Hamon: Dreams and Hard-Left at the Center of a Presidential Campaign?

By Daniel Teboul

Last Friday at 2pm, we decided to go to Lille and attend Benoit Hamon’s last political rally before the second round of the French Socialist primary. We went there with a stranger that we contacted one hour before the trip via Blablacar (and whom we paid directly, avoiding any taxes and government involvement), ate at a MacDonald’s, and rode a driverless subway across the city. This journey could not have been more appropriate as we were going to see the candidate who stands for workers, ecological and societal transitions, advocates a universal wage, wants to compensate for the jobs lost to machines through a new tax, and put an end to unregulated markets.

Lille, or “The Metropolis,” and the “Saint Savior” sporting arena were no meaningless venue choices. It is, as guest speakers one by one reminded us, a stadium that remained empty for years, in the heart of the “city of the workers.” Left wing since the late 19th century, Lille is the birth place of The International. Do these choices mean that Hamon sees himself as Fritz Lang’s hero: a working class prophet who will put an end to the class struggle and revolutionize society?

Although only history will answer this question, Friday’s rally can give us a hint. Hamon was radically different from the usual, moderated, serene character that he presented throughout the campaign. His opening remark at the Japy rally (another highly symbolic place for French socialists), the first major rally of his campaign, was a joke about Macron’s prophetic attitude and more specifically the way that he ended his rally of the previous day: looking up to the sky with his arms wide open while shrieking “Vive la république; vive la France.” Yet, the closing remark of Hamon’s last meeting was performed with the same high-pitched tone and open arms. All throughout his campaign, Benoit was an advocate of the “for” and not the “against” politics, as Francois Lamy, a deputy and former minister reminded us. Yet, during this last meeting, Hamon explained the dangerousness of Fillon and Le Pen, qualifying a vote for him to be a vote against them.

Since September, and even more so in the last month with live debates, Hamon has known how to set the issues at stake. He quickly swept the usual questions about migrants, gay marriage, education, terrorism and growth from the public debate to try and be the one who presents a true, complete and ambitious project. A project summarized in one flagship measure: the universal wage. Yesterday, again, he narrowed down what differentiated him from Valls, Macron or the center-right and right-wing candidate: his philosophical understanding of liberty. Whereas his opponents believe in “negative liberty” (liberty as the absence of concrete obstacles such as the government and taxes), the Socialist favorite believes in “positive liberty,” actively making everyone more equal, as “the poor who cannot eat or live a decent life, cannot be free.”

Desiring to appear confident, Hamon seemed to have already won the primary. The enemy was no longer Valls but Fillon, Macron and Le Pen; the goal was not to oppose one vision of the left against another but rather to oppose the philosophical beliefs and the moral bases of Socialism to the conservatism of Fillon. But before all, Hamon attempted to offer a new vision of politics with one central word: desire.

As his sympathizers explained, Hamon’s plan seduces because it is ambitious and beautiful. He wants to offer a desirable alternative, “make what is desirable possible and not what is possible desirable” as he said. This is a new step for him who, up until now, dedicated his energy to proving to socialist skeptics that his project was possible and realistic. Finally, he directly attacked the more traditional, establishment candidates such as Fillon and, to a certain extent, Valls, by setting his rebellious crowd on fire with an unusually aggressive and blunt warning: “remember that those whom you see campaigning wearing slim fitted suits and overcoats are those who bend the knees when they govern!”

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