Despite attempts on both sides to form an alliance between the ruling Socialist Party’s (PS’s) candidate, Benoît Hamon, and Rebellious France candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the two candidates are struggling to unify their two campaigns in the 2017 French presidential elections. Amid the discrediting of the PS, the old, cynical mechanisms of social-democratic politics, aiming to block all expression of working class opposition to the PS from its left, are in deep crisis.
With Hamon and Mélenchon at around 14 and 11 percent in the polls, respectively, their alliance strategies have foundered until now in the face of insoluble contradictions. Elected PS candidate in the January 29 primaries due to the PS electorate’s hostility to his rival, ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Hamon is seeking to maintain the direction of PS policy, while at the same time promising to run as a candidate of renewal. Mélenchon is tasked with bringing him the necessary votes to make it to the second round of the elections, all the while posing as a radical.
Hamon is being forced, however, to endorse ever more of the record of hated President François Hollande in order to keep the PS bureaucracy’s support. Having proposed a massive increase in military spending and in police staffing levels, Hamon is now ditching a promise to abrogate the PS’s deeply unpopular labour law, named after Myriam El Khomri, citing its “positive aspects.” Sunday on RTL, he said: “What I want is a new labour law.”
At the same time, there are reports that Hamon’s staff are clashing with Valls supporters in the leadership of the PS and in his own election campaign.
Mélenchon for his part is trying to apply more pressure on Hamon to negotiate an alliance with him, although he does not dare—for the time being at least—accept any agreement that Hamon could propose to him. On Thursday, he published a new appeal for Hamon to meet publicly with him, which Mélenchon claimed he drafted because it “was becoming hard to escape the ridiculous element of a situation which seems stuck.”
This policy is reactionary and false, as its principal aim is to stimulate illusions in the PS, which is reactionary and in a state of collapse. Mélenchon has proposed to the PS a series of policies that are clearly unacceptable to it, including scrapping nuclear energy, the labour law, and the PS’s state of emergency. But then he turns around and demands, in order to reach an accord, that Hamon guarantee that the PS will respect such commitments.
“With good heart, I give you credit for good faith,” Mélenchon declared to Hamon. “But we cannot be so naïve as to take you at your word, when you are and remain the candidate of a party whose elected officials are in their majority hostile to the orientation you defend. So it is legitimate and honest for us to ask you for precise political guarantees that you are committed to break with [Hollande’s presidential] term and its record.”
Mélenchon alluded briefly to bitter financial and electoral rivalries between the PS and its long-time ally, Mélenchon’s Left Front. He stressed that “bureaucratic deals could, unfortunately, demoralise and disorganise what we have brought together on the one side and the other. Let’s see what we can do that is useful. We are both agreed that the presidential and legislative elections are closely tied. In these conditions, let’s speak seriously, sincerely, and in a loyal way to the French people to illuminate the decision and the choice it will have to make.”
These conflicts point to a profound crisis that has matured over a long period. It is undermining the PS and its allies, including the Left Front, who have been the principal pillar of bourgeois rule in France since the May-June 1968 general strike, as well as similar parties in all the NATO powers. The threat of disintegration that looms over the European Union and NATO since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, amid a deep economic crisis, are dynamiting the context inside which such political alliances developed over a period of decades.
Large sections of the PS have expressed their opposition to Hamon, or even promised to support his rival, the former investment banker and Hollande economic adviser Emmanuel Macron, rather than back the candidate of their own party. This collapse of the PS—as well as the scandal revealed by Le Canard Enchaîné over the no-show jobs of right-wing candidate François Fillon and the fragility of Macron’s campaign—discredits all the major presidential candidates, save that of neo-fascist National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen.
From the beginning, the PS and Mélenchon’s Rebellious France campaign tried to work out an alliance so as to create a viable candidacy without discrediting themselves by association with Hollande. They all knew that Mélenchon had no principled differences with the PS. An admirer and close associate of Mitterrand, the former Nazi-collaborationist official and founder of the PS, Mélenchon worked in the PS for decades as it carried out wars and anti-worker austerity policies.
Hamon, who tried to posture as “left” by proposing a universal minimum wage of €600-€800 a month, launched appeals for unity to Mélenchon and the Greens starting on the night of January 29. He said he would “start tomorrow by unifying the left,” and “propose to [Green candidate] Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in particular, to create a social, economic and democratic governing majority.”
Mélenchon immediately responded favourably to Hamon, while indicating that he did not want this to expose him to too much criticism on his left: “He [Hamon] is welcome to stop by for a good coffee, but one thing is not negotiable with me, that is the enormous effort we made to put together a programme that holds together.”
Mélenchon proposed to oust certain PS members, like Myriam El Khomri, who are too openly linked to Hollande, in order to form a viable electoral alliance with Hamon. He said, “You can’t ask us to form a coherent parliamentary governing majority. … [H]ow do you want us to form a majority to abolish the El Khomri law while Mrs. El Khomri is sitting in it as a deputy of the Socialist Party?”
Nevertheless, despite the unprincipled character of the proposed alliance and the differences between Hamon and Mélenchon that have blocked the alliance until now, the PS and Left Front bureaucracies continue to press for it. A PS member criticised the “little game” of Mélenchon-Hamon relations in a Libération interview: “Benoît’s tactic is as old as the world: dramatise the FN danger and hype the argument for lesser-evil voting without using the term. Jean-Luc responds by asking for guarantees, which is frankly the least he can do, given Hollande’s presidency.”
Olivier Dartigolles—the spokesman of the French Communist Party, a leading force in the Left Front—declared, “If everyone got together in a room, we wouldn’t come out with a candidate and a programme.” However, he proposed a strategy that would allow the parties to discern who the supposedly more desirable would be: “The most exemplary and creative in the struggle to build unity will score points. And anyone who doesn’t do that will commit a political error.”
A Hamon-Mélenchon alliance if it emerged would, however, be a reactionary regroupment bitterly hostile to the working class.