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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le 5 mai, dans la rue pour changer de politique et de système

by Roger Martelli

Why we must march on the fifth of May

Translated Wednesday 24 April 2013, by Isabelle Métral

Shall we leave face to face a Right and a Left that share the same codes?

Historian Roger Martelli argues in favor of a radical change of course: we need new policies, and a new system.


Shall we leave face to face a Right and a Left that share the same codes?

Why we must march on the fifth of May

Historian Roger Martelli [1] argues in favor of a radical change of course: we need new policies, and a new system.

France, like the European Union, is in bad shape, in perilous shape. The financial crisis and the social disaster alone would have been enough to fill us with despair; but we have currently sunk into a deep political depression and are confronted with an abysmal moral divide. We have reached a point where half-measures just cannot do: either we summon the energy for a saving jump or we resign ourselves to sinking deeper and deeper. Will the decisive push come from the Left, or can it come only from the Right?

So far, it is clear that the Right is sailing before the wind. Its themes and its tactics are becoming more radical. It has its own networks for mobilization and its think-tanks. It churns out ideas, evolves, and is active. It puts crowds on the streets. It is edging closer to the National Front while the National Front itself is on the watch, biding its time, aware that as long as despair and resentment deepen, time is on its side - in France as in the rest of Europe. The Socialist party itself is leading the Left into a wall. It had a choice between the Left and the Centre. Similar to all its likes elsewhere, it opted for the center. Since Tony Blair, its “modernization” has followed the social-liberal formula: since finance capitalism cannot be left behind, all that can be done is to optimize its mechanism (streamline the budget, force wages down) and sail clear of a social explosion.

Achieving those ends requires a marginal (increasingly marginal) re-distribution of profits, putting people back to work (petty jobs cost less than unemployment benefits), and guaranteeing social order (making “security” its priority). Cahuzac who, as minister for the budget was found guilty of sending funds to secret accounts abroad and paying no taxes on his gains while enforcing the straightjacket of Austerity and wearing the virtuous mask of Rigor, and Valls, the Interior Minister, still in office, who has made a point of equaling or surpassing his Rightist predecessor in every respect, were the ideal pair, a sure winner. Jérôme Cahuzac went his own way and we are left with Manuel Valls. With the ball in the center. François Bayrou shows greater insight when he warns François Hollande against the “red peril”.

Crises are favorable to all kinds of re-shuffling. History affords many instances of what can happen in a situation like the one we are in. The thirties have left indelible memories in that respect. But more can be found in times closer to ours: in 1958, the crisis with the war in Algeria killed off the Fourth Republic in no time and brought in the great presidential machinery of the Fifth. In Italy, the moral crisis of the 1980s brought the First Republic to an end and paved the way for the reign of Berlusconi and the integration of the most fascistic Right. In all these instances, democracy ended up a definite loser. How ever did that happen? It happened because the Left was paralyzed and did not rise to the occasion.

In France today, a regression of this sort cannot be ruled out: this sad outcome could happen in many ways and take on many forms. Inaction in cases like this is the worst option. For basically the worst is already with us, with the unceasing accumulation of choices that have been made all along the line. iI is now over thirty years since ultra-liberalism and “governance” have been the twin un-dissociable forces that have kept our societies moving on.

Fundamental to its expansion is the double conviction that the “welfare state” is the source of all the economic dis-functioning, and that the “excesses of democracy” (to quote the trilateral Commission, 1975) make an upturn impossible by means of the standard austerity therapy. The institutional setup operates in quite a coherent way, in that it imposes an economic norm, the conflation of the public and the private, the contraction of the province of the law, the weakening of representation, the expansion of expertise and the actual power given to a group under the guise of an alternation between a right and a left that share the same managerial codes.

The choice before us now is clear enough, and simple enough: either this coherent pattern is repeated indefinitely or we break it up. Either we accept the straightjacket of the prevailing logic or we decide to find creative resources in a different framework altogether. As it happens, realism today has changed sides. No improvement can be devised within the realm of liberalism and governance, that infernal couple; the future lies with the virtuous coupling of the development of human capacities and the citizens’ active involvement.

A new cadre for the allocation and use of available resources, a new frame for democracy. Another way of envisaging development: economical efficiency by virtue of justice and sharing, instead of growth through inequality and competition. Another architecture for our institutions: not governance, but the enlargement of our rights and of our citizenship, at all levels, from the factory through our towns to the supra-national levels. The Fifth Republic is outdated. The time has come for a new constitutional process. Such, to me, is the meaning of the march on May 5. Its motto cannot be ‘Out they go!”, but “let’s change policies, let’s change the system.” When anger is mingled with despair, it sours into resentment. Resentment does not strike at the roots of the evil, it merely points to a scapegoat.

Resentment in the twentieth century was the major driving force behind fascism. Today it is still a vector for all kinds of perverse recuperation. So we must both let out the anger and do all we can to allow it to turn into a fighting energy, not into resentment. Which can only be done if anger is backed by hope and given the impetus by a project on the human scale. To break with the liberal logic and open the way to a new Republic: there lies the key, there is no other.

In the current deleterious phase it is unthinkable to leave a clear field to a Right that has become more radical and to the Far-Right. It is out of the question to let regressive, homophobic, fascistic hordes hold our streets. We cannot run the risk of a movement that would ride the economic crisis and once more defeat the Republic. For on this point, too, history is eloquent: many a democratic upturn has started with the occupation of the streets. The May 5 march should be the beginning of a process. And our streets, on that day, will not be a playground for adventure, but a safe ground for the civic revival.

[1Martelli is co-president of the quarterly Regards

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