France: Parti de Gauche vows to build ‘citizens’ revolution’ for ecosocialism
Down with austerity!
By Dick Nichols
April 12, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- At the third national congress of the Left Party (Parti de Gauche) held in Bordeaux from March 22 to 24, France’s newest and fastest-growing socialist group seemed to come of age.
Only four years old, the Left Party was born after its leading figure, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a long-time leader of left currents in the Socialist Party (PS), abandoned it after the tendencies in the PS opposing neoliberal austerity mustered only 19% support at its 2008 congress.
The December 2008 founding of the Left Party was immediately followed by the launch of the Left Front (Front de Gauche). Initially, the Left Front was a coalition between the Left Party, the Communist Party (PCF) and Uniting Left (GU), a current that abandoned the New Anticapitalist Party after the NPA’s 2009 founding congress rejected joining the Left Front.
With Melenchon as its candidate, the Left Front won 11.1% (nearly 4 million votes) in the May presidential poll last year. It was the best result in 30 years for a force to the left of the PS. It also put the term “revolution” back onto the French political agenda.
Over the last four years the Left Party has grown from 4500 to more than 12,000 members and gone through rapid changes. Originally mainly made up of ex-PS members and left republicans like national secretary Éric Coquerel, the party rapidly won recruits from the NPA and the Greens (EELV), most notably EELV deputy Martine Billard. She was later elected co-president with Mélenchon at the party’s November 2010 second national congress.
Many ex-members of other left groups also joined. But the main source has been people inspired by last year’s presidential campaign, especially union activists and young people.
Over the same period, founding members like former PS deputy Marc Dolez and prominent railway unionist Claude Debons left the new party. They criticised its “leftist” line towards the PS and (in the case of Dolez) Mélenchon’s June 2012 head-to-head campaign against National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen in the 2012 legislative election and his supposed “overkill” on ecological issues.
These departures reflected what is still the major issue of debate within the Left Front — how to relate to the presidency of the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande and the millions who voted for the PS last year but who are now becoming disillusioned with the PS-EELV government.
Developing the principles
When the Left Party was founded, its basic DNA was clear. A December 2008 statement specified “the society we want” as human-centred and ecological and built upon a radical redistribution of wealth. It supported citizen participation in a democratic Sixth Republic and the refounding of the European Union as a “democratic and social space respecting popular sovereignty”.
The “party we want” was to be open and democratic, internationalist, respectful of differences on the left yet committed to unity wherever possible, and a promoter of social action and popular education.
The task of the third national congress was to flesh out those principles. The 900 delegates who filled the cavernous hall on the outskirts of Bordeaux had four main jobs to do: to adopt a detailed political perspectives document called “Let’s Dare!”, vote on the party’s statutes, elect new national leaders and decide whether to adopt an explicitly ecosocialist objective, as outlined in the document Eighteen Theses for Ecosocialism.
This last text had been developed through a process involving forces outside the Left Party, including former NPA leaders Michael Lowy and Janette Habel. It had been launched in December at the first of series of “Conferences for ecosocialism”. On his blog (which averages 15,000 hits daily) Mélenchon called the document’s adoption “the furthermost point of the congress”.
The “Conferences for ecosocialism” are now being repeated across France, with plans for them to become international.
The document explains: “Ecosocialism is a refounding of political ecology which would be powerless without a strategy for overcoming capitalism. It is also a refounding of socialism freed from productivism.”
But what is the strategy? A third of “Let’s Dare!” is devoted to the Left Party’s perspective of “a citizens’ revolution for ecosocialism”.
It summarised as being “fed by electoral contest, social mobilisation and democratic debate. Made by citizens, it also creates citizens. The taking of power we aim for therefore merges with the emancipation of the people.”
“Let's Dare” fuses the French revolutionary republican tradition and the Marxist class struggle outlook ― also drawing inspiration from revolutionary processes in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
As a result, “all forms of domination must be fought simultaneously”. It says a primary duty of the Left Party and Left Front is to be the voice of people’s rage against the system and the “political class”. The price of neglecting this, as Melenchon stressed in his closing public meeting, is that the job will be done by forces like Italian comic Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, or worse.
As Mélenchon put it in his blog: “The diagnosis and the strategic line contained in the slogan ‘let them all go to hell’… that guided my presidential campaign, has been confirmed in all the languages of southern Europe.”
Centrality of education
The document lays great stress on the battle for hearts and minds. This is to be achieved by linking all-round social resistance to a massive effort of enlightenment against capitalist brainwashing.
“We must master the tools of popular education, those that allow a fight against all forms of domination”, it says. “We do not seek passive support for our project: we aspire to help everyone recover their voice so that this project can be built collectively.”
The mass of literature the Left Party has already produced is striking — from detailed policy pamphlets covering all major areas, books defining its vision (especially in the area of ecosocialism) and insightful pamphlet-interviews with its leaders covering the hot topics of French politics. Left Front members also receive a weekly broadsheet in the post to provide updates and orientation on the issues of the day.
Another essential element is what the Left Party calls “concrete radicalities” ― practical examples of cooperative production, community administration, communication, education and culture that can be tangible examples of future alternatives. Left Party elected representatives promote and fight for such things, as outlined in the book Terres de Gauche (“Left Lands”). This is an ABC of human-centred local initiatives on issues as seemingly unrelated as promoting urban gardens to preventing traditional boat harbours from being taken over by the super yachts of the super rich, from policy against video surveillance to techniques for creating a participatory budget.
These issues were underscored at the congress in speeches from a trade union delegate at Air France and activists in the struggle for equal marriage rights for LGBTI couples (presently being attacked through a huge counter-mobilisation by the right).
A feature of “Let’s Dare!” is its internationalist outlook. It not only views the struggle in France as part of a Europe-wide struggle against neoliberal austerity imposed by the European Union, it views the Left Party and Left Front as part of “the other left” ― other than the social democracy ― on a world scale. The presence of 80 international delegations, in particular from the Magreb, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America showed the seriousness with which the global projection of the struggle for ecosocialism was taken at the congress.
To dramatise the Left Party’s adoption of the symbol of the 1974 Portuguese Revolution, the carnation, as its own emblem, the delegates from the Portuguese parties present — the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party — were invited on stage to lead the delegates in the singing of that country’s famous revolutionary hymn “Grandola, Vila Morena”.
“Let’s Dare” says: “Our ties are deepening because we are conscious of being the distinct national expressions of a same international movement. That’s why we have a lot to learn from experiences carried out in Latin America. It’s where the other left has come to power for the first time.”
It says the Left Front must have the same goal in France: “We are aware that there is a debate within the Left Front on the level of ambition which we should have. For our part we reaffirm the objective clearly put forward by the Left Front during the presidential election — to become the majority force on the left capable of taking power in order to restore it to a sovereign people.
“If we judge that this is an impossible road then the situation of our people will be permanently without solution, and instead of being part of the solution we will become part of the problem.”
The document sums up: “The citizens’ revolution needs another way of governing. A fighting government is needed to break with the oligarchy ... Confrontation with the powerful is not to be rejected. On the contrary, it is the motor force of popular mobilisation.”
Left Front discussions
These lines addressed the major discussion within the Left Front: how to swing over into its camp the disappointed mass of people who supported the PS and François Hollande and how to prevent the rise of abstention and apathy and further growth in support for the National Front?
The discussion is usually painted as a Left Party versus PCF contest, with the Left Party diagnosing the PS government’s course of betrayal as irreversible and the PCF seeing it as not yet definitive and, despite appearances, still open to correction by goading from the left.
From these differing perceptions different tactics arise. François Delapierre, the director of Mélenchon’s presidential election campaign, told Mediapart writer Stéphane Alliès in November last year that “given the ideological line of the PS we more and more find ourselves in a logic of competition”. That meant that the Left Front parliamentary group, in which PCF members predominate, should have voted against the 2013 PS government budget when it was before parliament late last year.
Dealpierre said: “The unions and the social organisations are beginning to turn towards us. We are becoming a point of political reference. It’s up to us to make headway in this job of winning hearts and minds. An abstention on the budget would be read like this: ‘If they abstain, there must be some good things there”. By voting against, the message is: ‘If it were up to us, it would be better.’”
Eric Cocquerel added: “You have to vote against if you want public opinion to understand that there are two lines on the left. It is no accident that people talked most of all about us after the PCF voted against in the Senate.”
However, the final Left Front vote on the budget was abstention. According to Pierre Laurent, PCF national secretary and Left Front senator, “even if its general direction doesn’t suit us, we want to keep sending the signal that we are waiting for changes of direction from this government.”
Marie-Pierre Vieu, the PCF leader in charge of relations with the Left Front, conceives the “tactical nuance” differentiating the two main forces in the Left Front in these terms: “If we want to go beyond 15% or 20%, we will never make it by uniting the left of the left. We´ll never get there through denial of the PS, even though we are aware of its turn to neoliberalism. We have to be able to win them to our side.”
Another strand in the PCF’s concern is the “third pole” within the Left Front, formalised in October last year when five groups with origins in the NPA and the PCF issued the document “Unite for a Left Alternative” outlining an explicit perspective of a break with capitalism. This pole is now made up of seven groups, the Anti-Capitalist Left, Federation for a Social and Ecological Alternative, Uniting Left, Uniting Communists, Republic and Socialism, Alternatives and Convergences and Alternative.
The Left Party’s specific adoption of an ecosocialist goal is also directed at drawing this pole, which has several thousand members, into its orbit. But, according to an anonymous PCF leader quoted in the Mediapart analysis: “The more recent the waves [of departures] from the NPA are, the more [the Left Party] drag us leftwards. But there’s nothing more to be won to our left — a void’s been created there. Given the policy of the PS in government we have an interest in looking to our right.”
According to Marie-Pierre Vieu: “We drew the lesson from the episode of the pluralist left [PCF as junior partner in government with the PS from 1997 to 2002] that our presence was not enough to change the policy being adopted: that’s why we created the Left Front. However, the other risk is that of creating an NPA Mark 2.”
However, while these differences are certainly real (and Mélenchon openly polemicises with PCF leaders on his blog) they have to be placed in the perspective of a shared commitment to building the Left Front as the pole of attraction for all progressive-minded people disillusioned with the PS.
In January the nine organisations that make up the Left Front unanimously adopted a strategic text outlining a common characterisation of the Hollande government, the need to build majorities around anti-neoliberal policies, including with PS and EELV members and supporters, and the need for the Left Front to have mass meetings and protest rallies in its own name and to be open to individual membership.
The unity achieved around this document has also produced tensions within the PCF itself, already visible at its 36th national congress in late February. Moreover, one regional PCF congress, in the Haute-Garonne départment (capital, Toulouse) explicitly rejected the Left Front strategy document and began negotiations with the PS.
A sign of the importance the Left Party congress delegates put on the unity achieved within the Left Front was the rousing reception given to Pierre Laurent but also the strong applause with which the four-person NPA delegation was greeted.
“Let’s Dare!” as amended by the congress debate finally won 99% support from delegates. But this was not without debate on a number of issues, distilled into 12 counter-posed positions by a document commission that sat for 100 hours to sift through the 3000 amendments received from members and local Left Party groups.
The most important of these involved:
* A clearer statement of conditions of support for the euro. A Left Front government “would refuse to apply the strong euro policy of the European Central Bank and would be ready to take unilateral decisions in that direction, for example by bringing the Bank of France into action.”
According to a statement by the Left Front economic commission, it would be conceivable, in the case of a French exclusion from the euro, “to create other relations of solidarity, based on a new balance of forces. For example, negotiate the creation of a devalued ‘Southeuro’ refounded on cooperative principles.” In an interview in L’Humanité Mélenchon commented: “We have always defended the idea that the single currency could provide a point of support for a progressive policy, but we are arriving at the point where this line is becoming ineffective in the face of the stubbornness of Europe’s leaders.”
* Alliances for the 2014 municipal elections. An amendment opening the way for conditional Left Party participation in broad left lists (including the PS) was voted down in favour of one stating that “everything in the municipal elections must prepare and reinforce the European [election] campaign. As a result, if we cannot form autonomous lists, we will not participate in lists led by parties that support the [Prime Minister Jean-Marc] Ayrault government.” Immediately after the congress, the Left Party announced that it would be standing in 60 major cities. This pressures the PCF to choose between joining it in Left Front tickets rather than maintaining its traditional non-aggression agreements with the PS at the municipal level.
* Use of the term “protectionism”. “Let’s Dare!” spells out a policy of breaking with the World Trade Organisation and favouring local production, especially in agriculture, and of requiring imports to meet social, ecological and labour rights standards. It says that “reconstituting a capacity for national production is impossible without strong measures of trade protection”, calling this approach “solidarity-based protectionism”. A proposal to change the title of this section of the text to “Cooperate to stop the destructive logic of free trade” was lost.
Statutes and leadership
The issue that created the most controversy at the congress was the procedure for electing the national leadership, which made the election of members not proposed by the election commission very difficult.
The session devoted to the procedure was marked by cries of “Democracy, democracy”, complaints that delegates had insufficient time to consider all the candidates and that a Paris-centred leadership was being imposed from above, contradicting the Left Party’s goal of becoming a “melting pot” party.
An anonymous leaflet distributed at the congress called on delegates to vote for a mixture of candidates “representing our socio-geographical diversity”. The debate also surfaced on the Mediapart web site.
A concern for improving internal party functioning was shown in the overwhelming adoption within the party’s statutes of a new preparation procedure for the next congress.
The closest vote took place over the proposal to suppress the structure of department secretariat and devolve its work to the department coordinating committee, apparently a reflection of concern that the Left Party was developing too hierarchical a structure. This proposal was defeated 203-263 in favour of an amendment spelling out the relative roles of the secretariat and coordinating committee at the department level.
Other discussion concerned the size of the National Council (reaffirmed at 350 instead of 250) and of the National Board (reaffirmed at 60 instead of 40). Perhaps surprisingly, the requirement that a proposal on the general line of the party achieve at least 20% support on the National Council to get submitted to congress provoked little public discussion.
However, whatever the rights and wrongs of these and other issues, they had little impact on the buoyant mood of the delegates at congress end.
After a fighting public speech from Mélenchon to a completely packed hall of 5000, and after singing the “Marseillaise”, “Grandola, Vila Morena” and the socialist anthem “The Internationale” at the top of their voices, inspired delegates setting off home for the next phase in building the “citizens’ revolution”.
[Dick Nichols is Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He attended the Parti de Gauche third national congress as a representative of Australia’s Socialist Alliance. A shorter version of this article also appeared in Green Left Weekly.]
France: Cahuzac scandal unleashes wave of outrage
Interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, subtitled in English, on the Cahuzac scandal and the response of the Left Front.
By Dick Nichols
April 8, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The admission on April 2 by former Socialist Party (PS) government budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac that he did indeed have a Swiss bank account for tax evasion purposes, as maintained by the investigative web site Mediapart, has set off a storm of disgust and fury in France.
The already unpopular government of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has been shaken to the core while President François Hollande’s popularity has sunk faster and lower than that of any president in the history of France’s Fifth Republic.
It is not difficult to understand why. Here we have the minister entrusted with the public purse and the fight against tax fraud being found out to be a tax cheat. Here is an arrogant and contemptuous political oligarch, a “socialist” who recently proclaimed the class struggle dead in TV debate with the Left Party’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, caught out playing the same filthy game as multinational firms, Cayman Island-registered banks and Russian Mafiosi — a game that costs European Union governments 1 trillion euros a year.
Moreover, all the time Cahuzac was denouncing Mediapart’s reporters as liars he was part of government that has increased consumption taxes and introduced laws to make it easier and cheaper for bosses to sack workers.
Nor was Cahuzac a “lone fraudster”. The Mediapart investigations have so far uncovered that Jean-Jacques Augier, Hollande’s presidential campaign treasurer, has been investing in the Cayman Islands and that Cahuzac’s UBS bank account was opened for him by one Philippe Penique, a close friend of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the racist and xenophobic National Front (FN)!
On April 5, the Left Party commented: “The Cahuzac affair is provoking anger and disgust. In its extreme seriousness it not only lays bare one man’s lack of honesty and integrity. It also exposes once again a profoundly harmful oligarchical system, a democracy that’s run out of steam and the increasing collusion between the upper echelons of the finance system and those of the state. The reign of finance must be brought to an end.”
In the face of “an oligarchy that that believes it is all-powerful and unpunishable” the Left Front has called for a “response that must be strong and clear”. This will take the shape of a mass citizens’ protest in Paris on May 5, which all people disgusted with the corrupt status quo (not just Left Front supporters) are urged to attend.
May 5 is the first anniversary of the 2012 presidential election but also of the 224th of first sitting of the States-General in the months before the French Revolution. The States-General began the process of creating France’s first democratic constitution.
The Left Front is using the anniversary to stress the need for a new constituent process to found a Sixth Republic so that “the people again take power”. Its statement ended by undertaking to do everything necessary to ensure that “legitimate anger finds an outlet in hope and social transformation”.