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Anti-Fascism Betrayed? The Left and the French Presidential Elections.

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The End of the United Front Against Fascism?

The French Presidential Elections: Anti-Fascism Betrayed?

“qui’il n’y pas de hiérarchie dans l’inacceptable entre le Pen at Macron. Entre la xénophobie et la soumission aux banques.”

There is no difference of degree between the unacceptability of le Pen and Macron, between xenophobia and surrender to the banks.

Emmanuel Todd.

“Last year I wrote in the struggle against fascism the Communists were duty-bound to come to a practical agreement not only with the devil and his grandmother, but even with Grzesinski.”

Leon Trotsky. 1932. The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany.

The 2/3rds majority of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise who support abstention, or a blank vote, in the second round of the French Presidential elections is echoing across the hexagon’s already divided left. In Wednesday’s Le Monde Jean Birnbaum wrote of the burial of the “united front” spirit of anti-fascism (le 4 août de Mélenchon, ou l’antifascisme trahi). There are those who argue that not only is Macron beyond the pale, a banker, a globaliser with a sorry Ministerial record as a hard-liner pushing liberal labour reform, but that his election would prepare the way for a future Front National triumph. Hence ballot spoiling, blank votes, for abstention are the only possible choice in an election where there is no choice. Birnbaum argues that this, amid smaller (indeed, very small) leftist groups and some public intellectuals refusing to “takes sides”, shows that the  unity of the left against fascism, which has been a cornerstone of its politics since the mid-1930s, is breaking up.

This is not, then,  a debate about abstention as such. This position, a very old one on the French left, going back to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865),  which argues for self-organising outside of Parliamentary institutions, is not at the centre of the debate. Alain Badiou early intervened in favour of a re-establishing a “communist vision” outside the “depoliticising” ceremony of the ballot box. Badiou’s recommendation not to vote because it only encourages them has not caught many people’s attention. (Alain Badiou. Voter renforce le conservatisme).

The Le Pen versus Macron duel has raised more serious issues. For Birnbaum, who has written on the blindness, if not indulgence, of a section of the left faced with Islamism (Un Silence Religieux. 2016 Review), some on the French left, many formed, like Mélenchon, from the Trotskyist tradition, have forgotten the need, which Trotsky (for all his acerbic attacks, and his loathing of the German Social Democrats, summed up in the figure of the Prussian Interior Minister, Grzesinski, demanded, faced with the prospect of Hitler’s rise, to defend democratic institutions.

No New Hitler.

It would be indecent to have to say that France today is far from the Weimar Republic. A new Hitler in power is not in prospect. There are no street battles between the Front National and the left. The FN does not offer a genocidal programme. Birnbaum’s argument that those who propose the view that Macron and Le Pen are politically twin-evils does not flag up the posthumous victory of the worst years of Stalinism, the Third Period. But, as many convincingly demonstrate the French far right is the vehicle for illiberal democracy. From leaving the Euro, Frexit, clamping down on immigration, including the expulsion of ‘suspect’ individuals, “national preference” (jobs first of all for French citizens), and tightening the borders, economically and socially, requires authority beyond normal Parliamentary democracy. The not-so-secret ambition of the extra-parliamentary wing of the far right, which would be emboldened by a FN victory, remains to fight the left violently, from the city pavements, civil society, education, and the workplace. (on this see the excellent: The Front National and fascism. Martin Thomas).

Yet Marine Le Pen’s party is, apparently, ‘normalised’. It is a refuge, Pierre-André Taguieff describes it, for those excluded by globalisation, a “pathological form of self-defence”, confronted with the erosion of nation states and the rule of elites. National-populism, he argues, reflects a “need” for identity and belonging. (La revanche du nationalisme. 2015)

There are doctors who claim to be treating this disorder. On the same page of le Monde, Henri Pena-Ruiz, Jean-Paul Scot and Bruno Streiff defend La France insoumise and refuse to be blackmailed into supporting Macron (Insoumis, osons penser librement!). They claim that their movement is at the forefront of the battle against the FN. On the one hand they have waged the “battle of ideas”, defending the role of immigrants n producing French national wealth, and the duty of “universal hospitality” to strangers advanced by Kant, a refusal to divide the world into “us” and “them”. On the other hand their “révolution citoyenne”, a 6th social, ecological and economic Republic, offers a message beyond short-term election battles. Federating the people, it can equally capture the best traditions of the left and those marginalised by globalisation.

Henri Pena-Ruiz has himself helped avoid faults that Birnbaum’s Un silence religieux attacked. That is the incapacity, mixed with an opportunistic eye to new recruits against ‘globalisation’ and ‘imperialism’, of some of the left confronted with Islamism. His Qu’est-ce que la laïcité? (2003) stands as a significant defence of secularism, and a rebuke to groups like the British Respect, and the Socialist Workers Party, who allied with the Islamic far-right.

Yet it does not help Mélenchon’s supporters that they choose to deny the accusation that they mirror 1930s sectarianism to cite the role of the German SPD in preparing the way for Hitler by, between 1924 and 1929, accepting a policy of austerity through their alliance with the centre (Catholic) party. This transparent attack on the Parti Socialiste, by Macron interposed, and its (mild) fiscal austerity indicates that in some way it holds  responsibility for the le Pen, and the far right. This is can easily be interpreted as indicating that the Macron ‘finance’ class are not only an enemy, but the real foe, beside which the Front National is a ‘diversion’.

Some readers may also consider that one could have done without the text’s references to their movement’s remarkable “intelligence collective”. Their is a feel of the courtier when they talk of the “honneur” of “non-guru” Mélenchon for organising a “consultation” of his supporters to know their views on voting in the second round. Others might wonder why there is no reference to the 15-16% of voters for this candidate in the first ballot that, polls indicate, who are ready to vote Le Pen on Sunday.

Populism and Sovereignty.

One problem remains. If those who refuse to ‘choose’ between Macron and Le Pen reflect a French debate, the underlying issues affect the left across the world. In Europe particularly ‘populism’ is not the preserve of the far right. Mélenchon’s intellectually ambitious advisers may look to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s efforts to theorise contradictions between the “power bloc” and the “people”, and as the a handbook for constructing a force, filling the “empty signifier” of the People with a voice that articulates the needs and feelings of a broad constituency, against the ‘oligarchs’. In doing so their own demands for ‘national independence” to “produce French”, not to mention lyrical rhetoric about the French revolutionary tradition, or references to Kant’s universal principles of right, have been criticised as nationalist. Their ‘movement’, La France insoumise, which lacks any serious democratic structure, has claimed to be “beyond” traditional political divisions, while falling back into one of the most traditional oppositions of all: the Nation against the other Nations. If Macron represents economic liberal policies, for them he embodies something more: the Cosmopolitan European project. They have, in short, entered the orbit of Sovereigntism.

La France insoumise at an impasse.

After pursuing this path, Mélenchon and la France insoumise won a strong vote but a position as Number Four in the poll. They look less like a force that has abandoned the anti-fascist front, than a movement unable to offer anything more than continued protest. Instead of attempting, as Birnbaum and many others argue, to mobilise against Le Pen, for the unity of democrats against illiberalism, with the prospect of future social conflicts against Macron in mind, they are marching in disorder, a third abstaining a third voting blank and a third for the representative of ‘globalisation’, and their own “excluded” voters still set to back le Pen. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to gather together enough strength to gather together with those they now pour scorn upon to reach agreements on the left for the June legislative elections.

As Marine Le Pen Rises in Polls Criticism of Mélenchon’s Silence Grows.

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Nothing to say on how to fight Marine Le Pen at 41% ( +1).

France 24 reports,

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon forfeited the opportunity to play kingmaker on Sunday night by declining to back centrist (and onetime banker) Emmanuel Macron over anti-immigration europhobe Marine Le Pen in the run-off on May 7.

Heady with the 7 million votes he scored in Sunday’s first round – or disappointed that he fell only 618,609 short of beating Le Pen to a spot in the presidential run-off – Mélenchon took no clear stand on election night, leaving his voters to hash out their choice for May 7 online. Third-place finisher François Fillon, of the conservative Les Républicains party, and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon both used their concession speeches on Sunday to immediately back Macron for the presidency.

However, Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France (France insoumise) movement launched a voter “consultation” he promised on its website on Tuesday evening. It gives the 450,000 supporters who signed up on the platform before 10pm on April 23 – when Mélenchon gave his speech, and two hours after polls closed – a chance to express their choices among three options: voting a blank ballot, voting Macron or abstaining. Pointedly, voting Le Pen is not provided as an option “because it is clear to us that the National Front is a danger for the workforce”, Mélenchon spokesman Alexis Corbière explained on Wednesday.

The straw poll will continue until next Tuesday at noon, after which the results will be announced. But Unsubmissive France said on Wednesday that Mélenchon himself would not make public how he will vote personally, even after the results of the survey are released.

A sensation who rose like a shot in polls in the month before the first round, Mélenchon managed the feat of relegating the Socialist candidate to an also-ran. A former Socialist himself who cut ties with the party in 2008 to establish his own movement farther to the left, Mélenchon scored more than three times more votes than Hamon, largely on the back of two charismatic TV debate performances on March 20 and April 4. In those clashes, the 65-year-old political veteran came off as lively, confident, witty and frank. The contrast between his showman flourishes then and his post-election-night silence now is jarring.

Calls to abstain

Mélenchon voters have taken to social media to air their misgivings about voting for Macron, a onetime banker and economy minister under Socialist President François Hollande who quit last year to mount his own independent presidential bid. Many, using the hashtag #sansmoile7mai (“May 7 without me”) have said they simply cannot vote for “le capitaliste” Macron, even against Le Pen; they would rather cast a blank ballot or abstain.

This position, whose ambiguities  we have already outlined is opposed to that of  whole trade union movement. All of the union federations have called for a  vote against Le Pen and the National Front on Sunday May 7. The CGT, Force Ouvriere, Solidaires, the CFDT, FSU and even the Christian CFTC, which only once before, in 2002, have all called on their members to ‘stop the National Front’.

The left, the PCF, Ensemble (in a rather contorted fashion, no doubt to avoid offending the Great Man),  and the French Socialists  have also done so.

Not everybody in La France insoumise is happy with the silence of the Man of Destiny.

Mélenchon’s  stand has raised a storm of protest on the left which has been reflected inside the rally itself.

Monsieur Mélenchon, que diable allons-nous faire dans cette galère ? Libération.

Par Baudouin Woehl, étudiant dans un conservatoire à Paris

Un militant de la France insoumise s’indigne de la non-prise de position de Jean-Luc Mélenchon contre Marine Le Pen.

An activist of La France insoumise is angry at the failure of Jean-Luc Jean-Luc Mélenchon to take a stand against Marine Le Pen.

Dire non au FN, c’est se donner les moyens de poursuivre la lutte, c’est éviter de transformer ce «matin tout neuf qui commence à percer» dont vous parlez, en une nuit toute longue et incertaine.

To say No to the FN, is the way to get the means to continue the fight, that is, to avoid that the “new dawn which has begun to shine”, which you speak about, becomes a long night of uncertainty.

This is in a similar vein: Lettre à mes ami.e.s de gauche qui ne voteront pas contre Le Pen le 7 mai.

This demands that Mélenchon takes off the Red Triangle, sign of solidarity with victims of the Nazi, from his label.

Monsieur Mélenchon, ayez la décence de retirer ce triangle rouge de votre veste.Par Didier Daeninckx, écrivain.

On the British far left, amongst the professional dilettantes (the inevitable Tariq Ali) cheering on Mélenchon  is Kevin Ovenden,  who has been a leading figure in Respect and now appears close to the groupscule Counterfire, with influence in the Stop the War Coalition.

France: an historic moment for the left

He argues against the Vote Contre Le Pen campaign,

The Socialist Party and the Communist Party, in the false name of anti-fascist unity, are aiming to restore their own fortunes at the National Assembly elections, over the corpse of this radical breakthrough by the insurgent left last Sunday.

In endorsing Macron, they do three things. They give political support to someone who will launch an offensive against working people. They help Le Pen – for she wants this political constellation of her against all the old party machines. And they do Macron’s bidding in trying to rip away a part of the “insubordinate left” back to the centre, in return – if they are lucky – for some local pacts to deliver some parliamentary seats.

Instead, willing to share his successful strategy  in Respect Ovenden argues  to back an independent la France insoumise, do not vote against Le Pen in the polling booths, and to for those who supported Mélenchon to start  “providing them with the tools to maintain this insurgency.

For, “This is actually the moment of the fighting left. The agency for rupturing into a half century political settlement has been someone whose politics are actually closer to the patriotic social democratic left than they are to anti-capitalist revolutionaries.”

Ovenden  seems to be relishing the idea of street fighting if Le Pen approaches power, and no doubt afterwards.

He will no doubt offer his strategic skills to the French Left.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 27, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Macron Versus le Pen: Will Left Unite to Defeat Far-Right?

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Unite to Beat Le Pen in Ballot say French Communists.

Nos rêves d’avenir sont désormais inséparables de nos frayeurs.

Our dreams of the future are henceforth inseparable from our fears.

Histoire et Utopie Emil Cioran.

The French Presidential elections were earth-shaking, “In just one year, we have changed the face of French politics,” said a triumphant Macron, whose centrist pitch and so-called “progressive alliance” precipitated the country’s great political shake-up. Equally jubilant, his rival Le Pen said it was “time to liberate the people of France from the arrogant elites that seek to dictate their conduct”. Reports France 24.

Macron came first with 23.75% of the vote. Le Pen second, with 21,53%. Fillon third with 19,91% and Mélenchon fourth at 19.64%.

The Socialist Candidate, Hamon, at 6,35%, a score only slightly higher than their historic low (when they were called the SFIO), Gaston Defferre 1969 5,01 %  represented a party which is now starting disaster in the face (Après la déroute de Hamon, le PS au bord du gouffre).

The last time the Front National reached the run off for the Presidential election was in 2002, when Chirac faced Marine Le Pen’s Father Jean-Marie.

Much of the left was swept up in a country-wide mobilisation to the far-right from winning power.

Chirac won with 82,1 %  of the votes

This time both Fillon and Hamon have called for a Macron vote in the Second Round.

Mélenchon’s supporters, who had hoped for a duel between their candidate and Marine Le Pen, vented their spleen at the “« Médiacrates » and « oligarques ».

They have yet to say what to do in the second round.  Mélenchon preferred to announce that he would be consult his movement, by Internet (“Il n’a donné aucune consigne de vote pour le second tour et a expliqué que les 450 000 insoumis voteraient sur ce point.)

There are voices within la France insoumise  calling for a blank vote.

It has become common on the British left, and more widely in the English speaking world, to draw inspiration from Mélenchon and La France insoumise.

There is little doubt that the movement’s candidate is capable of inspirational, lyrical and rigorously argued speaking.

This sour post-election tweet offers a less attractive side to his public personality.

The US publication, Jacobin, has finally published an article which expresses doubts – familiar to readers of this Blog over the last couple of years –  about La France insoumise.

The Meaning of France Insoumise by

Bekhtari is a member of Ensemble, a major component of what was the Front de gauche. Ensemble’s majority  backed Mélenchon by 72%, but did not accept dissolution into the ‘movement’ La France insoumise (Ensemble ! soutient Jean-Luc Mélenchon sans intégrer La France insoumise. November 2016. ). This alliance of left socialist, Trotskyist, green left and self-management currents  has published both supportive and – minority – critical views on the candidate and the structure of this rally.

The following paragraph are particularly worth signaling,

Jean-Luc Mélenchon explicitly draws inspiration from the theories of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe – an official supporter of his – adopting the formulas already used by Podemos, defining the ‘people’ against the ‘caste’ or the ‘oligarchy’. His adoption of this approach is clearly expounded in books such as L’ère du peuple [The Era of the People] or Le Choix de linsoumission [The Choice to Rebel]. Mélenchon no longer uses the term ‘left-wing’, which in his view has been corrupted by the PS’s record in power and unattractive to the wider public. This discourse is also apparent in the position he has taken as a politician who directly addresses the population without the intermediary of a political party and its decision-making structures – not even the party of which he is still a member, the Left Party (PG). He has instead privileged the creation of France Insoumise, a new movement without elected structures whose base unit is the local ‘support group’ backing his candidacy.

…..

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s candidacy struggled to unite forces to the Left of the Socialist Party. His Left Front partners did not appreciate seeing him proclaim himself a candidate, or indeed the mechanics of his campaign, which only afforded a consultative role to the parties committing to his cause – thus preventing their leaderships from being able to shape his program and the line he put forward. As well as this anti-pluralist modus operandi, some of his politically problematic media sorties were also a turn-off for PCF and Ensemble! militants, for instance when he spoke of detached workers ‘stealing the bread’ of the French; with regard to migrants, when the first idea he expounded was that he had ‘never been for freedom of movement’; with regard to the war in Syria, seeing Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil faced with Da’esh; or in terms of his refusal to recognise the existence of a Russia imperialism, itself at work in this conflict. Despite his repeated defensive claims – which have consisted of responding that his arguments and his positions were being mischaracterized in order to damage him – we cannot totally dismiss the argument that Jean-Luc Mélenchon has sought to deploy buzzwords able to attract the attention of disoriented voters tempted either to abstain or else to vote for the Front National.

After noting the breakthrough in French TV debates – it worked for me – Bekharti unfortunately speculates,

He came out of the debate as the most effective left-wing vote among all the ‘big candidates’. Even beyond the Left, he exercises a certain force of attraction among former right-wing voters seduced by his integrity and his calls for a clean break, which are interpreted as a promise to put an end to a system that today profits only the ‘political class’ and the ‘oligarchy’. Thus just days before the election he finds himself in third place in the polls, tied with Fillon. The possibility of Mélenchon reaching the second round – and even winning a run-off against Le Pen – is thus coming into view, against all expectations.

This has not happened.

The following exercise in wishful thinking looks even less connected to reality,

The strategy of social transformation via a revolution at the ballot box leaves a lot of room for doubt. We can expect a violent reaction by the bourgeoisie to protect its power and privileges. But in the current context, the hope of the step forward that could come from France Insoumise taking power, and the possibility that a period of radicalisation would follow, appear better able to mobilize the masses than any abstract warning of the future betrayals that may come from Jean-Luc Mélenchon once he is elected president.

One might still ask if fourth position is still a strong one – though not much of a hope for those who would wish Corbyn to follow this path.

But at present it’s the issue of voting in the second round that dominates the left.

Today the French Communist Daily L’Humanité calls for a united struggle against Marine Le Pen. The ballot box is the central means to stop her.

Nothing that Macron represents “financial circles” and liberal economic policies that have harmed France for decades the Parti communiste français nevertheless states that the immediate task is the following:

To block the road to the Presidency of the Republic of Marine Le Pen, to her clan, and to the threat that the Front National represents for democracy, for the Republic and for peace, is to use the ballot, unfortunately the only way to do so.

Le Parti communiste appelle à battre Le Pen.

The Socialists have just endorsed the same position, putting centreplace the need to beat the far-right, (à battre l’extrême droite).

Ensemble  calls to make May the 1st a Big Day of Action against the NF and for an anti-Le Pen vote, “Le mouvement Ensemble! appelle à la mobilisation, dans la rue le 1er mai, en votant contre Le Pen le 7 mai, pour empêcher l’arrivée au pouvoir de l’extrême droite.”

The FN remains a party of the extreme-right and not just for France, but for the European left and labour movement, it is important that the PCF’s call is heeded.

This does not mean that the problems their vote and deep political roots in France pose is solved by such a vote.

Yet…

Mélenchon is fond of citing Victor Hugo.

On wonders if Hugo would have backed abstention had it been possible to vote as freely as one can in the present French election to stop LouisNapoléon. 

Then we have the legislative elections….June….

And the Mail is jubilant…

 

*****

 

Official first round result

With 106 of 107 departements counted | At 04:49 CEST
Macron 23.75%
Le Pen 21.53%
Fillon 19.91%
Mélenchon 19.64%
Hamon 6.35%
Dupont-Aignan 4.75%
Lassalle 1.22%
Poutou 1.1%
Asselineau 0.92%
Arthaud 0.65%
Cheminade 0.18%.

Second-round projection

Pollsters Ifop asked voters for the main contenders who they would opt for in the second round, if the remaining candidates were Macron and Le Pen. Using the actual first-round votes cast, this would imply a second-round result along the following lines:

Macron 60.63%

Le Pen 39.37%

Macron inherits

43% of Fillon’s voters

70% of Hamon’s voters

50% of Mélenchon’s voters

Le Pen inherits

31% of Fillon’s voters

3% of Hamon’s voters

12% of Mélenchon’s voters

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity Against Terrorist Violence.

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Universal Values: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Peace, and Secularism, Against Islamist Terror. 

After the indecent claim earlier in the week by the Front National leader Marine Le Pen that if she was in power there would have been no terrorist attacks (“LE FN AURAIT ÉVITÉ LES ATTENTATS” : MARINE LE PEN RECYCLE SON INTOX FAVORITE) , how did the candidates react to the killings on the Champs-Elysées?

The 11 candidates were appearing on a television program ahead of the first round of voting in the two-part election when the attack that left one officer dead happened Thursday night.

Conservative contender François Fillon said on France 2 television he was cancelling his planned campaign stops on Friday.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen took to Twitter to offer her sympathy for law enforcement officers “once again targeted.”

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron offered his thoughts to the family of the dead officer.

Socialist Benoît Hamon tweeted his “full support” to police against terrorism.

Of particular interest is the reaction of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

His policies on the root causes of terrorism include ending any alliance with the Gulf States, and engagement in destabilising wars. For French domestic legislation and practice he has promised to strengthen the fight against terrorism, under independent legal control to ensure that civil liberties are protected (ATTENTAT DES CHAMPS-ELYSÉES : COMMENT LES CANDIDATS COMPTENT LUTTER CONTRE LE TERRORISME).

Mélenchon also favours an international coalition under UN mandate, associated with Kurdish fighters, to eradicate the Islamic State and establish peace and stability in Iraq and Syria (Mettre en place une coalition universelle sous mandat de l’ONU pour éradiquer Daesh et établir la paix et la stabilité en Syrie et en Irak , associant les combattants kurdes. Mediapart).

The candidate of La France insoumise took a firm line after the attack on the  Champs-Elysées, evoking the Republic’s device of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 21, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Criticism, the Programme, and ‘Federating the People’.

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L’avenir en Commun. Le programme de la France insoumise et son candidat, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Seuil. December 2016.

Before introducing this we have to put the small fraction of our leftist readership who are unaware of this out of their misery.

Mélenchon’s Trotskyist past was as a ‘Lambertist‘, that it the most ‘orthodox’, not to say stultified tradition of French Trotskyism, at the time in the shape of the Organisation communiste internationale (OCI), at the time run by its thuggish leader  Pierre Boussel, best known under his pseudonym Pierre Lambert. 

This is perhaps misleading.  Mélenchon’s real political debts, he would be the first to thank us for pointing out, lie towards former president Mitterrand -(Jean-Luc Mélenchon, le dernier mitterrandiste).

This is equally not a background which endears him to everybody on the left.

The below sketches some reasons to be sceptical about Mélenchon.

Unlike  in today’s Guardian we concentrate on the published programme of his Presidential candidacy.

A critical overview of the main axes of the programme of La france insomouise.

This programme, for the 2017 French Presidential elections and for the legislative elections that follow them, addresses the state of France, “note pays”, our country, in a vibrant call to action. Ecological issues, the land’s social disasters (unemployment, poverty and ethnic and religious divisions, ‘communautarismes’) are, writes Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the Introduction, three aspects of the same reality, “We are suffocating under the rule of Finance.” Finance governs the world. Its greed, and the free-market, are destroying human beings and the planet.

For the candidate of La France insoumise the priority is to give power to the people (“donner le pouvoir, tout le Pouvoir, au peuple’). Mélenchon calls for an assembly, made up of those who have never before been elected to Parliament, to write a new constitution that will replace the “monarchie présidentielle”. With “ecological planning” a new model will be created. France will become a “universalist nation” (nation universaliste), conquering its “independence”, outside of NATO, acting to create a new alter-globalisation” alliance of the world’s peoples. France will bring a special contribution to green maritime development, to space exploration, and information technology.

Down with the Oligarchy!

The programme begins by observing that citizens’ power is thwarted in the present French politics are dominated by the “oligarchy”, the “collusion between politics and finance”, run by a “caste of the privileged”. The programme proposes a series of measures to stem corruption, to end the connivance between politicians and business, and the influence of lobbyists to break the influence of this financial-political elite. Infringements will be punished with the full force of the law.

The Universalist republic will then be in a position to defend an open approach to French nationality, advance a patriotism that is opposed to racism and all forms of discrimination, and abolish “state and social patriarchy”, including the abolition of prostitution (“abolir la prostitution”, this claim is made on Page 29).

The platform calls for new citizens’ initiatives, referenda, rights to recall MPs, guarantees of media pluralism, the constitutional embodiment of the rights of people at work, protecting common property, “air, water, food, health, energy, the means of life, the currency (..) For young people, after, lowering the voting age to 16, la France insoumise, proposes an obligatory “ service citoyen” (including a military option) or the under 25s, paid at the minimum wage, for nine months.

Particular attention is paid to France’s overseas territories, from the Caribbean to the other ‘confettis of the empire’ in the Pacific, South America and the Indian Ocean, whose equality will be established within the French administrative domain. They will become “pilots” of the ecological planning. In this respect the “économie de mer” from aquaculture onwards, will spearhead development.

L’avenir en Commun promises to out an end to the economic “pillaging” of the Nation (capital letter in original, Page 45). Not only are privatisations and ‘public-private’ partnerships targeted, but the effects of social dumping. In “défense de notre souveraineté industrielle”, “protectionnisme solidaire” is proposed. Trade agreements have to be revised and other measures taken to project social rights and employment, against multinationals and international finance. Production must be re-localised. To fight against unemployment there will be investment in green infrastructure projects…

Fiscal Revolution.

The programme has drawn particular attention for its “révolution fiscale” and other ideas in the industrial/economic field (a more detailed account here) A rise in the minimum wage (16%) parallels a maximum salary for company bosses, on a ratio of 1 to 20 of the lowest wage, restrictions of redundancies, and a return to the contract protection pre-Loi Khomri are amongst measures proposed. There are plans to restore retirement at 60, a continued reduction of the working week, increased holidays, and a wish to ‘eliminate poverty’.

Critics focus on the cost, hidden by a slight of hand in which spending is transformed into a way cost-free boosting the economy (without major tax rises on the ordinary person or indeed much directly on most businesses). Others ask how the economy is going to be radically transformed by government legislation. There is no specific mention of independent working class or social movement initiatives outside of the political framework of the new 6th Republic, or to be exact, how they might engage in working through, from the grass-roots, independent forms of  new economic and social life.

Dead Europe.

Mélenchon prefaces the section on Europe by asserting that the “Europe of our dreams is dead”. The present European Union has become reduced to a single market in which people are submitted to the rule of the banks and finance. Our “indépendance d’action et la souveraineté de nos décisions” must not be subjected to the ideological obsessions of the Commission which have led to this anti-democratic impasse.

La France insoumise intends to renegotiate existing European Treaties. In Plan A it is proposed, amongst other measures, to end the independence of the Central European Bank, devaluation of the Euro, a halt to extending market mechanisms to public services (railways, energy and telecommunications), and a European conference to settle member states’ debts. If this fails, Plan B, a halt to French contributions to the EU budget, and for the Banque de France to take back monetary control and prepare the way for an alternative monetary system to the Euro. It is not specified what will happen if this fails, other than extreme pressure will be put. Potentially, France may leave the Euro and, could possibly exit the EU itself.

What will happen if they try all of this, draw back to the Franc, there is a financial crisis of staggering proportions, and the economy starts to crack, is not explained.

Let us imagine, as some have done, how the various scenarios  for A and B would play out.

As Frédéric Lordon explains,

I think that comrade Mélenchon, if he did reach power and if he really intended to combine words with actions, would find himself facing very great adversity indeed. For over the last thirty years, capital has got comfortable and has no intention at all of letting all the freedoms it has conquered, all the comfort it has secured, being taken away again. We have to understand what entering into confrontation with capital again means. There we really have political battles…

Himself not immune to dreams of establishing national sovereignty Lordon imagines,

So both to protect Mélenchon and to keep watch over him, his election must be just the beginning of a political process of a whole different dimension, necessarily proceeding by way of popular mobilisations. I do not know if that means re-awakening the old memories of the Popular Front or whatever… but all the same…

This ends up, for the moment,  in an interminable argument about a possible exit of France from the EU.

Or not.

As perhaps his hero Mitterrand realised in the early 1980s, exiting European , not to mention global financial and commercial constrains is not so easy…..

Perhaps he should consult Jean-Pierre Chevènement….

As more recently noted, (FRÉDÉRIC LORDON CRITIQUERAIT-IL LA STRATÉGIE DE JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON ?)

Quand Jean-Luc Mélenchon dit qu’il veut « sortir des traités », cela a un sens. Ça ne peut signifier qu’une seule chose: si on sort des traités, on sort de fait de l’UE.

When Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he wants to leave the Treaties, that has a meaning. It has only one sense: if we leave the treaties we leave, in fact, the European Union…

Or not.

And so, on and on, in ever expanding and revolving  circles.

French Independence.

As part of his wider plans for sovereignty, and keen to assert the “indépendence” of France in the world, the platform, as cited, envisages not just renegotiating existing EU Treaties (or annulling them) but leaving NATO, but the IMF and the World Bank.

Yet we are promised that French overseas territories will join organisations for regional co-operation such as the Cuba and Venezuela ledAlliance bolivarienne.

In place of the existing military alliance, which drags European states behind the USA, France will be able to defend herself and act freely. In this sense a “coalition universelle”, UN mandated, to eradicate Daesh in Syria, has a part to play in establishing peace in that land, with free elections and a negotiated end to the civil war. Perhaps the reintroduction of military service will help France fulfill its part in the forces needed to meet this aim.

The programme wishes to continue to support the ‘two states’ solution to the Israel and Palestine conflict which is welcome.

The idea of France, a country which is a pillar of the international economic and military system, with a heavy colonial past, is an odd place from which to claim ‘independence’. One might say that the above objectives appear to give priority to a leading role in international affairs, not to freedom from overseas commitments.

There are many other measures in L’avenir en commun, on international co-operation to resolve the underlying causes of the different migration crises, for durable development, employees’ rights, a re-affirmation of secularist principles (laïcité), opening up education, and a ideas on health issues. The document includes a including a proposition to legalise, within regulated structures, cannabis. Asylum will be offered to freedom fighters (“combattants de la liberté”) such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange (Page 89).

These are worth discussing on their individual merits, some of which (green policies, workers’ rights, legalising cannabis) are shared by his Socialist rival, Hamon indeed are better expressed by him.

The People….

This is the most contentious element in the platform of La France insoumise. In contrast to traditional left wing programmes there are no proposals for large-scale nationalisations. Economic strategy, apart from its green and social inflection, is centred on production in France within an expanded regulatory citizens’ right-based framework. It is the role of the people’s, re-formed, 6th republic to transmit these into practice.

The ‘sovereignty’ of the People as translated into this Sixth Republic, with the “transition écologique, are at the core of L’avenir en commun, ideas which also stand out from past radical left platforms, which have affirmed the central importance of the labour movement, or the working class and oppressed. Critics have not been slow to point out that the “L’ère du peuple” is not the epoch of the proletariat. What is less than clear is what The People are made of. French socialism, in the shape of the SFIO,  was founded as a citizens’ party,  not a class one, but recognised the importance of class interest. Apart from being against the oligarchs and elites nobody seems sure what the people is, positively, for, other than the accumulated traditions all so often evoked, a stance that has something in common with the 19th century non-Marxist current around the Revue Socialiste of Benoît Malon which considered socialism a broad stream of progressive thinking that extended to all people of good will. 

In the construction of the People, its ‘federation’ into an ‘us’ against the Oligarchs, the ‘them’, this ‘humanist populism’ relies on some ideas, perhaps better described as emotions, that are open to serious question. The first is the claim to republican  ‘patriotism’.

recent interview with Raquel Garrido, one of their spokespeople, elicited this response.

We are patriotic, not nationalist. Patriotism is love for one’s own, while nationalism involves hatred for others. In fact, according to the literary and political definitions, that is the difference. The far right is nationalist. We are patriotic. And patriotism is an empathy, an affect towards one’s compatriots. We really think that, insofar as our nation has been a civic nation since the French Revolution, it is not defined by any religion or skin colour or even language, it is universal. Our homeland [patrie] is republican.

Our patriotism is universalist. It is a patriotism of the Enlightenment. We think that precisely what our patriotism allows is the affirmation of citizens’ right to govern themselves. That is what our national sovereignty is, first of all meaning a popular sovereignty. Before anything else it is the question of the people’s political power. And fortunately for us, in our national history these two things are linked. That is why we think that the far right is not truly for sovereignty, because it supports only national, not popular sovereignty. It is for Marine Le Pen having power, not the French.

Apart from being one of the hoariest definitions of patriotism going, love of one’s own is many things, but by definition it is not love of ‘others’.

In constructing the ‘figure of the People’, Mélenchon and his allies, apart from their fuzzy progressivism, also appear to have much in common with the mid-19th century “internationalist republicans”. They wish to free the land from the forces of global capital, not Kings but the aristocrats of finance. But national histories have been profoundly affected by globalisation and there is little evidence that tearing up its roots is an easy task. How can we talk of the ‘national’ economy in the world today? What exactly is French ‘independence’?  What is the ‘national’ culture in a multicultural reality, not a policy but a fact.

It is hard to find  more substance in the programme of La France insoumise, that clarifies the meaning of ‘popular sovereignty’. People’s Power is about as precise as the evocation of a national General Will.  Of, as Garrido asserts, ‘the French’….

If it has any meaning it is largely negative, a desire to be ‘free of’ outside institutions, from EU Treaties to NATO.

Such a goal, of national independence and sovereignty, now stamped with green and social measures, and raises many issues if any moves are taken towards the end.

If the people is Mobilised to confront the rule of the “political caste” ‘finance’, EU Treaties, and the Commission (not capitalism as such), what is its future?  If La France insoumise ever swept the “oligarchy” from the Republic, how they could ever bridge the gap between their ‘universal’ aspirations, those in France who oppose their plans for the People, and those of other Peoples? Who would ‘federate’ them? What kind of universalism  would negotiations with the ‘non-civic’ nations and institutions result in?

The other set of issues concerns leadership.

What is there perhaps a role for a Chief, the Lider Maximo, of this left populism? Laclau whose work is freely drawn upon in the political logic of the project of La France insoumise, explicitly placed this role at the centre of his later writing on populism (On Populist Reason. 2005). It is right to ask, as Joshua Samuel has done, if  this is not the explicit intention behind constructing a movement, not a party, to support Mélenchon’s candidacy. (La France insoumise – « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ?)

This issue has not gone away, as this article illustrates, noting that the cult of the Man of Destiny is not part of French left-wing political culture, for all his claims to deny that he indulges it, while claiming to gather together the People and not the Left. “Le culte de l’homme providentiel accompagne le candidat sur son passage, ce n’est pourtant pas l’idée que l’on se fait de la politique à gauche, et dont il se défend lui-même. Certains parlent de césarisme, sinon de chavisme à la française. L’inquiétude est à son comble quand il prétend rassembler le peuple et non la gauche.”( Mediapart.  FRÉDÉRIC LUTAUD)

The author observes that  Mélenchon’ has a worryingly high number of fanatical, dedicated followers devoted to  his own personality…

There is plenty of evidence to back this up.

capture

Interplanetary Missions.

In the final chapter, La France aux Frontières de l’Humanité a sketch of some of the features of a “nouvelle ère” of international co-operation is offered. It only increases the suspicion that this programme is marked by national messianism. Space-exploration, including a European-Russian Moon Base, support for a publicly owned Arianespace, and interplanetary missions, including to Mars, feature prominently. The development of France’s role as a “maritime power”, creating 300,000 jobs, in such areas a aquaculture and the French merchant navy, as well as the French role in robot and information technology, are some of the ideas for a people with a “special and passionate responsibility” (une responsabilité particulière et enthousiasmante!” (Page 119).

These ideas make it hard to not to think of the jibe against such claims of French special universal responsibilities, “A particularism masked as a universalism”.

Other material: Excitement in the French elections: the meaning of Jean-Luc Mélenchon  John Mullen

…if myself and my Trotskyist revolutionary friends were to decide to build a perfect mass campaign out of Lego, there would be a number of Mélenchon’s priorities we would leave in the box. He goes in for a particular brand of left patriotism: Insubordinate France distributes French flags at some rallies and the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, is sung. The words of the anthem were written as a call to arms against tyranny during the French Revolution, and Mélenchon’s line is that the real France is the tradition of the fight for republican equality and fraternity, the Paris commune and the welfare state established after world war two by the national committee of resistance. In addition, he puts great store on the positive influence that he says France has sometimes had in international diplomacy, and the positive role France could play in the United Nations in moving against war and against the great imperialist countries. Moreover, he is not opposed to France retaining its nuclear arms. Obviously, these are positions which revolutionaries would contest, and there are more objections too. Though he regularly denounces anti-Muslim prejudice, he tends to think, wrongly, that a Muslim fundamentalist threat is widespread in French society, and he has joined in misinformed speculation about the “real meaning” of a Muslim headscarf.

Overhauling French Politics

“At stake in Sunday’s French election is the specter of the far right, the neoliberalism of the extreme center, and Mélenchon’s challenge to the system itself.”

A useful interview with    if  marked by the initial  claim about the world historical effects that French protests against the reform of the Labour code last year, “These spectacular strikes, blockades, and demonstrations, notably Nuit Debout, really rocked the world’s stage, but especially the French stage, just one year ago.” Not to mention the puerile term, “the extreme centre”…

there is the fact that he identifies with the French state in every aspect. He really sees the French state in its republican form as defending the common interests of humanity. On one philosophical level, this is a sort of extension of the French Revolution’s emancipatory gesture, but it also translates into an identification with the French state in its actual repressive form.

And a much less favourable analysis: Anti-German, soft on Putin – Mélenchon is no saviour of the left.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 18, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Four Way Race in French Presidential Election: Jean-Luc Mélenchon neck-to-neck with François Fillon.

with 6 comments

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Video Game, “Fiscal Kombat“: Mélenchon versus  Socialist Party Tax Evader Cahuzac.

France 24 reports, “Jean-Luc Mélenchon neck-to-neck, or even ahead, of conservative candidate François Fillon.”

The  Independent states,

The first round in the French presidential election could turn into a four-way contest, after a leftist candidate’s unexpected surge in the polls.

Jean-Luc Melenchon is now 0.5 per cent behind conservative Francois Fillon, who sits in third place.

Mr Melenchon gained one percentage point in the daily Ifop-Fiducial poll, putting him at 18 per cent, while Mr Fillon was stable at 18.5 per cent.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is seen as leading the first round of the presidential election at 24 per cent, while centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is at 23 per cent.

The Independent points to this,

Ms Le Pen has drawn protests from her election rivals bydenying the French state’s responsibility for a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during the Second World War.

Her comments appeared at odds with years of efforts to make her once-pariah National Front (FN) more palatable to mainstream voters.

“I think France isn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” Ms Le Pen said, referring to the Nazi-ordered roundup by French police in the Velodrome d’Hiver cycling stadium of 13,000 Jews, who were then deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in July 1942.

“I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France,” she said in an interview with media groups Le Figaro, RTL and LCI.

Other polls give Mélenchon 18% and Fillon 17%.

The left socialist, and anti-‘Third Way’ candidate of the Parti Socialiste,  Benoît Hamon, is now below 10% in the opinion polls.

With an audience of 70,000 in Marseilles on Sunday Jean-Luc Mélenchon spoke of peace and in defence of “métissage” (cultural and ethnic mixing). He called a minute’s silence to respect those who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe (A Marseille, Mélenchon à bon port)

 

Meanwhile Macron’s latest backer is unlikely to bring him much joy:

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: Rise of a French Patriot.

with 11 comments

Image result for melenchon et le patriotisme

Will Submit Young People to Re-introduction of National Service.

As Jean-Luc Mélenchon rises in the French opinion polls  with the latest even putting the leader of La France insoumise 19%, neck and neck (Un sondage donne Jean-Luc Mélenchon et François Fillon à égalité dans les intentions de vote) with the scandal-riven right-wing candidate, he is attracting a lot of new support.

One is of particular interest.

The veteran extreme right group, Action française (that is, the group which continues to identify with the organisation), has called to vote for a Presidential candidate who will help Frexit, (on the model of Brexit) (1).

Action française appelle à voter, au premier tour, pour un des quatre candidats – Asselineau, Dupont-Aignan, Le Pen ou Mélenchon.

« Frexit ! » est le mot d’ordre qui doit présider au choix de tout patriote. C’est pourquoi, considérant que seuls les peuples libres peuvent décider du sens qu’ils donnent à leur histoire, l’Action française appelle à voter, au premier tour, pour un des quatre candidats – Asselineau, Dupont-Aignan, Le Pen ou Mélenchon – qui se prononcent pour une dénonciation des traités européens existants, tout en privilégiant ceux qui envisagent clairement la sortie de l’Union européenne et le retour au franc.

Frexit, that’s the guiding line which must guide the choice of every patriot. That’s why, considering that only free people can decide their own history, Action française calls for a vote, in the first round, for one of these four candidates, Asselineau, Dupont-Aignan, Le Pen or Mélenchon, who have denounced existing European treaties, giving priority amongst them to those who have clearly called for France to leave the Europe Union and for the return of the Franc.

L’Action Française appelle à voter pour un candidat du Frexit

Mélenchon is not responsible for this recommendation from the ultra-nationalist and racist far-right.

Indeed he has gone out of this way to deny that he is a nationalist.

« Mme Le Pen et moi sommes séparés par le fait qu’elle ne croit pas à la nation républicaine comme moi. Elle croit à la préférence nationale. Je ne suis pas un nationaliste, je suis un patriote, ça n’a rien à voir. Je propose le protectionnisme solidaire. Je négocie avec les autres pays, je ne m’enferme pas. Je ne crois pas à la nation ethnique. Un Français sur quatre a un grand-parent étranger.

Madame Le Pen and myself are separated by the fact that she does not believe in the Republican Nation as I do. She believes in ‘national preference’. I am not a nationalist, I am a patriot, something quite different. I propose protectionism based on solidarity. I will negotiate with other countries, and will not cut myself off from them. I don’t believe in an ethically based nations. One French person out of four has a foreign grandparent.

Le Monde.

Those who look at his proposal for a compulsory 9 month ‘citizens’ service for the under 25s, including  military training, will have little doubt that he is indeed a French ‘patriot’.

This is a key proposal of La France insoumise: a return to national service.

Créer un service citoyen obligatoire pour les femmes et pour les hommes, par conscription, avant 25 ans proche du lieu de vie, en limitant le casernement aux fonctions qui l’exigent réellement. D’une durée totale de 9 mois, comprenant une formation militaire initiale incluant un droit à l’objection de conscience, rémunéré au Smic, affecté à des tâches d’intérêt général

The creation of a compulsory  citizens service for the everybody under 25, by conscription, this will take place near to their homes, limiting quartering in barracks to functions which really require this. It will last 9 months, with an introductory military training – to which the right of consciousness objection is recognised, and will be paid at the minimum wage, and will consist of community work of public utility.

Other candidates also propose similar measures. Marine Le Pen offers a minimum 3 months military service, and Emmanuel Macron, a short period of national service, structured by the army and the gendarmarie.

The Socialist Candidate, Benoît Hamon, has called compulsory schemes ‘paternalist’, inefficient, and unwanted by the armed forces.

There is already a national and voluntary “service civique” for the under-25, in which up to 100, 000 people have participated.

In the eyes of people in many countries the idea of returning to a form of national service looks, frankly, bizarre, flag-waving, and.. nationalist.

Latest opinion polls summary (from Stephan).

Le Pen (Far-Right) 23% ↓
Macron (Centrist, Pro-EU) 23% ↓
Melenchon (Left-Wing, Souverainism) 19%↑
Fillon (Conservative) 19%↑
Hamon ( Parti Socialiste) 8.5%↓
Dupont-Aignan (Right-wing, Souverainism) 3.5% ↓
Poutou (Far-left) 1.5%↑
Arthaud (Far-left, Trotskyism) 1% =
Lassalle (Centrist) 1% =
Asselineau (Souverainism, Euroscepticism) 0.5% =
Cheminade (Souverainism, Conspiracy Theory) 0.5%↓

 (1) “The AF movement still exists as the monarchist and anti-European UnionCentre royaliste d’Action française” and publishes a magazine called Action française 2000. Its leader was Pierre Pujo (Maurice Pujo’s son), who died in Paris on 10 November 2007.[6] The student movement, called Action française étudiante, has approximately 15 local delegations (in places such as Paris, Normandy, Rennes, Bordeaux, and Forez) and a newspaper, Insurrection. Its President is Oliver Perceval.” Wikipedia.

More (French)

“En octobre 2011, le CRAF, ainsi que l’AFE, prennent une part importante dans des manifestations contre une pièce de théâtre jugée christianophobe250, Sul concetto di volto nel Figlio di Dio (« Sur le concept du visage du Fils de Dieu ») du dramaturge et metteur en scène italien Romeo Castellucci, puis participent à la « marche contre la christianophobie » qui suit251.

Le Printemps royal défile au Jour de colère le 26 janvier 2014.

L’AF entretien des relations de grande proximité avec le Printemps français. En 2013, dans le cadre de La Manif pour tous, le secrétaire général du mouvement, Olivier Perceval produit une tribune proclamant la création du Printemps français à la suite de laquelle le mouvement apparaît effectivement252. L’Action française revendique la formation de cadres de Printemps français, ce qui se vérifie sur le terrain ou les dirigeants régionaux de l’AF y sont souvent impliqués253. À la fin des mouvements de La Manif pour tous, le Printemps français sert de succursale de recrutement pour l’AFE en prenant le nom de Printemps royal254. Le Printemps royal tient en 2014 un cortège à la manifestation Jour de colère du 26 janvier.

Depuis le mouvement fait parler de lui à de nombreuses reprises, faits dénoncés par Edwy Plenel, le directeur de Mediapart : « L’Action française. Ce laboratoire idéologique de la réaction, hélas non dénué de talent, qui poursuit son travail de subversion255. » Jean-Yves Camus pour sa part constate dans La Provence « une nouvelle génération plus activiste et tapageuse »256.

L’AF fait l’objet de menaces de morts régulières : en 2013 une grenade explose dans les locaux parisiens, en septembre 2015 une grenade et des balles d’AK-47 sont scotchées sur la porte des locaux marseillais257,258.

Les différentes actions du mouvement, notamment son regain d’activité dans le sud-est, conduisent le député Jean-David Ciot à redemander sa dissolution le 4 décembre 2015259.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 8, 2017 at 12:20 pm