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The Fractious Background of ‘left Populist’ Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Guest of ‘The World Transformed” at the Labour Conference.

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Image result for jean luc melenchon populiste charlie hedo

Something Fishy about Mélenchon’s ‘left-Populism’? 

The leader of La France insoumise will soon be in Liverpool.

Why we’ve invited Jean-Luc Mélenchon to The World Transformed

The World Transformed will be welcoming Jean-Luc Mélenchon to speak at its Labour conference fringe. The French politician who inspired the European left with his radical campaign for the presidency in 2017 won more than seven million votes. Since then, despite only commanding 17 MPs in the National Assembly, Mélenchon has emerged as the main resistance to the neoliberal ‘Jupiterian’ presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

The socialist veteran will appear alongside Labour shadow cabinet member Jon Trickett in one of the headline acts of our four-day festival of politics, art and music that has become a mainstay of party conference.

..the real reason for Mélenchon’s invitation to TWT is not because he is Corbyn mark 2. No, it is for the same reason that TWT is happening in the first place: as part of a democratic socialist project to shift power towards the people. The fundamental truth about the two men’s successes is that it’s not about them. It’s about what they, and TWT, represent: the left taking hold of the future.

Mélenchon ‘commands’  15 MPs, there are two allies (Clémentine Autainand Caroline Fiat) from the alliance of small left groups known as Ensemble who form the Parliamentary Group of 17.

The Ensemble site has published material, in the past, highly critical of Mélenchon. In 2016 they put up a text by  Samy Joshua arguing that his strategy of ”federating the people’ dropped the working class for left populism. « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ?

The World Transformed  continue.

This was encapsulated by their 2017 manifestos. It was Corbyn’s left-wing programme of nationalisation, abolishing tuition fees and improving workers’ rights that precipitated his astonishing rise in the polls. Mélenchon’s similarly dizzying rise stemmed from the bold manifesto, L’Avenir en Commun (A Shared Future), which he put forward with his party La France Insoumise (FI).

It was the promise of a Sixth Republic, based on the principles of justice and democracy, which saw young and old flock to Mélenchon’s campaign. Likewise, Corbyn promised a constitutional convention as part of his quiet political revolution. Both seek to distribute power to the people.

Shifts in political power will, however, achieve little without an attendant transfer in economic power. The resurgent left is based above all on one thing: the return of class to politics. As Corbyn put it in a speech last month, Labour is back as the party of the working class. Mélenchon was at the heart of recent protests against Macron’s zombie neoliberal ‘reforms’ targeting the once-powerful French public sector (particularly rail workers). Both would repeal restrictive trade union laws, move to protect people from precarity and rebuild national industry following the ravages of neoliberalism.

This statement lacks any recognition of a long political past, not only before the Ère  du people replaced class as the defining context of Mélenchonian ideology.

‘Dizzying’ is the is the most unlikely word that comes to mind  when describing Mélenchon’s ascension, to a position of a commanding minority (around 20%) of the electorate, and a  history of stirring up deep antagonisms on the rest of the French left. Amongst the most recent is a virulent reaction to Parti Communiste Français (PCF) criticism of his supporters who advocated tougher immigration policies, and serious doubts about his claims to take a hard-line with the EU if other member states reject the LFI’s position on their own economic sovereignty. (LFI: un des fondateurs critique l’«hégémonie» de Mélenchon et sa «posture électoraliste» sur l’Europe. August 2018)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s political career began in the orthodox Trotskyist  current in France known as ‘Lambertist’ after the Leader of a long-standing variety of groups,  Pierre Lambert (real name, Pierre Boussel). As a student he joined, after May 68, the Lambertists, one the most rigid and authoritarian groups on the French left, the ‘Organisation communiste internationaliste (OCI). The future Presidential candidate was head of the local antennae  in  Besançon, between 1974 and 1976.

The present chief of La France insoumise, dropped Leninism for the Parti Socialiste (PS). He became an active Freemason in the Grand Orient de France (GODF). A member of various groups in the Party he ended up creating the ‘Gauche socialiste’ with another former Trotskyist, Julien Dray (from the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR). He was marked by burgeoning admiration for François Mitterrand. Indeed Mélechon is often called a “mitterrandiste “. For a variety of reasons, starting with the former French Preisdent’s role in the repression of the Algerian insurgency, and culminating in the 1983 turn of Mitterrand’s appointed Cabinet to “rigour” and retreat from radical socialism, this makes him an unlikely hero for those who would transform the world.(1)

Mélenchon left the PS in 2008, wishing, he stated, to draw clear lines with the right of the party and to have complete freedom to pursue his own left-wing course.  Forming the micro-party, the Parti de Gauche (essentially a public version of a Parti Socialiste ‘club’, ambitiously named after the German Die Linke)) in 2008,  Mélenchon entered in a long series of alliances, with forces such as the Parti Communiste Français, and smaller left groups. These culminated in the bloc, the Front de Gauche, which was marked by conflicts, over issues such the composition of electoral lists and his own version of republican laïcité.

With the creation of La France insoumise (LFI) in 2016, he has entered into a “war of manoeuvre” for hegemony over the French left. Some have compared this with the old Communist Party’s wish to impose itself over the whole left, and its tactic as to keep its supporters preoccupied by frenetic activism.

LFI is not a Party but a “movement of individual citizens those who recognise themselves in the line of action offered by JLM “un mouvement de citoyens individuels qui se reconnaissent dans la démarche de Jean-Luc Mélenchon “.

That is, is defined by allegiance to an individual.

LFI has no proper internal democracy at all.

Conferences, such as they are, a rallies in which up to 60% of the ‘delegates’ are chosen by lot from the lists of (on-Line) members who have expressed an interests. The rest are made up from those chosen by  what has been called “la petite caste” around the Leader (A La France insoumise, la démocratie interne fait débat). It’s this caste who take all the decisions.

There are no internal tendencies; on-line voting is on a limited agenda set by the central leadership.

LFI’s best known strategic objective is to “federate the people” against the oligarchy dominating French politics. This, a broad enough aim, “includes” the workers’ movement (that is skipping over the organised union federations, the CGT, CFD,  FO, FSU and SUD), just as it does ‘social movements’, like the late Nuit Debout that occupied French squares  in 2016 (freely translated as Woke Nights).

Critics say that the “people” figures in LFI’s plans as actors to follow the LFI script for the Sixth Republic. More abstractly, their disparate discourses are ‘articulated’ (voiced and linked together), in the words of the theorist of Left Populism Chantal Mouffe, to create a new, potentially hegemonic Collective Will.

It is true that those who enjoy inspiring speeches, lacked with poems, from Victor Hugo to Apollinaire, have much to hear from Jean Luc.

But the nationalist overtones of books like the Le Hareng de Bismarck, (2015 above) which rails against the “Le poison allemand” (German poison)  imposed on Europe, l’opium des riches”, un monstre born on the other side of the Rhine, are hard to ignore.

It is this thinking which leads Dan Davidson to accuse him of a “drive to tap into French patriotism rather than build international working class solidarity” (The British Left Should Be More Critical Of Jean-Luc Mélenchon)

Mélenchon defines himself as socialiste républicain. In French terms this means a belief that the Republic is the prime vehicle for socialism. The Sixth republic, in the ‘era of the People’, needs radical reform. It is hard to see how any of the political reforms proposed bring the state into the hands of the People, there is little in way of socialising ownership under self-management to start with.

As such he puts the Sovereignty of the People/France, at the top of his priorities.

The EU must change or we will leave it, was his reaction (some interpreted this as a welcome at the shock) to the Brexit result.

On international issues he is anything but an internationalist. His priority again is the national interest,  defending the French independent nuclear force outside of NATO.

The Leader of LFI has faced accusations of  conspiracism (he has been known to claim that Daesh  was created by the US) , of complaisance towards Vladimir Putin, and a failure to defend democrats (although he has taken a serious stand in defence of the Kurds)  in Syria. 

He continues to support the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

He should not be welcome at the World Transformed, still less a Labour Conference.

****

(1) Covered from his side  in Le Choix de l’insoumission, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marc Endeweld. 2016. Less complimentary background is given by another former Lambertist, 68, et Après. Les héritages égarés. Benjamin Stora. Stock. 2018.

 

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4 Responses

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  1. We only support perfection, nothing else will do! When you have an election you have to make a choice from what is there.

    ray visino

    September 21, 2018 at 9:27 pm

  2. Touché on the double-entendre subtitle

    oiltranslator

    September 21, 2018 at 11:08 pm

  3. REFUGEES WELCOME!
    NO TO RACISM!
    NO DEPORTATIONS!
    OPEN THE BORDERS!

    Social Justice Warrior

    September 22, 2018 at 8:24 am

  4. Really good article on the drift to anti-immigration sovereigntist politics of Mélenchon and LFI here:

    Andrew Coates

    September 22, 2018 at 4:30 pm


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