It is the end of an era for socialists, the epilogue of a history of splendor and misery. The catastrophe in the presidential elections in April and the agreement for the June legislative elections with the populist left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon place the party that has governed France for 20 of the last 40 years on the brink of an abyss. And of the split.
The supporters of the centrist Emmanuel Macron did not waste a minute after, on the night of Thursday to Friday, the National Council of the Socialist Party (PS) ratified the union with Mélenchon, today hegemonic on the left. Several aides to the newly re-elected president called on Social Democrats dissatisfied with the deal to join the presidential majority.
“In my opinion, there will be a split in the Socialist Party,” political scientist Gerárd Grunberg, author, along with historian Alain Bergounioux, of Ambition and remorse: French socialists and power (1905-2005). Grunberg adds: “The two pieces will each lose on their own: alone they can’t do anything and neither can Mélenchon. Whatever the solution, it’s bad.”
The dilemma for the PS was devilish. If he presented himself to the legislative elections on June 12 and 19 alone, he ran the risk of keeping so few deputies that he would not have a parliamentary group. If he joined Mélenchon, he might lose his social-democratic and pro-European soul.
The risk of disappearing from the National Assembly is not completely avoided with the agreement with La Francia Insumisa (LFI), Mélenchon’s party. But the leaders of the PS are confident that, with this solution, this risk will be mitigated and the Socialists will retain sufficient autonomy to preserve their identity.
Bargaining power was low. In the presidential elections, the socialist candidate, Anne Hidalgo, obtained 1.7% of the votes, the worst result in history. Mélenchon got 21.9%.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
The agreement has two aspects. The first is the allocation of seats. The four components (LFI, the ecologists, the communists and the PS) agree to support a single candidate for deputy in each of the 577 electoral districts. Each party has a number of districts. To PS, 70; in the rest – 85% of the districts – there will be no socialists to vote for and they will have a unsubmissivea communist or an environmentalist.
The second aspect of the agreement is programmatic. The Socialists have signed a document that repudiates much of the legacy of the PS during its last stage in command of France, between 2012 and 2017, with President François Hollande. And he inscribes the socialists in the Eurosceptic line of Mélenchon.
The agreement received the favorable vote of 62.3% of the nearly 300 members of the National Council. Most are outspoken, but they have left wounds and a legion of disaffected.
Dissidence begins to take shape. Prominent figures such as Carole Delga, president of the Occitania region, have announced that they will not respect the agreement and will present candidates on their own. Hollande has expressed his disagreement. Other historical figures, such as the former prime minister Lionel Jospin or the mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, support him.
“We have not become rebellious,” Olivier Faure, general secretary of the PS, assured the press. “Now Jean-Luc Mélenchon has a great responsibility: he is the one who carries the hopes of the entire left and environmentalists.”
Stanislas Guerini, head of the Macronist party, La República en Marcha, declared on RTL: “When I see that the Socialist Party has simply abandoned the ambition of being a government party and has renounced its convictions for a handful of districts, I I say to the Social Democrats: ‘Join us’.
Macron aspires to bring together a broad current, from the center-left to the moderate right, but the majority of votes and socialist cadres already absorbed them in 2017. If he appointed a progressive prime minister in the coming days, he could attract the disenchanted who remain.
“The debate confronts those who defend a refoundation within the autonomy with those who defend an integration in the melenchonia”, the former first secretary of the PS Jean-Christophe Cambadélis tells EL PAÍS, who describes the pact as “surrender”. “But I don’t think the deal will last,” he confides. “Many voted for the deal because it was a way to protect this or that MP, but once the MPs are elected they will go back to their previous positions.”
The internal complaints could be settled in a future congress after the legislative ones. “If then the current majority falls and the opponents take the remnants of the PS, it is the crisis: the deputies elected with LFI will not be in this line”, analyzes the historian Bergounioux. “The other option is that Olivier Faure [actual secretario general] hold the majority and then create another formation. There would be two socialist parties, but it is something that has already happened in history. It is the outcome of something that comes from afar, it is not from now”.
The search for culprits resembles the novel Murder on the Orient Express: They are all suspected of the crime and they all had their motives. For the left wing, there is no question. It was Hollande, with his broken promises and his social-liberal turn. Also his prime minister Manuel Valls, who in 2017, after losing the primaries, left with Macron instead of supporting the candidate Benoît Hamon. For the centrist wing, the culprits are others: the left wing deputies who rebelled against Hollande and Valls and made their lives impossible.
The story did not end there. Hamon took out 6% in 2017. Macron’s first five-year term was agonizing for the socialists and led to the catastrophe of the first round of the presidential elections, on April 10.
So far the immediate causes. Grunberg believes that everything goes back even further. “The PS never made its Bad Godesberg”, he affirms in reference to the congress in which the German SPD renounced, in 1958, Marxism. In French socialism the two souls have always coexisted: the reformist and the radical. The European Union is an example: this is the party of Jacques Delors, patriarch of a united Europe, and that of President François Mitterrand. But also from another current –from which Mélenchon himself came– that in 2005 contributed to the shipwreck of the EU constitutional treaty.
“It has never been a true social democratic party,” says Grunberg. “If he had been, he would have truly fought communism in the past, and Mélenchon today. But they are not able to do it, because they are not different enough. They are not sure enough of his identity.”
Grunberg goes back even further to explain the current torments: to 1905, the year of creation, and to the debates between Jean Jaurès (more reformist) and Jules Guesde (more revolutionary). “An attempt was made to make a republican, reformist and parliamentary party, and at the same time a revolutionary and collectivist party. And deep down, he never got out of there,” he explains. “Mitterrand managed to open a parenthesis to turn it into a government party. The parenthesis is closed now.”
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits