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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.



Mélenchon and Jacobinism.

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How BBC Sees Front de Gauche.

A ‘Jacobin’, a ‘Gaullist’, that was the way Jean-Luc Mélenchon was described on Newsnight yesterday.

By no coincidence Daniel Cohen-Bendit, a leading figure the French and European Green political scene had made the same assessment a couple of days ago  (une interview au Monde).  He laid into the Front de Gauche and expressed his horror at,

L’émergence de cette gauche, jacobine, centralisatrice et caricaturale est pain bénit pour Nicolas Sarkozy.”

The emergence of this Left, Jacobin, centralising and caricatural, is manna from heaven for Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Mélenchon has responded by observing the Cohen Bendit is a

“spécialisé à tirer dans le dos. Il tire dans le dos d’Eva Joly. Il tire dans le mien… C’est une habitude chez lui. (France Inter. )

He’s a specialist in stabbing people in back. he did to Eva Joly (Danny the Red’s own party candidate who he advises to to stand down from the election), and now he’s doing it to me. It’s a habit for him.

On Newsnight the Front de Gauche candidate said that to be called a Jacobin is an “honour”.

But is the Front de Gauche ‘Jacobin’, nationalist, or even ‘Gaullist’?

The initial agreement for the elections (March 2011) refers to the inspiring fight for universal rights underway in the Arab Spring. Mélenchon’s speech at the Bastille thundered that the French are the People of Revolt of the Revolution – and then went straight onto announce solidarity with the people’s of Europe, beginning with Greece, fighting finance capital and austerity.

And the centralising state?

The Programme of the Front de Gauche calls for a citizen’s revolution and for participative democracy.

There are undoubtably  problems in evoking the French Revolution, as “un bloc”, to be defended.

Jules Michelet, for example, the first major historian of the Revolution, has a strain of  worship for the French nation, allied to anglophobia

Many will not appreciate references by the Front de Gauche to ‘anglo-saxons’.

In fact many people in the Isles are not ‘anglo-saxons’, notably in the Labour movement, where the ‘Celtic’ strand (itself an ambiguous word) is strong.

There many be common point between the US economy and other English-speaking lands.

But politically?

The USA is a Republic, the UK is a Monarchy.

Britain has a left, the USA barely has one.

And here, the Welfare State, hardly in existence in America, plays the role that the Republic does in France.

A European Social Republic would unite us.

And that’s what the Front de Gauche stands for.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

European Elections: French Left Fractured.

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This latest French Opinion Poll on voting intentions for the June European Elections is of interest.

  Février 2009 Avril 2009 Mai 2009
Liste de Lutte ouvrière soutenue par Arlette Laguiller 3 3 2
Liste du Nouveau parti anticapitaliste soutenue par Olivier Besancenot 9 7 7
Liste d’union Parti communiste et Parti de gauche soutenue par Marie-George
Buffet et Jean-Luc Mélenchon
4 5,5 6,5
Liste du Parti socialiste 23 22,5 21,5
Liste Europe Ecologie soutenue par Daniel Cohn-Bendit 7 7,5 7
Liste du MoDem soutenue par François Bayrou 14,5 14 13,5
Liste UMP 26 26,5 27
Liste MPF-CPNT soutenue par Philippe de Villiers et Frédéric Nihous 5 5 5
Liste Debout la République soutenue par Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 2 1 1
Liste du Front national soutenue par Jean-Marie Le Pen 6 7,5 7,5
Autres listes (1) 0,5 0,5 2

That the UMP (Sarkozy’s party) is at 27%, a head above the Socialist Party(PS)  has many causes. Sarkozy has wind in his sails. He’s managed a deft act. Pre-becoming President  Sarko promised ruthless liberalisation. Now, faced with the recession, and its scandals, he calls for humanising capitalism. The main Parliamentary opposition? A weak, compromised, ‘orthodox’ social democratic party. Weaknesses? The French Socialists are seeing the results of not defining themselves as a robust reforming force. There is the legacy of their own ‘Blairite’ period (1984 – 86)  – market-worship under Prime Minister Laurent Fabius. Then, after a return to Government following the thundering 1996 social movement, they vacillated. Socialist Prime Minister (1997 – 2002) Lionel Jospinbegan by defending the public sector. He ended up agreeing to privatisations. He lost, notoriously, to Chriac in 2002 – scoring less than le Pen for President. In the wilderness it seemed as if they might getradical. No: there was scramble for power before the last (20060 presidentials. Followed by in-fighting. Without any clear PS left opposition (its left fragmented, behindthe long-standing grandees, some quit the organisation with Mélenchon) their divisions are arranged around personalities. Above all,  the legendary feud between PS General Secretary Martine Aubry and Presidential loser Ségolène Royal. The result? A reduction of support to its core constituency: 21,5%.

If anyone has reaped a harvest from the PS’s lack of dynamism it’s the Modems of  François Bayrou. Posing as the most resolute – if avuncular – opponent of Sarkozy’s ‘coup d’état (attack on liberties) gets him a hefty 13,5%. To a lesser extent the Liste Europe Ecologie led by a smirking Daniel Cohen-Bendit (liberal market Green), at 7% have captured attention. Both appeal to mildly annoyed voters who don’t want anything really to change in France, and recoil from anything more than verbally challenging Sarkozy. By contrast another harmless diversion, the ‘Gaullist’ (pure republican) list, led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, is barely registering at 1%

The left of the PS still scores well. Olivier Besancenot’s Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste has come down from an inflated 11% (claimed) to 9% to 7% – illustrating the danger of politics as  personal mangetism. At 6,5% the Liste d’union Parti communiste et Parti de gauche backed by par Marie-George Buffet (PCF)  et Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Parti de Gauche) closely tails them. No doubt this will cause some embarrassment to those ‘anti-capitalists’ who failed to recognise the underlying strength of these ‘reformists’. Still we can read again the refusal of the NPA to have a common List or agreement  with their rivals (here). Apparently its due to the PCF-PG sometimes working with the French Socialists and making arrangements with the social-fascist class traitors (okay I made that last bit up). LO, at 2% is nowhere.

Unlike the UK the far-right appears on a downward slide. A kind of UKIP (with ties to Libertas), the Liste MPF-CPNT  gets 5%. Le Pen is at 7,5%. Anti-Europanism and ‘security’ are still important issues  for some, and xenophobia has hardly gone away, but not they’re not the seismetic forces they once were.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 14, 2009 at 11:04 am