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Archive for June, 2022

[update below]

I was invited by the London Review of Books to write a 1,000 word post on the election results for the LRB blog, which, after the usual editing, went up this evening under the title “Unpresidented.”

As I was limited in how much I could write—perhaps thankfully so—I couldn’t develop certain points or say everything I wanted to, notably in mentioning some of the deputies—newly elected or reelected—who will be entering the National Assembly. In the post, I wrote that “despite Mélenchon’s caudillo-like domination of his party, [La France Insoumise] has several high-profile, media savvy personalities, who will be an outspoken opposition force in the Palais Bourbon.” For those interested in the French left and intrigued by the NUPES, they are: Manuel Bompard (JLM’s anointed successor to his Marseille constituency), Adrien Quatannens (JLM’s protégé, age 32 but looks younger, and who, à la Olivier Besancenot, talks as fast as a rocket), Sophia Chikirou (JLM’s Significant Other, who spent a few months in the US in 2016 following the Bernie Sanders campaign), Danièle Obono (Franco-Gabonese, longtime gauchiste militant, and lightening rod for the Valeurs Actuelles and Printemps Républicain crowd), Eric Coquerel (JLM right-hand man), Raquel Garrido (Franco-Chilean, lawyer by training, with a well-known in-your-face style), Alexis Corbière (Raquel G.’s trash-talking spouse; an LFI heavyweight), Clémentine Autain (my personal pick for LFI presidential candidate in 2027), Mathilde Panot (president of the LFI group in the National Assembly), and Manon Aubry (who heads the LFI group in the European Parliament). I’ve been particularly impressed with LFI rising star Clémence Guetté, who coordinated Mélenchon’s presidential program (with which I am rather less impressed).

And then there’s the loudmouth François Ruffin, whom I normally can’t stand but developed a certain respect for after seeing his 2021 co-directed documentary Debout les femmes! (Those Who Care), which follows his parliamentary road trip, as it were, with REM deputy Bruno Bonnell—an entrepreneur prior to 2017—as they investigated the working conditions of overworked, low-paid, female domestic care providers, and which led to the two successfully sponsoring legislation to increase their pay and improve those conditions. An inspiring film about two parliamentarians from opposite sides of the aisle (or hemicycle)—radical left and libéral centrist—collaborating in a good cause, and coming to like one another in the process.

À propos, how can one not feel pleasure and satisfaction by the victory of the NUPES-LFI’s Rachel Keke, the first-ever cleaning person elected to the French National Assembly.

It’s too bad that boulanger Stéphane Ravacley (NUPES-EELV), who staged a hunger strike to stop the deportation of his Guinean apprentice, didn’t win his race; likewise with Nicolas Cadène (also NUPES-EELV), a proponent—one of the few these days—of a liberal, tolerant conception of laïcité. It was nice, however, that Aurélien Taché (NUPES-Divers Gauche, ex-REM), also a strong proponent of laïcité apaisée, was reelected. And how very nice it was to see Jean-Michel Blanquer and Manuel Valls bite the dust in the 1st round!

Nice as well was the election of the NUPES-EELV’s Julien Bayou and Sandrine Rousseau, the latter for, entre autres, defeating the macroniste incumbent, who headed the pro-China lobby in the AN. As for the PS, of its 31 deputies (of which 27 NUPES) elected on Sunday, the only ones with any name recognition outside their constituencies are Olivier Faure (who has reinforced his position as party first-secretary), Boris Vallaud, and Jérôme Guedj (who happily sent Amélie de Montchalin packing). The rebuilding of the PS will take some time.

One macroniste I was content to see win (vs. a NUPES-LFI) is Clément Beaune, the ministre délégué for Europe in the Élisabeth Borne government. His May 6th tribune in Le Monde rubbishing Mélenchon’s nonsense on Europe was much appreciated, as was his refusal to equate the NUPES with the extreme right RN (whose 89 deputies I will have something to say about later). Too bad there aren’t more in his camp like him.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Voilà an interesting data-driven analysis of Sunday’s vote:

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IPSOS projection 17 June 2022

Two days to go, after which there will be no more elections in France until 2024 (European parliament) and then 2026 (municipal). As the results of last Sunday’s 1st round have been ably analyzed for Anglophone readers by Arthur Goldhammer here and here, and, in a rather sour take, by John Lichfield here, I don’t have to do so myself. One piece on the election that has been receiving attention, as it was published as a guest essay in The New York Times, is by the Marseille-based, decidedly left-leaning American journalist Cole Stangler, who informed readers that “Something extraordinary is happening in France,” that extraordinary something being the Jean-Luc Mélenchon-led NUPES, on which I opined in my post last week. Just about every reaction I’ve seen to the essay on social media has been a gushing thumbs up to Stangler’s enthusiastic assessment of the NUPES, including by a journalist-writer friend here in Paris, to whom I sent my own reaction in a private message. Quoting myself:

Hi M—. Commenting on your reaction to Cole Stangler’s op-ed, he’s smart and well-informed, and I’m in general sympathy with his views, but he’s wildly over-optimistic as to the prospects for the Nupes and simply wrong on many points. If the Nupes wins a majority of seats and Mélenchon is appointed PM – neither of which will happen, but assuming they do – this would be terrible, indeed disastrous, for France, Europe, and ultimately for the left. The Nupes’ economic program is, pace Thomas Piketty & Co, pie-in-the-sky, i.e. it’s nuts, and JLM’s views on geopolitics are unacceptable. A French PM who is not fully committed to materially supporting Ukraine against Russia – and reiterating France’s commitment to NATO – is not in anyone’s interest apart from that of Vladimir Putin. A Macron-Mélenchon cohabitation is totally impossible. I hope the Nupes does well on Sunday and it’s nice to see Macron knocked off his Jupiterian pedestal, but I’m nonetheless hoping that the Ensemble coalition wins a narrow majority. The last thing France and Europe need at this economic and geopolitical conjuncture is instability at the summit of the French state.

The NUPES’ economic program has been endorsed by over 300 economists—mostly left-wing Keynesians, including, as alluded to above, Thomas Piketty, Julia Cagé, Gabriel Zucman, and Dominique Méda, whom I normally hold in high regard. Normally. I’m not so sure about this one, though. The NUPES program has been negatively evaluated—severely so—by the libéral Institut Montaigne, which is normal, but also by Terra Nova—a think tank that has been close to the Socialist party—in a report authored by a 1990s economic adviser to President Mitterrand (for a two-minute commentary on the Terra Nova report by the libéral economic journalist Dominique Seux, go here).

Alexander Hurst, a Paris-based American journalist, trenchantly commented on the NUPES program, as spelled out in the above affiche, on Twitter:

If this were the US, where government spending is 46% of GDP, I’d say, ok sure. “Price caps” and “everyone gets more money!” is insanity in a country where gov share of GDP is already 62.5%. Hope y’all are into massive shortages of everything and unemployment like ya never seen.

This is fantasy land. There is no way to finance that much additional spending unless you have massive growth. And you won’t get massive growth inside a single market with mobility of people and capital by restricting prices and hiking corporate taxes, you’ll get big unemployment.

Which is obviously why LFI is Frexit-sans-le-dire.

And if you think THAT’S a good idea, well…

On his dynamic and informative Facebook page, Guillaume Duval, former editor-in-chief of the left-wing Keynesian Alternatives Économiques, likewise reacted to the NUPES affiche (translated by Deepl and edited by me):

(…) I would like to tell my FB friends that, for my part, I do not believe at all that the NUPES coming across as a Santa Claus and making all kinds of promises is appropriate for the period or is of a nature to increase the credibility of the left and its ability to become a majority in the country.

Between the ecological crisis and the war in Ukraine, all French people know that times are bound to get tougher and that we will have to be very selective and targeted in terms of public action.

The kind of display we see on the affiche is, in my opinion, likely to be interpreted by the French people either as the fact that the NUPES is out of touch [à côté de la plaque] and lives in an alternative reality, or that it takes them for fools [se fout de leur gueule] and that once elected it will, as usual, adopt a completely different policy than the one put forward during the campaign. And in both cases the result will be negative for the left…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

A few comments.

First, on the 1st round’s record-breaking low turnout rate for a legislative election (47.5%), which has provoked much commentary (and over-analyzing) by pundits and pro forma hand-wringing by politicians, though which was predicted and expected—and seriously, why would it be otherwise? Turnout in these elections has been steadily declining since the 1997 élections anticipées (68%), and accelerating since the advent of the quinquennat in 2002. It is, in point of fact, not reasonable to call voters to the polls four times over a ten week period and expect them to maintain a high level of interest and mobilization—and particularly to elect deputies most voters have barely heard of, if at all, and to a weak parliamentary body the election to which is a mere afterthought to the all-important presidential race that preceded it. If the powers-that-be in France want to increase voter turnout, they could at minimum do away with the quinquennat (for a non-renewable sextennat) and constitutionally proscribe the holding of presidential and legislative elections within a six month period. Adopting proportional representation for at least half the seats in the assembly would also be in order.

Second, it has been asserted by numerous pundits and politicos over the past five days that the NUPES, which won 25.7% of the vote, underperformed not only the left’s collective presidential total (31.9%) but also the total tally of votes for the left in the calamitous 2017 legislatives (28.3%); so, ergo, the NUPES’ score does not signify that the left is on the rebound. This is not right, for the simple reason that there were many candidates from small non-NUPES formations that are on the left or perceived as being so. If the votes of divers gauche (PS dissidents, PRG), divers écologiste, and extrême gauche are added to the NUPES score, the total left tally reaches 33.2%. The left is still weak compared to what it was a decade ago (43.8% and 48.7% in the 2012 presidential and legislative 1st rounds, respectively) but the decline has been reversed.

Third, a ridiculous polemic has been initiated this week by panicked macronistes and others on the right—and echoed by media pundits, including some who should know better—that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has long been tagged as a member of the gauche radicale—situating him to the left of his erstwhile PS comrades of the gauche réformiste—is, in fact, way out there on the extrême gauche, along with Olivier Besancenot, Arlette Laguiller & Co. A mirror image of the Le Pens and FN on the extrême droite: anti-republican and infréquentable. This is poppycock. The extrême gauche in France has consisted exclusively of Trotskyist and now extinct Maoist sects to the left of the Communist Party—which has never carried the extreme left label BTW—that do not seek to elect candidates to office or seriously participate in the institutions of “bourgeois democracy,” and whose principal historical inspiration is the Bolshevik Revolution—the early actions of which included the shuttering of parliament and establishment of a one-party state. This is rather clearly in contradiction with fundamental republican principles, thus placing the extrême gauche beyond the republican pale. None of this applies to JLM, who, after a few years in his 20s as a Trot—a rite of passage for young French lefties of his generation—joined the PS and became an acolyte of François Mitterrand, citing Jaurès far more than Marx and the French Revolution far more than the Russian. And his La France Insoumise has actively participated in the work of both the National Assembly and European parliament—quite unlike deputies of the FN/RN to the two bodies. Case closed.

I have a few more points to make—on the Ensemble alliance, the FN/RN’s score and prospects (which are unfortunately good), and a few interesting NUPES candidates—which I’ll maybe add as updates.

À suivre.

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This legislative election campaign has been, as Arthur Goldhammer aptly put it, the strangest in recent memory, or at least the most surprising. Since the advent of the quinquennat in 2002, the coincidence of the presidential and legislative elections, and the fateful decision by the gauche plurielle government of the time to flip the electoral calendar—so that the election to the National Assembly would follow the presidential (by five weeks; this time by seven)—the newly elected (or reelected) president of the Republic has been all but guaranteed a legislative majority—and with his power vis-à-vis the parliament reinforced in the process. The alignment of the electoral calendars, and with the presidential coming first, has thus rendered legislative elections—which had previously been rather important—an afterthought in the wake of the all-important presidential contest. And, it may be added, with the newly elected National Assembly even more subservient to the executive than in the past.

It was assumed after Emmanuel Macron’s landslide reelection on April 24th—due far more to a vote against his opponent than an affirmative vote for him—that his centrist/center-right electoral coalition, called Ensemble!, would win an easy victory in the June legislatives. There has never been the slightest threat from the extreme right in this sort of election—the Front National winning all of 2 seats (of 577) in the 2012 legislatives and 8 in 2017—and all the less so this time as Marine Le Pen, who is feuding with Éric Zemmour, rejected any electoral pact with EZ’s Reconquête. And with the failure of Valérie Pécresse’s candidacy, there would be no serious challenge from Les Républicains. As for the fragmented left, La France Insoumise, despite Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 22% on April 10th, could not realistically hope to win significantly more than the 17 seats it did in 2017 were it to contest the legislatives solo; and in the absence an electoral pact, the PS, EELV, and PCF risked failing to win the 15 seats required to form a parliamentary group, if not being wiped out altogether. That Macron’s electoral pole—headed by the vaporous entity he founded that passes for a political party—was banking on a comfortable victory without seriously campaigning, or proposing any sort of program to the electorate spelling out what it wished to do over next five years, laid bare, among many other things, the perversities of the quinquennat and France’s electoral system.

Mélenchon’s masterstroke in forging the NUPES and incessantly proclaiming that it aimed to win an outright majority—and that Macron, henceforth in a cohabitation, would have no choice but to appoint JLM prime minister—has, needless to say, upended the scenario. Not too many predicted in the aftermath of the presidential election that the parties of the left would go into the legislatives united behind single candidates—and with polls predicting that the left could win up to 200 seats, if not more—or that the left would suddenly occupy center stage in the media’s political coverage. After endless months in 2021 and into this year of Zemmour and the extreme right dominating the media’s attention, it’s a breath of fresh air to see the left and its issues, whatever one thinks of them, back in play. The left has finally gotten its act together, as it were.

Left-leaning France-based Anglosphere observers, e.g. the smart journalists Harrison Stetler and Cole Stangler, have been gushing over the NUPES and its prospects. C’est normal. Loosely quoting the excellent analysis of the NUPES by the UK-based political scientist Philippe Marlière in AOC (also posted in Mediapart), JLM, a powerful orator well-known to all, led a vigorous, inspired presidential campaign, in which he provided a detailed political program easily accessible to voters, made ingenious use of new technologies, and demonstrated, as in previous campaigns, an exceptional ability to rally crowds and generate enthusiasm (matched in the campaign only by Éric Zemmour). For this, he was rewarded with 22% of the vote on April 10th, compared to the cumulative 8.7% of the subsequent three left candidates (whose parties are now part of NUPES). In short, if it weren’t for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French left would simply be out of the picture on the national level.

All this being said, I cannot entirely partake in the lefty enthusiasm over NUPES, precisely because of JLM, a personality for whom my dim views are longstanding and well-known to AWAV readers. In his essay, Philippe Marlière took care to mention JLM’s “erratic temperament” and “disqualifying positions,” particularly in the geopolitical domain. For many moderate left voters, myself included, the latter is the ultimate deal-breaker when it comes to casting a ballot for JLM or other LFI candidates. A few points about NUPES and my skepticism as to its longevity.

First, the NUPES—which, it must be emphasized, is an electoral pact and nothing more—was negotiated in a mere 13 days and under duress for the parties sitting across the table from JLM and his LFI acolytes. Compare this to previous left alliances—1936 Popular Front, 1972 Common Program, 1997 Gauche plurielle—which were negotiated over a much longer period of time and in a more consensual atmosphere. The NUPES is, in effect, a shotgun marriage between reformist and radical left parties that are deeply divided on fundamental issues.

Second, on negotiating under duress, the PS, EELV, and PCF had no choice but to deal with JLM on his terms and accept his final proposals—which, for the PS, were quite humiliating, notably accepting that it would be allotted a mere 70 constituencies (30 or so deemed to be winnable), with no PS candidate thus present in over 500. How far the once venerable French Socialist party has fallen. But Olivier Faure & Co had to swallow their pride and take the deal, as without it, the PS would be sending far fewer than 30 deputies to the newly-elected National Assembly.

Third, the ability of the PS, EELV, and PCF to form their own parliamentary groups is key to the NUPES deal, and all are likely to cross the threshold for this. Once the groups are constituted, LFI will have no leverage over the other NUPES constituents or any way to impose discipline—and all the less so as JLM, who is not running for reelection, will not be present in the Palais Bourbon.

Prediction: the NUPES, like most shotgun marriages, will not live a long life. It won’t last to the next election. EELV and a reconstituted PS will rebuild, perhaps in alliance, and as their combined electoral potential is as great as that of LFI—and particularly a post-Mélenchon one—they will inevitably assert their independence.

There is much more to say about this, of course. I’ll continue with it after tomorrow’s results.

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An old stateside friend and faithful AWAV fan has been asking me when I’m going to have another post on Russia-Ukraine, as it’s been over two months since the last one. I would have had more were it not for the election season in France, which will thankfully conclude in eleven days, as I have remained riveted to the unfolding events—and with my outrage at Russia’s Hitlerian dictator as tenacious as ever. So in response to my friend, I will offer links to a selection of pertinent articles and Twitter threads I have archived.

A couple of comments. First, on asserting that Vladimir Putin = Hitler, I do not exaggerate. There is no reductio ad Hitlerum here. Sure, Putin may not (yet) have embarked on an outright genocidal campaign in the part of Ukraine that Russia has conquered—though some will argue that he indeed has, or is close to it—but everything else about him and his action–not to mention that of the barbarian hordes that is a.k.a. the Russian army—is pure post-1938 Third Reich. Second, there seems to be no limit to Putin’s evilness. When he is not pulverizing whole cities into rubble, sending the barbarian hordes to rape, loot, and pillage, and creating one of the world’s gravest refugee crises in 75 years—or, rather, while he is doing these things—he is brandishing the specter of worldwide famine in choking off Ukraine’s farms and agricultural exports. Russia’s holding Ukrainian grain hostage—or outright stealing it—is being widely reported (and is a lead story in France today). Le Monde’s grand reporter Luc Bronner had a lengthy must-read report last month, “War in Ukraine: storm warning in the world’s breadbasket,” in which we (or at least I) came to understand the centrality of Ukraine in feeding part of the world’s growing population. This passage is noteworthy:

The crisis is major because the crops produced and sold by Ukrainians in recent years have continued to grow. In ten years, the volume of exported grain has tripled. In 2021, this represented 12% of the world market for wheat, 16% for corn, 18% for barley, 20% for rapeseed and 50% for sunflower. “In a decade, Ukraine has made the greatest progress in agricultural yields in the history of mankind,” notes Romain Desthieux, former head of MAS Seeds in the country, one of the key players in the European seed market.

Everything was in place for the spiral of food dependence on Ukraine to grow. “Last year we produced 106 million tons of grain, the largest harvest in our history. Of this volume, we estimated that 70 million tons would be exported,” explains Nykolay Gorbachov, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association (UGA), a powerful lobby for the sector. The main destinations for Ukrainian wheat include Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan. Among the most dependent are Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen – countries that are already fragile.

These raw figures tell the story of the extraordinary transformation of a Soviet economy into an ultra-performing agriculture, three quarters of which is internationally oriented, served by the quality of the land, a favorable climate and the geography – millions of hectares on almost entirely flat terrain. Taking advantage of the fluidity of the capitalist system, investors from all over the world have been attracted by the profitability of Ukrainian agriculture.

And then there’s this:

That Vladimir Putin, who without doubt found Ukraine’s agricultural success—and consequent economic power—to be absolutely intolerable, would seek to wreck this: this alone qualifies him as the worst war criminal of our era.

No “off-ramps” for Putin, no taking care not to “humiliate” him, no arrogantly telling Ukrainian leaders that they “will have to make the painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand.” Putin must lose this war. And Ukraine must win it.

The problem in Russia of course goes beyond Putin. That country is going to need a serious de-Nazification campaign at some point down the road. On n’en est pas là.

Project Syndicate has a must-read interview with Adam Michnik, who epitomizes Poland’s liberal spirit and has met Putin several times, on “Putin’s historic blunder.”

Also a must-read is an interview with Greg Yudin in the website Analyse & Kritik, “A fascist regime looms in Russia.” It begins:

Greg Yudin is a philosopher and sociologist at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, he anticipated quite exactly what would happen, in an article for Open Democracy. Greg Yudin is still in Moscow; he was hospitalized by security forces during a protest in the days after the war began. Yudin has long warned against Putin’s aggressive claim to power, which makes a military confrontation with NATO increasingly likely. In the interview, he describes the power mechanisms by which Putin’s system is based, the rapid transformation of Russian society into a pre-fascist order and the prospects for the anti-war movement.

Here are a few Twitter threads I deemed worthy of saving (click on the name):

Maxim Eristavi, co-founder of the Ukrainian news outlet Hromadkse International, offers an 84 tweet thread on the grim history of #RussianColonialism.

Emma Burrows, a TV news producer formerly based in Moscow, “travelled 8 hours out of Moscow, almost to Belarus, to a tiny village to interview the parents of a 22-yr old Russian soldier killed in Ukraine…[which] helps explain Putin’s Russia & the power that comes from controlling information.”

Volodymyr Yermolenko—Ukrainian philosopher, analyst & journalist, and chief editor at Ukraine World—attempts “to understand why Russians hate and dehumanize Ukrainians so much, which is a way to understand one of the major causes of this war.”

Valeriia Voshchevska of Amnesty International says: “Russian colonialism in action right now in 2022 in occupied #Ukraine. Yes, it’s happening right now. Russian colonialism is not just a thing of the past. Today, Russia is engaging in colonial practices in occupied Ukraine. Here’s what’s been happening.”

Stas Olenchenko, founder and writer at Ukraine Explainers, says: “The language context of Ukraine can be a tricky topic for any outsider. In this long and personal thread, I’ll illustrate the relationship between Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine using my family’s history. I’m a bilingual Ukrainian raised in a Russian-speaking family in Kyiv.”

Mart Kuldkepp, Estonian professor of history at University College London, “would like to make some critical points about blind spots that frequently prevent us from correctly assessing the nature and likely outcomes of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”

Tom Nichols says that “[i]n forty years of studying #Russia the thing I always struggled to get my arms around is that this remarkable and immense nation, a source of cultural and scientific genius, is also so riven by ignorance and insecurity that it is incapable of living in peace with the world.”

À suivre.

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