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25 August 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

Life after death?

The French left goes back to school

By Jonathan Derbyshire

In the Guardian this past weekend, John Dugdale wrote about the rentrée littéraire, the “collective insanity” that grips the French publishing industry in late summer and early autumn each year. In the course of just a few weeks, more than 600 novels will be published in France. (Dugdale suggests there’s a similar phenomenon here in the UK. Certainly, the NS Books desk is groaning under the weight of more novels than we’d ever be able, or willing, to review. But I don’t imagine for a minute the volume of new titles here comes anywhere close to the deluge en outre-Manche.)

Another fixture of the late-summer season in France are the universités d’été, or summer schools, held by the major political parties (not to mention the less populous groupuscules on both left and right), which announce the rentrée politique. The Parti Socialiste (PS) holds its summer school this weekend in La Rochelle, and it promises to be rather lively.

The PS has spent most of the summer in an agony of recrimination and self-examination following its mediocre showing in the European elections in June (sound familiar?). And some of its erstwhile supporters, notably Bernard-Henri Lévy, have gone as far as to pronounce a death sentence on the party. (Though for a magisterial dismissal of this view see this interview with the political philosopher Marcel Gauchet.) But there are signs of life: in Marseilles this past weekend, the Socialist MEP Vincent Peillon, himself a philosopher in a previous life, gathered an impressive array of figures from across the centre left, including the veteran of the barricades and Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former leader of the French Communist Party Robert Hue, and a representative of the new centrist agglomeration, MoDem. They were all there attempting to answer the question: “A new progressive majority for France — how and with whom?”

Predictably enough, the PS leadership was sceptical. And, further left, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (the subject of this NS report by Andrew Hussey) showed that the sectarian habits of the ultra-gauche die hard, declaring that an alliance between the PS, the Greens and MoDem would mark the end of the “workers’ movement” as we know it.

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To keep up with developments on the French left, bookmark Arthur Goldhammer’s invaluable English-language blog, French Politics.

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