Tuesday, June 9, 2009

post-election blues

Now that the dust is settling from the EU elections, and it is clear that the NPA has been disappointed in its first foray into electoral politics, I want to share a few of my own opinions as to what happened:

First, it is clear that neither in France nor in the rest of the EU is there a groundswell of resistance to the capitalist world-system, even in this time of deepening crisis. I don't know why this is so, but the results speak clearly on this point. There is arguably considerable feeling against the EU itself in its present form--the historically high rates of abstention in France correlate strongly, according to post-election polling, with repudiation of the EU model (though approval of the more general European Idea remains high). But it is not at all clear that the EU's 'liberal' or free-market tendencies are at the center of this critique. Neither the NPA nor its companion parties in other countries were able to gain any significant traction with their strong reading of the present crisis as a symptom of Capital's structural failure.

2) Polling data also confirm that the NPA and the Left generally lack the capacity to mobilize their natural constituencies: the young, the poor, the excluded. Voting in these demographic groups was markedly lower than in other sectors--it was hard to find a 'protest' vote anywhere, except perhaps against the bad behavior of M. Bayrou. As I said before, unless the NPA can win the trust of its potential foot-soldiers in the cités, among the unemployed, within immigrant enclaves, and so forth, it will remain marginal. That is even truer now that the PG has found its stride among more middle class leftists who would like to see it restore the older, more adversarial edition of the PS.

3) Watching this debacle unfold over the past month or so, my first thought was to condemn the NPA central committee for its intransigence in setting too high a bar for a unified ticket with the PG and PCF. After all, their combined total of 11 or 12 % would have placed the Far Left remarkably close to the Socialists and set the stage for a serious challenge next time--or so the argument goes. Upon reflection, though, I now think this logic is flawed for the very reason the NPA pointed to all along: the PCF, and thus the 'Front de Gauche,' is by no means ready to take that walk in the wilderness. The Communist remnant will be right back next year pursuing their strategic alliance with the PS, and dragging the PG with them. Neither formation really believes its own rhetoric about the break with capitalism. Both will happily look for ways to join a center-left consensus at whatever level beckons, and claim a share of the offices and authority that come with compromise. This is not a dishonorable approach to politics, which many define as the 'art of compromise,' but it is not the NPA's historic mission. That mission leads into the wilderness, or at least to some place outside the channels of official power, where it will continue to support the forces of real resistance to the capitalist system. If that system retains the adherence of the French people, so be it. Joining the tepid left wing of the Socialists in their failed bid at opposition would not serve any purpose I can think of, and that really is the sad destiny of the PG and PCF. 

Enfin: there is a quality of instant gratification in elections, particularly if one's side 'wins' in any sense, which makes them so attractive to political junkies (myself included). Class struggle is a more ambiguous thing, as is historic change. The NPA's great challenge in the next few weeks and months is to convince its adherents--against all the temptations of the media and the culture of immediate consumption--to believe in the long-term dynamics of struggle and profound change. It will not be easy, and if it fails, the party could fall back into the sectarian micro-world of the LCR. I would like to think that the energy and momentum I saw up close will outlast the disappointment of this electoral set-back, but time will tell.