Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Didier Motchane, central figure of the 1970s French Socialist Left, passes.

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Image result for didier motchane

Didier Motchane – under the Symbol of the Rose he designed. 

In yesterday’s Guardian there was a long article The wilderness years: how Labour’s left survived to conquer. Describing how the left began the 1980s Andy Beckett writes, “Livingstone told me recently, “François Mitterrand was elected president of France on a socialist platform. We were all thinking: ‘The world’s about to change.’

Mitterrand was indeed elected in 1981  on a radical Socialist Programme, 110 propositions pour la France.

 

Didier Motchane, has just passed away. He was one of the  architects of the 1981 Projet Socialiste, which lay behind this list of proposals. It outlined a detailed strategy for self-management, autogestion, within a wider perspective of nationalising companies,  a line put forward in 1975 as “les quinze theses sur l’autogestion du parti socialiste“. So radical was this programme that it clearly set forward the Socialists’ structural economic and political reforms, including legal changes to defend human rights, and backing for workers’ power, within the perspective of a transition to socialism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projet socialiste - pour la France des années 80 - Couverture - Format classique

Mort de Didier Motchane, cofondateur du Ceres

Ce proche de Jean-Pierre Chevènement, figure emblématique de la gauche, est décédé dimanche 29 octobre, à l’âge de 86 ans.

Motchane was a key figure in the Centre d’études, de recherches et d’éducation socialiste, CERES, (1966 – 1986)  a left wing current which (as the Wikipedia entry notes) had few parallels in other social democratic parties with the exception, perhaps,  of the British labour Party.

As a ‘think-tank’ its influence was its height during the 1970s, and, as noted above, on the formulation of many aspects of Mitterrand’s 1981 electoral platform.

For some on the British left Motchane had been already noted in the 1970s for his debate with the Marxist political theorist Nicos Poulantzas and other left wing figures in the Mélusine discussion group, and his interest in Antonio Gramsci (Bob Jessop).

Motchane was radical enough to have considered  at one point in the early years of that decade that the la Ligue communiste, which became the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, should have joined CERES. (1)

He was also open to a wide variety of radical left ideas and broader philosophy from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas to the sociology of  Pierre Bourdieu, Didier. Le grand Motchane et mes années CERES.

His career began in the higher spheres of the French administration.

“Didier Motchane was the son of industrialist and mathematician Léon Motchane, was born in Paris on September 17, 1931. Bachelor of Arts, Graduate of History and Institute of Political Studies of Paris, a graduate of the top administration college, ENA  He became a senior official, assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A man of great culture and fine intelligence, he founded, at the end of 1965, the Ceres with Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Pierre Guidoni and Georges Sarre.”

CERES became a key player in the Parti Socialiste in the mid-1970s. Their intention was to bring socialism into social-democracy.

Inside the Parti Socialiste apart from his influence on the 1981 programme he created the famous red rose and fist logo which has become the international symbol of the socialist parties. (Didier Motchane est mort, l’inventeur du logo socialiste “le poing et la rose” avait 86 ans.)

Image result for le poing et la rose

The left wing programme of Mitterrand was not fulfilled.  Motchane, with Chevènement, opposed Mitterrand’s turn to financial ‘rigour’ in 1983. Motchane accused the government of having left the French proletariat behind while expressing support for the Polish Solidarity movement (“pris congé du prolétariat en France au moment où ils ont découvert la classe ouvrière en Pologne )

He began a long journey, from radical democratic socialism, opposed during the latter half of that decade and into the 1990s to the ” social-libéralisme” of the current around Michel Rocard, to an increasingly nationalist republicanism.

Motchane’s evolution took place in close relation to his close comrade Jean-Pierre  Chevènement.

Chevènement was Minister of Research and Industry from 1981 to 1983, when he resigned, for the first of three times in his career. He disagreed with the change in economic policy made by President Mitterrand in order to stay in the European Monetary System. He has said that “a minister has to keep his mouth shut; if he wants to open it, he resigns” (Un ministre, ça ferme sa gueule ; si ça veut l’ouvrir, ça démissionne ). However, he returned to the cabinet as Minister of National Education from 1984 to 1986.

Appointed Minister of Defence in 1988, he served until 1991, when he resigned due to his opposition to the Gulf WarAfter this he opposed the Maastricht Treaty, an issue on which Mitterrand and the PS led the “yes” campaign. In 1993 he left the PS and founded a new political party: the Citizens’ Movement (Mouvement des citoyens or MDC).

These developments were mirrored in their publications.

From the left wing socialist journal En Jeu, they began a systematic critique of the Parti Socialiste’s (PS) politics which moved them increasingly  outside of the party’s orbit and, eventually beyond socialism itself.

Motchane left the PS in 1993, at the same time as Jean-Pierre Chevenement to participate with him in the creation in 2003 of the  Mouvement des citoyens (MDC) which became the Mouvement républicain et citoyen (MRC). Eurosceptic they became ‘sovereigntist’, putting national control of the economy, and the power of the French Nation, at the centre of their politics. This meant opposition to European integration, from the Maastricht treaty (1992) onwards.

Chevènement himself was not completely left out in the cold.

The MDC participated in the Gauche Plurielle (Plural left, Socialists, Communists, Greens, left radical party) which between 1997 and 2002, under Jacques Chirac’s Presidency nevertheless held  the post of Prime Minister and ran the Cabinet.  The MDV leader became  member of this government, led by Socialist Lionel Jospin, and was soon known as a hard-line Interior Minister (1997 – 2000). He left his post after expressing opposition to decentralising measures for Corsica.

Outside the PS his Euroscepticism and sovereigntist turn has developed into a position ‘beyond’ the left right division.  During the 2002 Presidential election  hevènement hoped for a candidate who would be neither of the Right or the Left (ni de droite, ni de gauche). In 2015 he spoke of the need for unity between ‘patriots’ of the right and left, (réunir tous les patriotes de droite comme de gauche).  Strongly secular (a defender of laïcité) he was nominated in 2016 by President Hollande as…President of the  Fondation pour l’islam de France.

Motchane was perhaps more subdued in his turn to sovereigntist politics.

During the 2012 presidential election, Didier Motchane lent his support to Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

But the Le Monde obituary notes that Motchane moved from socialism to a politics centred on the Nation – in French terms, The Republic.

Mediapart has published these tributes.

Régis Debray sent the following message that he asked me to read you:

Unable to be at your side, allow me to greet in a few words more than an old friend: one of those men of commitment who have never sacrificed their convictions to their careers, and who are not numerous…….We will try, dear Didier, not to forget you.

 *****

(1) Mais il m’a appris que, au début des années 1970, il avait souhaité que la Ligue communiste – le groupe d’extrême gauche pour lequel il avait le plus de considération intellectuelle – rejoigne le CERES.  

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 5, 2017 at 12:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks Andrew for posting this. The period you refer to, the rise of the left in France, was a seminal period in French politics. At the time I used to live in Paris and write a column on French politics in Tribune when Dick Clements was editor, having some years earlier written my MSc thesis on Ceres, at the LSE. I had done my undergraduate thesis on the PSU (!) and later went on to write a book with Neil Nugent “The Left in France”. Didier Motchane, who I spoke with quite often in those days, was for me a very warm-hearted and fascinating character and with J-P Chevenement, Georges Sarre and Pierre Guidoni, they formed an impressive and dynamic group which as you know was instrumental, in creating the Parti Socialiste and ensuring the election of Francois Mitterrand as its First Secretary. I spent a lot of time with him and JPC in those days – sometimes with Stuart Holland who you might know. His passing is of course a sad time but I think he will be remembered nevertheless with a lot of affection by those who knew him far better than I did during those important years. I realise this post is a bit of personal reminiscing so apologies for that.

    davylowe

    November 5, 2017 at 4:43 pm

  2. Thanks for that Davy.

    The British left who noticed Motchane in the 1970s included naturally…me, well let’s say circa 1979.

    I am really glad to hear from somebody who knew him.

    I lived in Paris from 1981 through most of the 80s, and I mentioned En Jeu, because…. I subscribed to it…(though I was more in the groups around the PSU/alternative left)

    Having read your writings, which always struck me as extremely well informed and really good, I wondered at the time if you had direct links with the French left.

    I think you may imagine that I and many of my French comrades (we communicate a lot on Facebook) are not at all fond of “sovereigntisme”.

    Andrew Coates

    November 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm


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