Macron: there is a new space in politics (at the left?)

Original version in Italian: MondoDem.it

If we were judging French politics, basing our considerations on the current state of its biggest party, the Socialist one, we wouldn’t say it’s in his best period. Benoît Hamon, the socialist candidate who runs for the succession of François Hollande, won the primary elections (whose participation has been below the expectations) but keeps dropping points in the polls, accounting nowadays only 12,5% of voting intentions. Hamon has been reached, and is in danger of being overtaken, by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the other left-wing party (La France insoumise), whose program has extreme proposals like leaving the European Union in order to start a “revolution with the citizens against the tyranny of the financial oligarchy”.

The historic party led by François Mitterand, founded in 1905 by Jean Jaurés and rebuilt in 1969 with the aim of unifying all the left-wing parties, is nowadays in danger of being doomed to the point of irrelevance, and is not really far from disappearing completely.

Eppur si muove… Maybe the tragic ending of the French left-wing is not flagged. Emmanuel Macron is the wild card of the presidential elections in 2017. Struck but not sunk by the Penelope-gate, the right-wing candidate François Fillon is dropping points in the polls. Fillon is not losing ground to the socialists, but to the ex-minister of Economy, who stepped down at the end of August to focus on his political project, enshrined within the movement En Marche!, whose acronym matches, in a curious but not casual way, with the same initials of its leader. According to the latest polls, Macron should have overtaken Fillon; the chance of him facing Marine Le Pen during the second round of the presidential elections is not a long shot anymore. And what really is important is that, at the second round, he would be able to take her by 25 percentage points.

But is it enough to be able to contain the conservative (Fillon) and the populist (Le Pen) right-wing in order to be the best candidate for the left-wing? There is no question more discussed than this one. The extreme left, the left of the left and the SP all share the same opinion: Emmanuel Macron is clearly from the right-wing. The extreme right and the right think there is no doubt about him coming from the left-wing. The centrists François Bayrou and Jean-Christophe Lagarde see him simply as an uncomfortable candidate, but while the first one thinks about him as someone who is needed to strike a deal with, the second one considers Macron as an enemy to fight with strength. In the imagery of his supporters, in the end, the fact that Macron will be the new head of the French state is a sure thing; he’ll be the youngest President ever, even younger than Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who took office when he was 40 years old.

The state of the left becomes a strong (deep) issue of identity, certainly not related with Macron’s personality, who sustains an even too strong and confident sense and perception of himself. But the left-wing, is suffering a loss of identity. A loss that has been overwhelming it for years, well beyond the french borders. However, right in this country, kept and constantly keeps it from recognizing itself in the former banker and finance inspector Emmanuel Macron.

In this respect, it needs to be said that the young En Marche! candidate didn’t contribute in clarifying and is held liable of what’s going on; catching the crisis and the weakness of the SP, he couldn’t resist the sirens of the renewal, a tendency that, on the one hand, is perceived as charming by a part of the electorate, on the other hand, repulsive and disrespectful by those who have a long tradition of militancy and leadership into the historical left-wing parties. Even if Macron doesn’t show up as a candidate against the establishment, a role the candidate from the Front National is undoubtedly designed for, however he refuses to define himself as a socialist and breaks into as a post-system candidate, guilty of overturning the whole political geography of the Country.

So did Macron betray the left? Is he the executioner of the SP? Or is he a new driving force synonymous with change and hope? Is he an undercover member of that financial oligarchy who is exploiting the weakness of the SP to destroy the French social state? Or is he representing a left wing, fully post-ideological, which looks at the center, and is a stronghold of the liberal democracy, a of the values of the French Republic and, aspect that should not be overlooked, of a European Union constantly undermined by both right and left populism?

Macron himself has chosen to directly answer these questions when, by referring the measures associated with his program, he defined himself as the candidate of the “middle and lower classes”. Reform of the welfare state to reduce the disparity between the public and private sector, positive discrimination in favour of those who come from geographically disadvantaged areas, investments in education and 4.0 industry, ecology, secularity, foster new blood within the political leadership and, moreover, an ambitious relaunch of the European Union and a spirited defense of the international order. There are the titles in the program with which the candidate wants to “free the country and protect the French people”.

Whilst being waited for weeks, he didn’t receive the expected media attention due to the fact that was squarely focused on the last catchy episodes of the Penelope-gate. There’s no doubt about the fact that, however, this is a program e with ambitious titles which is not going to appease, but is going to fuel the debate between those who think he is worthy to be called “being left” and those who are unshakably convicted that his excessive liberal approach is contrasting with the values of the contemporary left. Finding an answer to these questions is, at the bottom, the difficult task of the political scientists, who don’t lack to question about the criteria around which the dyad right/left has to be developed. Norberto Bobbio did it in his book “Destra e sinistra Ragioni e significati di una distinzione politica” (Donzelli), or, in recent times, Marco Revelli in “Sinistra Destra. L’identità smarrita” (Laterza) and Franco Cassano in “Senza il vento della storia. La sinistra nell’era del cambiamento” (Laterza).

Anyway, those who are going to give the true final answer will be the voters in six weeks. The odds are even a harder demanding work. In the nineties, the former socialist politicians Michel Rocard and Dominque Strauss-Kahn, and more recently the President François Hollande himself, have been pilloried for trying to introduce modest market reforms in a country that seems to be attached not only, righteously, to its social protection system, but also to its failures. On the other hand, in addition to being able to take advantage of the fragile situation of the SP, Macron will benefit, until it will last, if it will last, from Fillon’s difficulties and from the stubbornness with which les Républicains keep on, anyway, upholding his candidature.

The only sure is that, if at the second round Emmanuel Macron will be the one facing Marine Le Pen, it will be necessary for the left-wing parties to band together. The unlikely, but still threatening, alternative, is that the preferences for the post-system and pro-European candidate who is proposing reforms will end up crawling to those of the sovereign and anti-system candidate who is promising revolutions. In this case, the only ones who will somehow benefit from this will be the political scientists and the historians, who will find themselves writing that, while refusing to build up an appropriate new identity to respond appropriately to the challenges posed by the historical moment, the left was dooming itself to failure.