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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Jean-Luc Mélenchon: "Une nouvelle force"

by Patrick Apel-Muller and Mina Kaci

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: "A New Force"

Translated Sunday 22 April 2012, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

With only a few hours remaining before the voting places open [1], the candidate of the Left Front evokes the sense of his campaign and the perspectives it opens. He stresses the importance of coming in ahead of Marine Le Pen and of beating Nicolas Sarkozy. Interview.

Translators’ note (and update):

In this interview, which took place two days before the first round, Jean-Luc Mélenchon casts a retrospective and a prospective look at the Front de Gauche’s strategy, its achievements, its ambitions for the future regardless of the actual vote in the first round.

On April 22nd, François Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate, got 28.63 of the vote, Nicolas Sarkozy 27.18, Marine Le Pen (for the National Front) 17.90, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon 11.11.

The Front de Gauche’s score is triple its initial score in the polls in the early stage of the campaign. Moreover, its real influence with regard to its agenda far outstrips its vote in the first round, for not a few of its supporters cast a Hollande vote for fear of Le Pen getting ahead… It has now become the second, and the most coherent force on the left.

The real disappointment is that Marine Le Pen reaped votes of electors dissatisfied with Sarkozy, who were blind to the fallacy of her “leftist” promise, and put the blame on “immigrants” for the country’s ills.

For an English translation of the candidate’s statement to his followers in the Front de gauche assembled at the Place de Stalingrad in Paris, following the announcement of election results, see [this articlehttp://www.humaniteinenglish.com/spip.php?article2022].


The interview:

Huma: We near the end of the first round. The campaign of the Left Front is seen by the public to have been the most dynamic of all, but do you believe it has made fundamental changes in the political situation? Has it "turned the tables"?

Jean-Luc Melenchon: We have given life, throughout the country, to political themes that have changed the outlook of citizens, whatever (be?) their political orientation. The idea that there are two camps, that of the people and that of the oligarchy, is now very widely shared. The denunciation of the hyper-rich and of unjustified wealth is now general. I cite only these two examples because the impact of our denunciation was so strong that the political agendas of other parties have evolved as a consequence, despite the fact that these two themes were initially considered to be populist.

Similarly, our discourse on the republican unity of the French people, regardless of religion and background, made a deep impression. What has changed for those who have have come together in assemblies, for those who were in the movement, is their self-image, the image they have not of us, but of themselves, because of this campaign. There is thus a return of self-confidence to the working class, to wage-earners. They have regained pride and confidence in their own social dignity. In the population inherited from immigration, the sense of belonging to the country is stronger and has led to a re-legitimization of the presence, here in this country, of all of us.

And, of course, we managed to muster what was a scattered political force.
We knew it existed, but we wondered whether we could help it to crystallize, to reappear.

We worked methodically - drawing upon the best traditions of each structured element [2] - to reconstitute, to reorganize this political force around a program and a worldview both anti-capitalist and cultural.
We have demonstrated that a political agenda is rooted in a culture and that a culture is rooted in history. This was reflected in the way I do things, but also in the general nature of the
people’s participation in these vast assemblies.

Huma:
The famous calls to "resist" and to "preside" ...

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
It was at times necessary to temper the zeal, but I rarely have had to say not to shout my name. The rallying was indeed political in nature. At the Bastille, in Toulouse and Marseille, I made a point of honor to lay out all the paths we have taken, historically and politically [3]. The cultural, political and historical dimensions were continuously knitted together, and this is what has transformed the mood in the country. Even among those who are not with us.

Huma: The European Central Bank is in the spotlight, one talks of combatting fiscal exile, of a tax raised to 75% on revenues ... Are you calling the shots?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
We made some questions unavoidable. This is a very great achievement, because incredible efforts were made to turn citizens away from these issues.

The established order has made a huge effort to introduce extraneous subjects of debate, to try to excite public opinion about complete decoys [4]. Citizens have shown a high capacity of resistance, and have brought back to the fore of the debate their true centers of interest.

We put everyone into a corner, and, within a few hours of voting, this alone counts. If everyone is convinced that the world of finance will continue to attack our country, no matter who is elected president, because it is not a personal affair, but is a structural and systemic issue, then the question arises: how to respond to this attack? Do we give in, procrastinate, just make do with it?

Those trying to make deals with the aggressor will be even more brutally hit with each passing day, as in Greece. There are therefore two positions only: to get used to it, or to resist. Resistance carries within itself a positive act. We resist because we want to reach other horizons and we do not intend to let ourselves be distracted. I will not say we called the shots, but we did aim the cameras at reality. It is we who have brought reality to the table, while everything was being done to push it away.

Huma: You declare that the Left Front is in the process of "writing a new chapter in the history of the Left." In what sense?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
The Left Front has revived a political, philosophical, and cultural current that certain commentators felt had become void of meaning. It is a current of thought that combines the Enlightenment, revolutionary republicanism, historic socialism in all its components, whether communist or socialist. We have not re-introduced an old flag, we have created a new political force, the Left Front, which has simultaneously carried out a deep ideological re-assembly, which has reorganized its political program around a new paradigm: political ecology.

We have demonstrated that the currents of the Enlightenment, the revolutionary and socialist republican history are validated by the view that we have only one ecosystem that makes human life possible, and that we must thus draw the necessary conclusions. Before, we tended to treat the relationship between socialism and historical political ecology as a kind of layer cake, with a layer of socialism, a layer of Republic, a layer of ecology. We have presented a new political synthesis, not only as an intellectual advance, but as a social force. In this sense, we are changing the history of the Left.

One of the key moments in our campaign was the day when, at the headquarters of our campaign, we received the workers in struggle in different companies, who proved that their counter-projects were in the general interest, in that they were ecological. Political ecology will never be the same in this country, given our campaign. It’s our tradition that has provided the first connection between this ideological synthesis and a social class. It’s all good and well to have ideas, but it is also necessary that the masses of people involved make them their own, or give rise to them by themselves.

Above all, what is important is that the Left will make this rendezvous with history, will meet the challenge of the crisis of capitalism, and of the ecological crisis. While so many peoples have no effective political tool such as the Left Front, ready to withstand this crisis, we have constructed it, patiently, methodically, without preconceptions, accepting that the movement of life corrects theories that we had in the beginning. What a feat!

We have become custodians of a very precious belonging, unique in Europe. We are in the eyes of the world. We are opening a new history of the Left, and we must take full responsibility for it. For the heads of companies and Laurence Parisot were not mistaken when they saw in us the revolutionary "terror" ... terror for the portfolios of the bosses, in fact. Even for the moment of an election, they do not want the red to stand at 15%. They wonder: how did we get into such a fix in France, while elsewhere we managed to tame the employees? For them, we had already created a big mess in 2005, when a majority of the French people voted against the European Constitutional Treaty, and again when we launched the mobilization against the proposed pension reform in 2010. from their standpoint, we prevent the history of liberal capitalism from unfolding in triumph.

Whatever the outcome of the campaign, a memory of these experiences will remain deeply imprinted in the mind of each and every one of us.
We are never the same as we were before when, once in a lifetime, we are confronted with a Bastille filled with people at the call of political organizations, a Capitole over-filled, and a human tide in Marseille. We no longer look at politics, or political action, in the same way.

Huma:
You called for a "knock-out" for Nicolas Sarkozy, and have set this as a priority, as the common objective for the Left. How do you approach the question of the second round?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
I first insert a note of caution as to the forecasts. I repeat that our initial intuition concerning the campaign scenario has been verified. Perhaps this gives me the authority, so that one may listen to me. The situation remains extremely volatile and the final position of the Left Front is nowhere written in advance. This means that many surprises may occur. As in previous years. In 2002, the FN [5] came in higher than predicted, and, in 2007, came in much lower. Every time there were errors in the forecasts. Let us have the humility to admit that nothing is settled. And especially for the Left Front, which, all evidence shows, may produce a surprise.

The second round will serve to eliminate the right. This is its main function. The project of Francois Hollande, and that of the Left Front, share this element, and perhaps have only this element in common. We, who believe that the citizens’ revolution is inevitable, need that a breach be opened, and that the right lose power. This will be the first defeat of the right in a major economy for years. If Mr Sarkozy is beaten, the Sarkozy-Merkel axis collapses. We thereby open a space for all of Europe. And as our Greek friends will vote just after us, and the Germans in October, this breach can open across all of Europe. It is on this scale that the game is played. It is within our ranks that you find Peter Lawrence, chairman of the European Left Party, which is, across the continent, the only alternative to social democracy, a social democracy that, everywhere in Europe — I do not speak of France — capitulated, instantly, without any resistance.

Huma:
Some, up until the last minute, continue to revive the theme of the "useful vote", the "effective vote". Are you afraid of that argument?

Jean-Luc Melenchon: The so-called "useful vote" has fizzled. It looks more like a dishonest maneuvre than a political reasoning, knowing that polls put the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande more than 10 points ahead of the National Front. For me, what is useful already is simply to vote. For ten days already, the same people who call for the "useful vote" spend most of their energy attacking the Left Front. There is an inconsistency in this: supposing the Left were really threatened by the National Front, they would devote their energy to countering the far right. As for the "effective vote", it is totally unreasonable. The proof has already been given: in 1981, Mitterrand was second in the first round, he won the election. In 1995, Lionel Jospin was first, and he lost. What matters, therefore, it is not the position in the outcome of the first round, but the ability to rally the people. Those presidential elections lost by the Left have a common characteristic: the weakness of the political current that we embody.

Huma: And today?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
The left has a low capacity for assembly, not only amongst party leaderships, but also with the people, when it has a political program that renounces the necessary confrontation with capital. This time, we are in a paroxysm of this situation. This is the first time in history that a socialist candidate has called on people to vote for him without offering any social conquest of any kind. And not even the bare minimum, which is an increase in the minimum wage! Yet this is the starting point of any program on the Left having the ambition to reduce the total working time during a life-time. From this perspective, Francois Hollande’s ability to rally is much weaker than that of the Left Front. For the Left Front is indeed in a position to offer something that is moving forward.

In addition, we assemble seven parties in a coalition, plus other political currents. On Francois Hollande’s side, there is one party and three humiliated allies who had to give up their own platforms and agendas. The movement of Chevènement had to swallow whole the Lisbon Treaty, in order to be entitled to three seats in the National Assembly; the Europe-Ecology-Green-Party had to renounce most of its ideas. As for the PRG, it will have to accept the establishment of the Concordat in the Constitution. This is to what the allies of Francois Hollande were reduced: to a denial of their identity. Which is not the case with us. No party had to give up any component part of their identity, anything fundamental for them.

Our ability to rally political organizations is greater than that of the socialist candidate, and our ability to assemble the people is also greater. In one way or another, our discourse gives everyone a common perspective. When the Left Front talks about environmental planning, everyone understands what it is, whether one is an engineer, technician or worker. We have a large-scale programmatic content not only socially, but humanly and ecologically. We are not selected by default ...

Huma: Your goal is to reduce the influence of the National Front, to ensure that Marine Le Pen is far behind you. What would change in political life?

Jean-Luc Melenchon: For us who want to be useful at home and in the broad culture of republicanism, of the Enlightenment, of human progress and the similarity among human beings, it would be extraordinary. Running counter to what is found in virtually all European countries, we would have succeeded in rubbing out this force of the right wing, and in placing before it a force most clearly advocating equality between human beings, sharing and values of progress.

It would be an extraordinary political event. Our starting point is far removed from the objective. Some would have you deal with this issue in a single campaign, while it has not been dealt with for over twenty years. We do not know if we’ll get there on Sunday. But this is an issue of general interest. To citizens wondering what’s the point of voting this Sunday we can give one good reason: come and help us push out the National Front.

Huma: In Tuesday’s l’Humanité, Christian Salmon, founder of the International Parliament of Writers, judged that the campaign of the Left Front is reinventing politics.
Is it not a prerequisite, a must for all those who now abstain from voting due to lack of hope? Is it not also the meaning of what we call the "citizens’ revolution", to embrace this whole population?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
The citizens’ revolution is more like a natural phenomenon than a deliberate conspiracy organized by us. The origins of the distancing of politics by all sorts of people have a very concrete content: liberal politics speaks to no one. It is a dry, sterile politics, made from accounting. It tries to use graphs, pretending to give them a scientific character, to transform into evidence something that is obviously nothing but an ideological construction. It is a political system that does not answer any question that people pose. How can I live if I am missing half of my teeth? How can I read if I do not have glasses? How will my boy improve his life if there is no teacher in his school? These are questions prior to all others. How can we accept to make sacrifices all our life if we cannot improve our daily life ...

The politics of the established order speaks to no one except the powerful. It speaks a dead language in which there are no people, no love, no fraternity, no poetry, no taste of the future, no passion for science. The only thing that counts is the balance sheet, and on the condition that public spending is reduced. We have dared to change all that. We have somehow broken the inhuman law of silence. And reintroduced human questions, by asking how to address them. We came to the realization that the possible was not far from the desirable. And that sometimes the possible can be greater than what people dare to dream. People had been taught to stunt their dreams. We, by contrast, tell them to let them flourish. This is actually another way of doing politics.

Huma: Reading poems?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
I read Victor Hugo to 10,000 people in order to send a signal, to reply to those who claimed that I was too intellectual for people. A beautiful silence of connivance accompanied me, showing that we all love beautiful things. We will eventually break through the wall. And now the "other" also starts to read Victor Hugo on the Place de la Concorde ...

Huma: What, in your eyes, would be the priority measures to be taken upon installation of an eventual government of the Left?

Jean-Luc Melenchon: We must convene the Constituent Assembly for the Sixth Republic. There is nothing more urgent. To change the political rule is re-found the French people itself, and let others breathe. But, of course, the urgency is to start by reassuring, not the markets, but workers. Thus, there are the necessary decrees for entitlement to regular positions of those on short-term contracts in the civil service (so 880,000 people will find a perspective in life that does not stop at the end of the month) and for capping the use of short-term employment in companies. And of course, increasing the minimum wage.

The government must be a machine for giving confidence to the French people. We must reassure employees, ordinary people who do not ask for hundreds and thousands. They simply ask to return to a framework for a civilization in which it is not insecurity that prevails. The whole history of mankind is a struggle against precariousness. We invented social institutions for us to pull back from the play of forces that can change daily. We invented agriculture in order not to have to depend only on gathering. The barbarity of capitalism, is to plunge large masses of human beings into a pre-historic situation. The political sphere does not sufficiently take into account that a society cannot live in constant fear, fear of not having a job, fear of losing it tomorrow, fear of the boss, fear of doing wrong, since management operates on fear. We must rid society of fear and of the violence of exploitation.

Huma: The general [6] elections, which follow the presidential election, are a high point of the power struggle. Are you going to get your shirt wet?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
This is decisive. If things go well for the Left Front, and there is a Left Front government, we need to be able to build on a strong parliamentary group, not to make appearances in the Chamber of Deputies, but in order to carry the project of the citizens’ revolution in the field, and to be the agitators and intermediaries. This is our idea of what a parliamentarian is. Not a machine for voting with a majority.

If it is not a Left Front government, but a socialist government, our parliamentary group will be life insurance for wage-earners. Because there will be only this group that will stick to its program to the end, and will stick to it in a positive and insistent way.

The rest, we know it well: the right is against all social progress and socialists tend to be afraid of their shadows. The driving force comes from the Left Front and from nowhere else. The battle of legislative elections is the second period of the citizens’ uprising, after the presidential results and before the rest, that is to say, the popular mobilization. Many people should think about what is happening in our campaign. The Left Front is in the process of transforming itself into the people’s front (a popular front).

Huma: Do you predict a kind of marriage between the momentum of the Left Front electoral and popular mobilizations?

Jean-Luc Melenchon: Something is moving deep within the wage-earning class in our country: they are overcoming fear. At the present time, as we speak, offensive struggles are being waged for wage increases, against infernal rates of work on assembly lines, against work on Sunday. These are struggles for conquest. The Left Front is the political expression of this battle. We have helped this movement to take confidence in itself, not only in trade unions but politically. It will therefore widen. Moreover, if we beat Nicolas Sarkozy, it will be a gigantic multiplier of energy.

Huma:
What is your last message to the voters, two days before the first round?

Jean-Luc Melenchon:
I issue a republican invitation: Think carefully about what is good for the country and do not let yourself be carried away by impressions, by maneuvers with opinion polls, by suggestions aimed at condemning you to resignation ... And see that the Left Front is the best contribution we can make today to the history of our country. Dare to be audacious!


Alternate source for the original French version.

[1In the candidate’s blog, this interview is entitled "Veillée rouge". The word veillée has a fascinating range of meanings, some applicable in the present context. Its primary reference is to the period between the evening meal and bedtime, devoted to gatherings of family and friends (particularly in the country). In the expression "veilée d’armes" it refers to the evening on which the future warrior waits, before being armed for battle.

[2The component parts of the Front de gauche at the time of the French presidential election are the
Parti communiste français, the Parti de gauche, the Gauche unitaire, the Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique, République et socialisme, Convergences et alternative, and the Parti communiste des ouvriers de France. (List obtained from the associated Wikipedia article).

[3In all there were four such assemblies
- 18 March, at the Place de la Bastille, in Paris: on the construction of the Sixth Republic.
- 5 April, on the Place du Capitole, Toulouse: on resistance to the politics of austerity.
- 14 April, on the Plage du Prado, Marseille: on France as a universalist republic.
- 19 April, in the Parc des Expositions, Porte de Versailles, Paris: passing the torch for the citizens’ insurrection at the polls and beyond.

[4red herrings

[5Front National

[6for election to the Chamber of Deputies


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