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Socialist re-enchantment at the La Rochelle summer university
Sep 3rd, 2009


On my way back from Barcelona, I stopped at the lovely coastal town of La Rochelle where the Parti socialiste summer university was held. The sun was shining, people were in a good mood, and optimism was in the air. Journalists felt it too as for once in a very long time they wrote positive articles on the PS. What has caused that sudden turnaround? Could they actually feel the activists’ enthusiasm? Have they been seduced by the reforms announced by PS leader Martine Aubry? Or is it simply that they have finally realised that their approach to the PS in the past years has been overly negative? The PS is by far not only about internal fights. The PS is not dead. The PS is an activist party. It is alive and kicking, lifted up by the dedication of its thousands of activists, who relentlessly and voluntarily give some of their free time to the pursuit of their ideals because they refuse fatality, and decided one day to take their destiny into their own hands. I am regularly dumbstruck when I notice the gap between the party’s life as I see it from inside, and the image that is given by the mainstream media. I feel betrayed and usurped. I am happy to see that finally there are signs of change in this regard.


This weekend at La Rochelle, the activists’ enthusiasm warmed up my heart. Among the reforms announced by Martine Aubry in her opening speech, especially two of them were greeted by thunderous applause, spiced up by bravos and hurrays: the first one was about putting an end to the very French habit of plurality of offices, and the second one was about following the American model and opting for open primaries for the presidential election in 2012. Besides these two groundbreaking reforms, Martine Aubry announced the upcoming launch of a social network dedicated to PS activists and sympathisers. This “socialist Facebook” will be called Coopol from “coopérative politique”, political cooperative in French. I am thrilled by these three announcements as they all go towards a greater openness of the Parti socialiste.


Openness to the diversity of society by putting an end to plurality of offices. In order to renew itself, the Parti socialiste needs to promote more women, young people, people of foreign origin, people from any social and economic backgrounds. Not only will it better reflect the diversity of French society, but it will also convey that diversity engenders creativity.


Openness to our sister parties on the left and to the participation of our sympathisers to the party’s life thanks to the presidential primaries. I am convinced that the left needs to unite. We are driven by the same values. What differs is our vision of what is needed to reach our common ideals. I believe that is something we can overcome. The primaries will also give our sympathisers the opportunity to play an important role in the campaign, thus certainly giving birth to new vocations.


Openness to new means of political activism thanks to Coopol. This new tool will allow activists who share common interests to gather and act together despite geographical distance. Opening up the tool to sympathisers will also show that our party is a common place for debate, as well as a laboratory for political innovation.


Openness is a left-wing concept, and so is participative democracy and transparency. It was high time we reasserted it.


As Al Green sings, “a change is gonna come”.





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The good thing about a crisis is that it brings about change
Jun 24th, 2009

The French PS is going through a severe crisis. Nobody denies it anymore. Everybody knows. It’s out there. It’s a fact. On a more positive note, let’s keep in mind that one has to reach the bottom of the swimming-pool so they can give a good kick and surface again. I hope that’s where we stand now.


In the aftermath of the European election defeat, French PS leaders have started the blame game. They all come up with their very own explanation of the reasons why we lost, and what needs to be done to recover. The views expressed are all different of course, and there is no common stance on the situation. That’s part of the issue. Some think the party should lean more towards the left, while others would like to see it closer to the centre. Some would like to bring all left-wing parties together; others wish the PS rather reasserted its specific identity. Some even go as far as saying the party should change its name –the most extremist advocating that the party is dead, and we should thus dissolve it. In short, it’s a big mess.

Amid this cacophony, one idea has emerged as quite unusually popular, and it is generating more and more interest among the activists. The French PS is seriously thinking about organising primaries to the presidential election, after the US model. The idea has the advantage of being both new to the French political debate and innovative, and above all it is surfing on the Obama wave. A very interesting report has been written on it by a PS group dedicated to brainstorming on the party’s renovation. I’ll get back to that in upcoming posts. The idea is certainly inspiring, and worth giving a lot of thought to. However it shouldn’t be a smoke screen over the deeper problems of the party. We should not put all our energy in this new project at the risk of not tackling the real issues. Yes, the PS is going through a serious crisis, and that new electoral gadget – as interesting as it may be – will not solve the root problems our movement is suffering from. Let’s not act in haste. Our defeats are the results of a disconnection between our party and our electorate. Our party has not managed to renew its identity according to society evolution. That’s what we have to work on.

For activists, the current situation is very difficult to live. The mood is bad, of course. We all are a little knocked out. But something tells me we are not far away from that moment when reaching the bottom of the swimming-pool, a good kick pulls you back to the surface, slowly but surely. What makes me feel like that is precisely the fact that we all agree our party is in trouble so we cannot shilly-shally any longer. Either we change or we die. All methods are allowed in this kind of decisive moment, and that is a good thing. People speak their mind out, volunteers multiply, and so do debates. We take a new look at problems, put prejudices aside, forget about the old recipes, and open up to all new ideas. So yes, at that moment, everything is possible. Stay tuned, coming up: fascinating times.

picture credits: jayhem @ flickr
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© Eurosocialiste 2010. Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or its clients. The content of this blog has been revised by Fabtrad (fabtrad @ gmail.com)