left has really had no answer to that question since 1983, when Mitterrand’s promised “rupture with capitalism” came to an end. In 2012 Hollande tried to revive the Mitterrandian spirit with a call for a rupture with “the world of finance,” a more limited target, which reassuringly held out the prospect that one could simply do away with a few hedge funds without upsetting all the economic applecarts. In the end this proved to be merely a curtain-raiser for the era of Macron.

Some hope to redefine “rupture” as some form of greenwashing. The renaming of EELV to the simpler “Les Écologistes” sacrifices a few syllables to the cause, but the measure seems unlikely to win over left-wing voters thirsting for something more radical. This has been Mélenchon’s secret through the past two election cycles. There are enough seekers after radicalism to have lifted him to a place–thanks to his respectable first-round scores–where he was able to organize the left around his conception of what a radical break with the status quo would look like. Not all of his nostrums were implausible, but he couldn’t refrain from an inveterate desire to épater les bourgeois by evincing sympathy for alien forms of radicalism (Chavez, Hamas) that reinforced his “revolutionary” bona fides while complicating his efforts to form a viable coalition in a country where the nostalgia for revolutionary politics isn’t what it used to be. The internal contradictions of that effort have now come to a head. The Nupes is on its last legs, and the Left is no closer to setting its future course than it was before Mélenchon’s star rose to the height from which it is about to fall.


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