See how France’s Socialist Party collapsed. It could happen here soon.

Summary: Why did France’s Left collapse leaving a neoliberal “centrist” to take the Presidency? In 2012 the Socialist Party dominated France. Then they applied a large dose of neoliberalism. This betrayal of their principles and the subsequent weak economy almost destroyed them as an effective political force. The story is similar to America’s, just one chapter ahead. Let’s watch and learn from their experience. This is a follow-up to Emmanuel Macron is France’s Clinton and Obama, bringing it more neoliberalism.

Macron Party meeting

Obama offered Hope and Change but did little for the Left — other than his big success, Obamacare. Many of his policies betrayed promises during the 2008 election. He left the Democratic Party a wreck (see the graphs).

Trump’s first 100 days have been a series of betrayals of his campaign promises, as the faux populist becomes a standard GOP general-loving, corporate-friendly, booster of the 1%. How will Republicans react? How will US politics change if both parties become discredited? Turn to France to see our possible future.

France’s Socialist Party acted as shock troops for neoliberalism. Their betrayal of the party’s core principles and subsequent economic failure alienated the party from its base, leading to electoral near-destruction. This prepared the way for the triumph this year of Macron’s centrist neoliberalism.

This year we will see how the French people react to their loss of confidence is all their major parties. To see how this happened, read this gripping story of how neoliberalism destroyed France’s Socialist party.

Landscape of Treason: On the French elections.”

By Grey Anderson.

“As Francois Hollande’s ignominious presidency draws to a close, his party confronts its gravest crisis since it was refounded in 1971 out of the ruins of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). Party candidate Benoît Hamon has seen his poll numbers drop to single digits. …Party membership has dropped to as few as 42,000 cardholders, a mere quarter of the 2014 figure and a bathetic verdict on party secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis’s onetime target of half a million members. …

“Five years ago, the outlook was considerably brighter. Following the elections of 2012, the PS exercised unprecedented dominance over French political life, Hollande’s triumph having well exceeded that of Mitterrand two decades earlier. The Socialists controlled the presidency, the government, both houses of congress, all save one region, 60% of the departments, and two thirds of mayoralties. What explains the dramatic reversal? …

Francois Hollande

“Hollande ran for president as a candidate of the moderate left …. He promised to fight unemployment, defend French industry and prevent plant closures …impose stricter regulations on the banking sector, and renegotiate the terms of the European Fiscal Stability Treaty (TSCG). “My enemy,” Hollande declared with brio in the January 2012 speech at the Bourget airport that launched his campaign, “is the world of finance.” But the first months of his presidency would be defined by inaction, professions of faith in balanced budgets and ministerial confusion. …

“Betrayal after betrayal followed. In June 2012, the president added his signature to the TSCG. On September 30, eleven days before parliament voted to ratify the document, demonstrations in Paris brought some 80,000 protestors into the street to march against the “Troika dikat.” …

“An upsurge in unemployment, beginning in the summer of 2011 as the first effects of Sarkozy’s austerity measures began to be felt, continued unabated through 2012. By autumn, official data showed the number of unemployed passing the 3 million mark. Hollande’s approval ratings plunged, with little more than a third of those polled in November 2012 reporting confidence in the president, the lowest figure in the history of the Fifth Republic. In December, the French Constitutional Court struck down legislation that would have imposed a 75% tax on revenues of more than €1 million, one of Hollande’s signal proposals on the stump (along with Florange and revision of the Fiscal Compact).

“As the year came to a close, the government had offered scarcely a single concession to its left-wing base, aside from a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. No previous Socialist administration had so uniformly failed to enact progressive social or economic measures on taking power.

“In response to the worsening economy, the administration adopted an unyielding supply-side program of tax cuts, decreased social spending, and slackened restrictions on layoffs. …

“This defeat was accompanied by bruising political struggle on a second front, as legislation revising the French Labor Code triggered a popular uprising in the spring of 2016. … the law stipulated new collective bargaining regulations to disempower unions, fewer restrictions on firing workers, a cut to mandatory severance pay, and incentives for overtime work. Beginning in March 2016, strikes and demonstrations against the reforms erupted across France, culminating in the months-long occupation of the Place de la République. The “Nuit debout” protests, which recalled the 2011 emergence of the Spanish Indignados movement and Occupy Wall Street in the US, semaphored broad dissatisfaction with the political system and national elites.

“Reform of the Labor Code succeeded where constitutional revision failed. But both initiatives were politically disastrous. Together, they consummated the alienation of government from its own political base; Hollande’s decision not to stand for reelection, announced on December 1, 2016, as the president’s approval rating sank to 4%, merely confirmed an established fact.”

——————- Read this article in full. There is much more there. ——————-

Duke of Norfolk
They didn’t like the peons, either.

A fun coda to this story

France Against Itself” by Tim Judah in the NY Review of Books — Excerpt…

Judah travels to one of France’s neighborhoods and asks a woman about the election. She is worried that the peasants are emotional about their shrinking share of the pie. It might lead to populism. The peons might be angry and vote!

“A few days before the first-round vote, I visited Eze, an attractive and wealthy town in the hills above Nice, where I met Vanessa Vada, an activist for Macron’s centrist party. Macron has not proved particularly strong in this part of the country, and Vada told me that one of her (and his) motivations was to avoid the populist nationalism that had recently triumphed in the United States and Britain.

“However, while she was hopeful that Macron would win, she was frightened that the strong emotions many feel about problems today could produce an unpleasant surprise in the final round. ‘I am getting worried that people will go and vote for just one reason…they are pissed off!’

Muslims burning French flag


After decades of failed promises and economic stagnation, the French people have rebelled against their major parties. Many will consider their alternatives to be unpalatable. Macron is running on the French equivalent of the Mom and apple pie platform, vagueness and charisma. Le Pen represents the far Right in a nation with ugly memories of what that has meant.

But at least the French people are reacting, not credulously believing each new generation of cardboard candidates served up by our political parties. The BEA’s first estimates of Q1 growth is 0.7%. Further slowing will create a recession from which recovery might be difficult and slow. Would that be the last straw, after which we too might lose confidence in our mainstream leaders? Let’s watch events in France — and learn.

For More Information

Important: A look at the effect of globalization on France (also applies to us): “The French, Coming Apart” by Christopher Caldwell at City Journal — “A social thinker illuminates his country’s populist divide.” It also describes what’s happening to America.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about France, and especially these…

  1. France volunteers itself as a front line in the clash of civilizations.
  2. France on Fire” by Mark Lilla.
  3. Europe’s elites use immigration to reshape it.
  4. Stratfor: Getting to the Root of France’s Muslim Dilemma.
  5. “PARIS 2016: Scenes from the Apocalypse”.
  6. Emmanuel Macron is France’s Clinton and Obama, bringing it more neoliberalism.
A Brief History of Neoliberalism
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about neoliberalism.

See A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey (2005). From the publisher…

“Neoliberalism — the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action — has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so.

“Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalization came from and how it proliferated on the world stage.

“Through critical engagement with this history, he constructs a framework, not only for analyzing the political and economic dangers that now surround us, but also for assessing the prospects for the more socially just alternatives being advocated by many oppositional movements.”

8 thoughts on “See how France’s Socialist Party collapsed. It could happen here soon.”

  1. I have heard that the French are not necessarily acting this way when they choose their legislators – the FN has done better lately but I think none of the projections are for them to make more than modest gains, even if Le Pen squeaks out a win. Indeed I remember seeing an article on Bloomberg to the effect of, “Le Pen can’t unilaterally blow up Europe and annex the Sudetenland even if she does win.”

    1. Dana,

      “I remember seeing an article on Bloomberg to the effect of, “Le Pen can’t unilaterally blow up Europe and annex the Sudetenland even if she does win.””

      You’re kidding us, right? That’s a prediction like “Trump can’t rename the Washington Monument the Trump Tower.”

      “the FN has done better lately but I think none of the projections are for them to make more than modest gains”

      I suggest caution when relying on polls in multi-party systems. They have a poor record. Small errors can produce wildly wrong predictions of that national results.

      But that’s a secondary point. Le Pen’s success has been at the national level by surviving the collapse of the major parties, not by a massive gain in vote share. In the 2011 Presidential election the FM got 17.9% of the vote. They didn’t get into the second round. This month they got 21.5% — and got into the second round election. Polls predict that they will get 35-40% of the vote in the second round.

      I’d say that FN has certainly made large gains since 2011. Progress is usually incremental.

    2. Yes, the Sudetenland remark was a joke… I am no fan of Le Pen’s but she would have to work with a French government that her party did not, apparently, rule. Or so it seems. The FN doesn’t seem to be predicted to get a majority or even a major gain in the National Assembly, and their high water mark was in 1986 – where they got 35 out of 573, and lost 34 of them in the next election. At the moment they have 2 out of 577 seats. I can’t infer that they aren’t expected to do much better this time around, but it seems like a topic that would have come up.

      I find this interesting because it suggests that people are approaching voting for a chief executive and for their local legislator in different ways. I wonder why that is – is the voting by party, not by individual-from-a-party? That might make it easier for established groups (which would include the FN) to get a more stable share of the vote, sort of like the occasional references to Generic Republican here in US polling.

      I also wonder if the synchronization in rhetoric I’ve seen in a lot of “populist” candidates (Le Pen and Trump proposed *identical* penalty taxes on outsourced plants trying to reimport into the mother country; Geert Wilders seems to be backed financially mostly by Americans…) is going to cause them problems in building support in particular situations, but that’s kind of a high-end, political-science speculation.

      1. Dana,

        (1) “The FN doesn’t seem to be predicted to get a majority or even a major gain in the National Assembly”

        (a) As I said before, don’t take those polls too seriously. House elections in the US are notoriously difficult to predict, with the national results often widely different than predicted.

        (b) It is very rare for a party to get a majority in the French elections. Nobody did in 2002, 2007, and 2012.

        (2) “their high water mark was in 1986 ”

        Missing the point. Things are changing in Europe. As past posts have shown — and a thousand news articles this month have discussed — the landscape is moving.

        (3) “find this interesting because it suggests that people are approaching voting for a chief executive and for their local legislator in different ways.”

        Why is this interesting? Americans often split ticket vote. It is even more common in multi-party systems with run-off elections, since your party’s candidates are seldom on in the second round of both the Presidential and legislative elections.

        (4) “I also wonder if the synchronization in rhetoric I’ve seen in a lot of “populist” candidates …is going to cause them problems in building support in particular situations”

        Why? The political systems of “western” nations have been loosely synchronized since the early 19th century. Similar socio-economic conditions in which only a small set of ideas can flourish, where they are spread by rapid communications.

    3. Fair points all around, although the French pollsters did do a lot better than the American ones. Still, local races are their own creatures, it’s true. I’ll have to educate myself more on the details out there at some point soon.

      As for the common talking points, I suppose the point may be that for the most part they *are* just talking points – and since there may be no clear intention to actually execute on them, even if the individual populist does come to power, why not just use the line that’s already worked? It reminds me of a line from a Civil War politician talking about the transportation of former slaves to Liberia: “It is a damn humbug, but it will take with the people.”

      1. Dana,

        “although the French pollsters did do a lot better than the American ones.”

        First, I doubt that “a lot better” is correct. The US polls predicted the outcome within their error of measurement. The models pollsters used to calculate the electoral college vote were less accurate. But Trump’s margin of victory was mind-bendingly small. A shift of roughly 80,000 votes — out of 137 million votes cast — would have put Clinton in the White House.

        Second, is that a fair comparison? France has a population of 67 million in a dense area. The US has 325 million spread out over a much of a continent.

        “As for the common talking points, …”

        To what are you referring?

    4. I meant (for instance) both Trump and Le Pen saying they would institute a 35 percent tax on goods imported from factories that move abroad.

      Other than the practical questions like “is this retroactive? does it apply to companies, specific models of product, to categories of products?” it’s notable to me that it’s exactly 35% – why not 50%? 60%? etc. Yet both of them have made that statement on the campaign trail, even if Trump doesn’t seem to have brought it up lately.

      1. Dana,

        I got it! That’s a fascinating subject — the extent to which candidates fulfill their campaign promises. There does not appear to be any relationship between candidates breaking promises and the public’s reaction. FDR ran almost to the right of Hoover — attacking Hoover for his big deficits! — and on a peace platform in 1940. There is a large literature on this. So far as I can tell (not familiar with it), people tent to want successful leaders more than those that fulfill their campaign promises. Which is, i guess logical.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top