Elections in France show how the neoliberal left has crumbled

PS

Let us first look at the bloc that could be described as authoritarian neoliberal. As you say, it’s a sociologically composite alliance, but that’s not surprising. Social blocks group together different classes; the strong homogeneity of the bourgeois bloc is an exception, not the rule.

The key is to identify the variables that allow this alliance to hold. On the one hand, the continuity of neoliberal policies and reforms responds directly to the expectations of the upper classes. However, they sense that there is a rising social revolt; the yellow vests have sent a very strong signal, but it is not the only one – we must also look at the movements in schools and hospitals, or the enormous disappointment generated by the total inaction of the government on climate issues. The idea that neoliberalism can have a progressive content no longer convinces many people, including those who defend it.

The upper classes have shown, under the Macron presidency, that they are really ready to do anything to control social protest and protect their dominant position. This explains the failure of the strategies aimed at recovering a left-wing bourgeoisie perhaps disappointed by Macron. The facts show that the openness shown by this component of the bourgeoisie in the past – its attachment to public liberties and even its desire to support genuine social progress, which actually existed – has a clear limit in its refusal to consider the slightest waiver of its privileges.

As long as Macron is perceived as the guarantor of continuity in the relationship of domination, the old leftist bourgeoisie will stay with him, even if the demonstrations are managed with the brutality that we have seen, even if the rule of law is trampled on. , even if the separation of powers is buried. But in this authoritarian neoliberal bloc we also find fractions of the working classes, and a large part of the middle classes to whom neoliberalism can offer some advantages, but which it threatens above all with social decline.

To explain this major—counter-intuitive—phenomenon, we must move away from the vision of public policies as a simple exchange between electoral support and the satisfaction of expectations that are entirely inscribed in socio-economic positions. It is because neoliberalism is hegemonic that the authoritarian neoliberal bloc manages to be so strong.

This hegemony is expressed in two main ways. On the one hand, alternatives to neoliberalism are widely perceived as unrealistic. Workers in precarious and dominated situations, students who need resources to finance their studies and pay rent, for example, may see the “flexible” and unprotected labor relations driven by neoliberalism as a sad but necessary condition of their survival because they see no alternative. And the fact is, in the neoliberal world we live in, they are often right. As long as the possibility of a major rupture in the orientation of public policies does not appear concrete and immediate, neoliberal hegemony will not be truly threatened.

The other dimension is the hierarchy of social expectations. You don’t have to be a fine analyst to see the tremendous work done by mainstream media and system intellectuals to downplay socio-economic issues and bring issues such as immigration, French security and identity. This is what makes this block consistent. The upper classes, as I said, now see authoritarianism as a necessary condition for the continuation of neoliberal policies that benefit them. But an important part of the middle classes, although threatened by neoliberalism – and even fractions of the working classes – consider not only that there is no realistic alternative to neoliberalism in terms of social and economic policies, but that immigration, security, etc., are important issues that call for an authoritarian and repressive response.

This analysis of the authoritarian neoliberal bloc allows us to outline a strategy for building an alternative bloc. First of all, it is not only illusory but totally counterproductive to imagine an alternative that would “take seriously” security or identity issues as presented by the opponent. Conducting a “slightly to the right” policy on these issues simply reinforces the hegemony being fought for. A social alliance concerned with the defense of popular interests must put the social question back at the heart of the political conflict. This requires first of all to affirm loud and clear that immigration and security, which must certainly be the subject of specific and reasoned policies, are not at all the major problems of the French.

But it’s not enough. We must also convince that there are possible, concrete solutions for purchasing power, hospitals, schools, pensions, etc., which are within reach and which completely break with neoliberal logic. This is necessary not only to dismantle part of the middle and working classes of the neoliberal authoritarian bloc, but above all to mobilize abstainers. The emphasis on the program is therefore decisive, as is the desire to leave the European treaties, which is one of the factors that make such a break seem unrealistic.

The left of the rupture is presented by the media as an extreme component, therefore a minority, of the political landscape. But there will be no reconstruction of a left bloc without putting the break with neoliberalism, which is also essential to any serious response to the ecological emergency, at the heart of the new alliance. Obviously, in a context of neoliberal hegemony, this project will encounter major obstacles, and will probably require more time than the few weeks before a presidential election. But the time for power exchanges between a “reasonable” right and a left that also plays the same melody is over. There is no other way to build an alternative to authoritarian neoliberalism, whether it takes the form of Macron, Le Pen, Pécresse or Zemmour.