The Emergence of an Anti-Bourgeois Bloc in France

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.3.04 (Tower One)
Bruno Amable, Université Paris I Panthéon - Sorbonne, Paris, France
Stefano Palombarini, LED Université Paris 8, Saint-Denis, France
This paper analyses the recomposing of social coalitions and political parties’ alliances in France. The traditional left and right coalitions started to break up in the 1980s. On the left, the U-turn in economic policy made in 1983 established an enduring contradiction between the supply-side economic policy that the government left wanted to implement, geared towards the European Monetary Unification and the achievement and deepening of the Single Market within the EU on the one hand, and the expectation of the left constituency regarding real wage increases, industrial democracy and the consolidation of the social protection system on the other hand. On the right, the 1980s saw the growing divergence between a radical neoliberal core, favouring drastic market liberalisation reforms, and a more moderate fraction that wanted to preserve most of the welfare state institutions. The far right party, the Front National, benefited from this rift, proposing, until the 2000s, a drastically liberal manifesto which also exploited other divides more or less related to “cultural” issues, such as immigration.

The issue of European integration summed up all these divides and emerged progressively as an significant divide. Around this issue and the ones it overlaps with, such as social protection reform, labour and product market liberalisation or the stance of macroeconomic policy, two different possible social blocs likely to structure political competition in another way than the more traditional left and right blocs began to emerge. A social alliance centred on the educated middle classes, the bloc bourgeois would gather the fractions of the left and right blocs favourable to European integration and the implied reforms of French capitalism. The political representation of this bloc would be based on the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties. As a complement of this bloc, an “anti bourgeois bloc” would gather the social groups excluded from the bloc bourgeois, mainly the working classes. Competition for the political representation of this bloc seems to turn in favour of the far right Front National, which radically changed the economic part of its manifesto in the early 2010s, to propose a defence of the French social model against Europe-driven neoliberal reforms.

The most common analysis of these changes is that it represents a resurgence of “populism”, understood as a protest movement against unavoidable economic reforms. This paper argues that the new configuration of the political supply in France does not follow from the economic need for unpopular reforms, but from the political crisis linked to the European integration issue and the questioning of the French social model that this implies. The rise of “populism” in France does not correspond to a short-sighted response to the costs of the necessary reforms; it is related to attempts to give political representation to the socio-economic interests sacrificed by the emergence of the bloc bourgeois that supports the neoliberal transformation of French capitalism under European integration.

This paper proposes an analysis of the electoral success of the National Front. Under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, it adopted a program that is in frontal opposition to the bloc bourgeois, based on exit from the Euro, the rejection of European constraints on fiscal policy, and the defence of the French social model.

This paper bases its line of argument on a historical-institutional analysis of the transformations as well as a statistical analysis of the economic policy expectations and political party preferences of the electorate.