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Mélenchon to take a Back-Seat on French Left?

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Now to Take a Back Seat? 

The co-President of the Parti de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has expressed his weariness, and his wish to take some distance. He estimates that the Front de Gauche has suffered a setback.

(Interview à Hexagones,Exclusive Interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The leader of the Left Party announces his willingness to take a step back,  recharge his batteries, and says that it is time for him to pass the baton of leadership to others. He also noted the failure of the Left Front, and denounced the role of the media in the electoral breakthrough of the National Front.)

Mélenchon cited the need to escape from the pressures that his intense political activism, over the last five years, have brought.

He expressed the view that as a “big tree” he risked stunting the growth of the others in the left political “forest”  from growing.

It is time, the former Presidential candidate for the Front de gauche said, for new faces inside the Parti de gauche (his own group inside the bloc) to take a more prominent roles.

Mélenchon offered a critical balance-sheet of the Front de gauche, notably against the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and their electoral arrangements with the Parti Socialiste (PS).

He did not hesitate to criticise the “functionaries” who had attempted to isolate the great man. (1)

concluded that his time would be spent in giving a detailed content to the general ideas of the left. Above all, “La question pour nous n’est pas de faire un parti révolutionnaire, c’est d’aider à la naissance d’un peuple révolutionnaire». The issue for us is not to build a revolutionary party, but to help a revolutionary people be born.

Adpated from Libération.

This follows troubles inside the Parti de Gauche earlier this month.

A small number of leading figures resigned their posts, protesting at the “centralisation” of the small party.

Tensions et démissions au sein du parti de Jean-Luc Mélenchon 3.7.2014.

The set-back of the European elections has produced a number of responses.

The Parti Communiste Français has talked of building a “people’s front”, (Passer du Front de gauche au front du peuple.)

It is known that dissatisfied members of the ruling Parti Socialiste (‘frondeurs’) are upset above all with plans to cut spending and toe the line of budgetary ‘rigour’.

Ensemble, the third force in the Front de gauche (grouping a number of left currents), has proposed expanding to a broader  “anti-austerity” front.

Is something like a French People’s Assembly on the cards?

(1) Les Echoes fills in the dots,

“Sans les nommer, il met en cause Pierre Laurent, le secrétaire national du Parti communiste ainsi que Ian Brossat, adjoint communiste d’Anne Hidalgo, responsables d’une stratégie d’alliance qui a « complètement décrédibilisé ce qu’était le Front de Gauche, explosé entre ceux qui ne voulaient pas d’alliance avec le PS et ceux qui se sont vautrés dans cette alliance.»

Se montrant très critique sur la ligne adoptée par le Parti communiste « plus institutionnelle, plus traditionnelle, où on continue à penser que la gauche est une réalité partiaire, organisée et qu’on peut rectifier le tir du Parti socialiste »,


Front de Gauche: Spat between Communist Party and Mélenchon

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Summer ‘University’ of the Front de Gauche has just seen a serious spat.

In his key-note speech on Friday night the former presidential candidate  Jean-Luc Mélenchon ended by attacking his own side.  He accused his comrade of the Left Front, Pierre Laurent, the national secretary of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF)  of being a “back stabber”. (Adapted from Libération).

Laurent’s response was immediate. On Saturday at the opening of the University of the Left Front in Grenoble, Pierre Laurent denounced the remarks as “unnecessarily hurtful” . But he did not want to “continue the controversy”. Whether this was a purely verbal escalation or not  the disagreements about the  article of national secretary of the PCF in the columns of Liberation (1) , which called for an end to “provocation and invectives “overshadowed the first day of debate.

Libération notes that the attendance at this Front de Gauche event was down on last year.

Mélenchon apparently disappeared after making his speech, an absence which did not go down well.

“He is deeply disappointed by what Pierre Laurent said.” one of his supporters remarked. “But this should not last, there is no divorce in the Left Front “.

(1) Laurent notably argued for a strategy for next year’s local elections based on agreements with the (governing) Parti Socialiste. “L’objectif doit rester de faire élire des majorités de gauche en rassemblant communistes, Front de gauche, écologistes, socialistes et forces citoyennes pour empêcher droite et extrême droite de conquérir des villes.” The objective must remain to elect left majorities, bringing together Communists, the Front de gauche, socialists and citizens’ groups, to prevent the right and the extreme-right taking power in our towns and cities.

He also implicitly criticised Mélenchon’s tone in his attacks on the Socialists, and Interior Minister Manuel Vals,. Laurent  agreed that the Minister had made declarations (about Islam, about law and order and immigration) that were both  opposed to the ‘values’ of the left and had had a “calamitous” effect.

But “Pour convaincre, nous ne devons pas confondre la colère et la radicalité nécessaire avec la provocation et l’invective.” To convince people we should not confuse together our anger and radical determination with provocation and invective. Here.

A “reconciliation” is expected today (Sunday).

Lutte ouvrière. Life under François Hollande? “Worse” than under Nicolas Sarkozy

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Fraternity: LO Style.

After high jinks with Jimas we return to the calmer waters of the left.

Well, kind of calm.

Last weekend was Lutte Ouvrière’s annual  Fête.

The comrades from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty were mainly impressed by the continuous rain.

This is some of the French press reaction.

It will come as no surprise that  Lutte ouvrière does not like the French Socialist-led government.

Life under François Hollande? “It’s worse” than under Nicolas Sarkozy. That was the message delivered on Sunday May 19 at the annual celebration of  Lutte ouvrière  in Presles (Val-d’Oise), through its spokesperson Nathalie Arthaud*. A year after the Presidential election, when she received 0.56% of the vote, the former candidate strongly attacked the Head of State. She called him the “armed wing of the bourgeoisie.” Here.

The rest of the Le Monde article is only available for 2 Euros, but as I have a print copy I can say that Arthuad went on in this vein to run down the entire French left.

Libération reports that,

Mélenchon, under the guise of “radical appearance,” is  “politically hollow” and “opposed to the interests of workers.” Mocking his willingness to take the Bastille while aspiring to be the Prime Minister, she proclaimed her pride of not only taking part in the demonstration on May 5,” the call for the 6th Republic initiated  by the leader of the Left Front.

Libé goes onto cite something rude she said about the Parti Communiste.

Oh, and the Front National.

But what struck me in the original article was the glacial remarks Arthaud made about the Nouveau party anti-capitaliste (NPA).

They were severely  at fault for participating in the 5th of May demonstration and for dropping the word ‘communist’ from their name (as in Ligue communiste révolutionnaire).

The Le Monde article helpfully  noted that the LO leader is a municipal  councillor, elected as part of a Parti communiste français list.

This is indeed the case, “Conseillère municipale à Vaulx-en-Velin (Rhône) élue sur la liste conduite par le Parti communiste. “

We imagine the PCF are well-pleased with her remarks.

* Candidate for the  2012 Presidential election: 0,56 % of the vote  (202 548)

France Recognises National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Doubts from the Left.

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France Officially Backs Syrian Opposition.

France has become the first European country to recognise the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) as the sole representative of the Syrian people.  (Here) President François Hollande has also announced that France is exploring the question of arming the anti-Assad forces as soon as a provisional government is formed. Six Gulf Arab states took a similar step on Monday.

The NCSROF  elected the cleric Mouaz Alkhatib as its leader.  Riad Seif and Suheir Atassi, both prominent democracy activists and the latter a secular feminist (according to Wikipedia), were elected vice presidents. The Coalition  has “restated its commitment to humanitarian and non-lethal assistance and commended Qatar for its role in the conference” that led to its formation.

It looks probable  that the NCSROF is being shaped up for a final confrontation with Assad. The present level of external support, from Turkey, the Gulf States and, more directly, the West, will rise to the point where it will become open.

Is this to be welcomed?

In May the leader of the Front de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon stated,

L’utilité d’une intervention militaire est une “illusion”, a estimé aujourd’hui Jean-Luc Mélenchon, le leader du Front de gauche, interrogé sur les déclarations du président François Hollande évoquant l’éventualité d’une telle opération en Syrie.

The usefulness of a military intervention is an “illusion”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon judged today. The leader of the Front de Gauche, replied when asked about the statements of President  François Hollande regarding the possibility of such an operation in Syria.

The Parti Communiste Français has stated that,

Le PCF réaffirme sa solidarité avec toutes les forces qui agissent pour la démocratie, la souveraineté et la dignité humaine en Syrie, pour la fin d’un régime de dictature incapable d’assurer un avenir à son propre pays.

The PCF reaffirms its solidarity with all the forces that are fighting for democracy, sovereignty and human dignity in Syria, and for the end of the dictatorial regime that is incapable of guaranteeing these for its own country.

In this vein the PCF recently participated (26th October)  in a “MEETING DE SOLIDARITE AVEC LE PEUPLE SYRIEN“.

These positions appear  more reasonable than the blanket opposition to attempts to remove the Syrian regime held by some sections of  the British left.

But is what will effectively become a proxy armed intervention a move that favours democracy, let alone Syrian sovereignty?

The issue of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is a complex one.

It is clear, however, that France’s decision relates to its interests as well as to democracy. At stake are  considerations of political stability and the creation of a regime that is not ‘anti-Western’, even if it is – ‘moderate’ – Islamist.

Qatar, the host for this new alliance,  is not, we note, a democracy itself.

There must be serious doubts about engaging one side in a bloody civil war.

The methods used by the armed opposition are not always examples of  standards of “human dignity”. Their forays into sectarianism weigh heavily.

The outcome is far from certain.

Will their victory will result in a  regime that respects human rights?

Nothing is less sure.

The Communists and Us.

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What Stand Do We Take?

“If you can ignore his Communist allies’ indulgence of some of the worst crimes in history, Mélenchon is an inspiring speaker” writes Nick Cohen in yesterday’s Observer. (Here.)

This raises important moral and political issues which we will try to deal with.

Let’s begin by outlining what Nick Cohen is talking about:

Mélenchon is the French Presidential candidate for the Front de Gauche (FdG).

Who are the Front de Gauche?

It is worth looking at what this is, even if it seems a bit tedious.

This  is an alliance of the  Parti communiste français (French Communist Party le Parti de gauche (left party) a breakaway from the Socialist Party,   the Gauche unitaire, (United Left) from Unir (a minority current from the Trotskyist  Ligue communiste révolutionnaire , the forerunner of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, who left when the NPA refused to ally with the FdG in the European elections of 2009)  the Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique (a Left green party) République et socialisme (Republic and Socialism) a split from the former French Socialist Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement’s  Mouvement républicain et citoyen, (ultra republicans )  Convergences et alternative, a small group from the Trotksyist  Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, le Parti communiste des ouvriers de France (French Communist Workers’ Party) – Marxist-Leninist and former ‘Maoists’.

It is however no secret that the French Communist Party is the major force in the Front de Gauche. They supply the basic  organisation and the core of the troops. They have around 138 000 members. They have 13 MPs and  10 000 local councillors (at various levels).

The largest of the other groups, the Parti de Gauche has 6 to 7,000 members (though this figure is  growing). It  has one Euro Deputy Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 3 MPs, 17 regional councillors, 12 other councillors of importance, and no doubt a few others at a lower level.

None of the other groups has more than a few hundred members.

Mélenchon has great importance, politically and publicly. But when it comes to organisation, and no doubt the future strategy of the Front, the PCF is the dominant partner. Even  it does not care to exercise this de facto power –  the FdG programme reflects a balanced contribution from all the different component – this remains a central fact.

We therefore have to deal with the issue of the French Communist Party.

The Gauche Unitaire, which comes from a Trotskyist background, has not raised this.

But we are under no such electoral  obligation.


The French Communist Party did indeed ‘indulge’ (the word is perhaps too weak) the crimes of Stalinism.

We are anti-Stalinists.

Many of us on the Marxist left, myself included, come from a background where this was, and is, a live issue.

Here is an illustration.

The Communist Margarete Buber-Neumann was imprisoned by both Stalin and by Hitler (she was part of a trade off between the two regimes). In a memorable passage in Between Two Dictators wandering through post-War Germany trying to get home she meets a groups of anti-Stalinist Marxists who had broken with the German Communist Party, the KPD. Some of them were also in the camps. But they kept their  faith.: loathing Stalin but remaining socialists.

Neuman became so anti-Communist she moved to the right and supported the German Christian Democrats.

But many anti-Stalinists did not.

But here things become more complicated.

In left political life in Europe the Communists, democratic socialists, and leftists have often worked together, even while arguing against each other.

Many of us have this reflected in our families.

My father was a working class Glaswegian anarchist who became a mainstream Labour Party activist. He was fiercely anti-Stalinist. He gave me critiques of the Soviet Union at an early age. He read the Gulag Archipelago when it was published and recommended I read it.

My mother was a Stalinist, working in Prague during the 1948 Prague Communist take-over. She admired Tito. But politically, even if she was a Labour party member, she worked with the Communist Party of Great Britain on peace and other issues.

The comrades from the Weekly Worker often say that from the outside the difference between different shades of the Marxist left, Communists, Trotksyists, the New Left Marxists, and others,  are indistinguishable to outsiders.

This is certainly the case for the broad political current I come from: the British New Left. Attitudes towards Communist-Stalinist regimes were always hostile. Towards Communist parties, while always critical, articles often show convergences. The three political thinkers who influenced me most in my studies were Althusser, Poulantzas and Gramsci – all Communists. That is, even as we (the International Marxist Group and the Socialist Students) were fighting the British CPGB inside the National Union of Students we were drawing on similar ideas. The principal difference with Official Communism was that we gave priority to democracy – something important however to the three theorists just cited.

So relations between the Communists and the rest of the left are complex. This is not just the result of doctrine but the kind of personal links – widespread –  I have just indicated.

The French Communist Party.

There is a mountain of books on the Parti Communiste Français.

I have only read a monticule.

One sticks in the mind. Althusser’s Ce que ne plus durer dans le Parti Communiste (1978)  reviewed by the Trotskyist philosopher Daniel Bensaïd (here).  Daniel says that Althusser considered Stalinism, “une formidable contre-révolution bureaucratique”.

But does this mean that Communists are all bureaucrats?

That the heroic immigrant Communists who launched the first armed resistance against the Germans of the Affiche Rouge, were ‘counter-revolutionaries’.

That the tens of thousands of Communists who have fought for the cause of the peoples in France, and have stood up, consistently, for our lot – workers, unemployed, the poor, for immigrants – are bureaucrats?

That the Communists I have met in France, and had friendly contact with, were counter-revolutionaries?

I am intensely aware that my comrades will come out with examples where the PCF has not always behaved well.

Well: I say, the good comrades in the PCF seem to have the upper-hand now.

The campaign for Mélenchon has not just touched France.

It has deeply affected the European left.

We feel like we can walk upright.

That is no mean feat.