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France, Politics

En Marche! and France Insoumise –  “modernity” put to the test

The two movements present themselves as solutions to an “old political scene” and ride on the back of a desire for renewal and a less hierarchical form of politics, but they cannot escape the traditional political parties they reject.

Are “movements” the future or a symptom of a sick political system, which will draw from the past elements of “modernity” to make a “concrete attempt to go beyond” political parties, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon says?

The success of his movement, France Insoumise (France Unbowed), as well as that of Emmanuel Macron, En marche !, shows a need for renewal of political practices. The latter wants to be “transpartisan” and, for the legislative elections, present right-wing policies with candidates who are on the left. The first, who with 19.62% of the votes just missed out in joining the second round of the presidential election, only seeks the title of best opponent [in the legislative elections] in June 11 and 18. “The collapse of an old political scene”, described by the spokesman of France Insoumise, Alexis Corbière, to justify the absence of the Socialist Party and the traditional Right in the second turn, is part of these “moments of crisis (from where) things emerge” – is he right?

Since 2002, the inversion of the electoral calendar offers a bonus to the winning party of the presidential election by ensuring a parliamentary majority in the legislative elections. For the first time, the movements are banking on a premium for novelty. By praising a so-called “modernity” for the Macron’s new party, Republique en March (Republic on the March), or by summoning the story of “our family, the heir of the workers’ movement”, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon says of France Insoumise, each tries to capitalize on the “collapse” of political parties.

“En Marche! Is the reverse of a citizen’s approach “

Two approaches, translated by the very different choices of the candidates for the legislative elections, show parallels in their political construction. For the leader of La France Insoumise, his movement is “a gathering place where each person decides individually and on a piece by case basis the level of his commitment and his effective participation in the various tasks and campaigns”.

“Everything is obviously based on the Internet, which allows “horizontalism”, he wrote on his blog on 28 May. Same tone among activists. Pascal Dumeste, deputy in the 2nd district of the Dordogne, who we met at the national convention on May 13, said he was “ready to fight to the end, if only to show that politics must be done differently” by the “unbowed”, who are in no case “party card holders”, are “elected representatives whose mandates can be revoked” and a “collective that meets, proposes, discusses”. In other words, a genuine “place for the people”. For Élodie, a France Insoumise volunteer, the only thing that matters is the program, which has to be “carried through to the end”. Moreover, it “determines the mode of existence of this organization,” says Jean-Luc Mélenchon: “Within our volunteers, there are people who are part of the Socialist Party, the Communists … We do not impose a label,” he says.

Nevertheless, the movements are struggling to get rid of what they reject in the functioning of other parties: centralism, and even the verticality of decision-making. En Marche! has adopted this undemocratic fashion in changing its name for the Republic En Marche after the presidential election. “For now, (he) creates a centralized and incredibly vertical machinery”, conceded the commentator of France Inter, Thomas Legrand. A modus operandi in keeping with the idea of ​​”old politics”: a commission of 9 members, nominated by Emmanuel Macron, designates the candidates for the elections, the “referents” are appointed at department level [France has 102 departments] to co-ordinate local committees.

Thus the marchers of the 11th constituency of Paris rejected the candidature of the Minister of European Affairs Marielle de Sarnez and chose a dissident candidate’; de Sarnez was imposed by the national leadership, even though this didn’t comply with the “candidate selection criteria or renewal,” according to one activist, Le Monde reported 29 May. A revealing example, derived from a quasi-monarchical approach, analyzed by the sociologist Monique Pinçon-Charlot: “Macron presented himself in a presidential election without ever being elected, almost by virtue of divine right.” Nicolas Framont, a sociologist, adds: “En Marche! is the reverse of a citizen’s approach. It is even less of a citizen than of a political party [approach], with an even more vertical organization, American-style, where citizens have no role to play and where activists are mere supporters. Its initials are indicative of this (“EM” for Emmanuel Macron and En marche! – Ed.). ”

Candidates have been imposed at a national level

La France Insoumise dresses more democratically. On his blog, Jean-Luc Mélenchon writes that, at the “national convention of the movement” of May 13, his movement “ratified the list of candidatures in the legislative elections”. If we do not find a trace of this act in the video of the convention, which can be viewed on Youtube, we learn the details of the nomination process from the national electoral committee leader Martine Billard: “Sixteen people, eight drawn out of a hat by support groups, four from the area of struggles and four from the political space”. They finalized the list of candidates for the legislative elections through “the most transparent process possible.”

“It’s not like En Marche! We do not have a national committee that decides the candidates. There were constituency meetings” which made “proposals” and the electoral committee “made the final decision”. It was a question of “parity” and “diversity”, particularly in the socio-professional field, according to the national speaker. Yet again, candidates were imposed by the national electoral committee, against the advice of local “rebels”, as in the 14th district of the Rhone, where they had decided not to hinder the candidacy of Michèle Picard (Communist Party – PCF) … Otherwise, the local groups have selected their candidates but refer any disagreement to the national leadership, as in the 2nd district of Gironde: “We have no legitimacy to negotiate the withdrawal of the 1st or 2nd, or vice versa (Proposal made by the PCF – Editor’s note),” explained Pierre-Yves Modicom, director of campaign France Insoumise, in Rue89 Bordeaux, on May 12: “We do not have structures at departmental level. There is therefore no interlocutor for such issues.”

For the sociologist Vincent Tiberj, of Sciences-Po Bordeaux university, nothing is surprising. The question, he said, of vertical structures and horizontalism is as “old as political parties”. He adds of “this phenomenon, in which the elites gradually emerge, who suddenly begin to make decisions in a logic of division of tasks”, that: “Apart from the anarchist movements, the question of vertical structures is the Turning natural because it engenders efficiency and ideological cohesion,” he analyzes. Between 2010 and 2017, there is as an echo … Jean-Luc Mélenchon does not say anything else. For him, the term horizontalism “often implies an opposition to verticality which is sometimes simply unavoidable in the organization of an action”. “The other solution is the party without partisans, that is to say with professionals of the political message,” explains Vincent Tiberj, pointing to En marche!, which proves, according to him, a “factitious horizontalism”

“The movement consults the members but does not listen to them. The marchers did not have a say on their candidates. It is less democratic than the Socialist Party or the Republicans,” he adds. The Mélenchon “phenomenon”, already present in the 2012 elections, has been widely explored as “novelty”, even if curiosity was somewhat sharpened with the emergence of Unbowed France.

But, in the 2017 modernity contest, it is Emmanuel Macron, the “zephyr of novelty in political life,” said Laurent Joffrin in Liberation, which has aroused the most enthusiasm, in the media in particular. “Young man in a hurry”, who runs a “high-tech” campaign, with activists renamed “helpers” … The storytelling has done too much to sell a phenomenon already observed in political history. If, on the 21st of April, Dominique de Villepin declared to the Parisien that it would be necessary that En marche! “is not a new party, bound solely by personal allegiance, but a space of renewal and debate,” this is because the former Prime Minister had already tried the same experience … in 2010, creating Republique Solidaire (RS). A big difference – when he launched his movement, Villepin had a plan. Candidate Macron, in the JDD of February 12, believed that “it is a mistake to think that the program is the heart” of an election campaign.

“The institutional constraint of the presidential election”

A number of de Villepin’s Republique Solidaire leaders have been recycled into Macron’s Republique en Marche, as has the former Chirac minister Marie-Anne Montchamp, who left “les Républicains” in March 2017 to join it. Like Macron, “by the successive occupation of key posts” (Foreign Affairs from 2002 to 2004, Interior from 2004 to 2005, Matignon from 2005 to 2007), Villepin had established “relations which constitute his social capital” , noted Stéphane de Maupéou in a memoir on this “movement” (1). The parallels with the new President of the Republic, previously on the Attali and Bercy commissions  are obvious. But the author goes further, characterizing “Villepinisme” and, ahead of the curve, the “macronisme”:

“The centralizing dynamic which pushes the movement to organize around a leader and a project and not by structure and action (function) because in the case of Villepinisme the leader and the project precedes the organization. Moreover, the “rapid construction” of his organization and the “institutional constraint of the presidential election” compel the party to “adopt a “pyramid structure”, he wrote. Result: “His physiognomy (is) linked to elections” and is therefore tailored for the Fifth Republic, with an extreme presidentialism, like En marche!”

“Like any party, (Republique en Marche and France Insoumise) will have to change their leaders,” and thus they will have to “survive the leaders and the cult of personality”, Vincent Tiberj points out nevertheless: “If the vote for the France Insoumise candidates is lower than that for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the presidential elections, it is good that the latter conditions the collective to his own person and does not merge in it,” analyzes the sociologist. For En marche!, who, for their part wins power, the ultimate test will be in five years:

“At some point, Emmanuel Macron’s choices will be challenged, such as putting a bill to parliament, or the orientation of the political line to the left or to the right. This Gaullian logic cannot hold for long, faced with the work of elected officials.

And certainly by 2022, “the card of renewal will not be able to be played a second time.

“From the movement to the political party: the process of institutionalization and the place of” villepinisme “in the system of gone “.

* Horizontalism describes social movements seeking self-management, autonomy and direct democracy


Translation by Revolting Europe

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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