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Politics

by Julia Hamlaoui and Sébastien Crépel

Pierre Laurent: “In France, as across Europe, we need a new political left”

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY JULIA HAMLOUI AND SÉBASTIEN CRÉPEL

Translated Sunday 14 June 2015, by Philippa Griffin

Upcoming regional elections in December 2015, the construction of a new political left for France, a standing at the European Forum for Political Alternatives from 30th – 31st May in Paris….Pierre Laurent, National Secretary of the PCF (the French Communist Party) outlines the necessary steps to address the “urgent need to break the political deadlock”.

Yesterday, you launched an appeal to construct a new vision of human emancipation at all levels of society. Why is this any more important than the other urgent problems that face French society in 2015?

Pierre Laurent: It is important precisely because it addresses one of the most urgent problems – breaking France’s political deadlock. Yesterday we unveiled an important document entitled “France as a communal society”. This is an invitation to begin debating, at a national level, what sort of societal model will have the power to bring France out of this firmly ingrained deadlock. I have consistently observed tremendous motivation on the part of all those I have met to create a new society, a new economic model, overall a new way of living together that is both more respectful and more co-operative. What holds these people back is a lack of belief that they can make it happen. I and my colleagues wish to assure them that we are not powerless to change society. Innovative ideas are everywhere. Strength and resources are widely available. These people need to act together to create a new model of human emancipation. Faced with an ever-intensifying right-wing opposition, the Socialist Party has diluted its previous drive and ambition. A clearer and more visible platform is therefore needed in order to renew and refresh this vision of a changed perspective. Our document is our contribution to this vision. It aims to give new strength to civil mobilisation, harnessing the energies not only of environmentalists, socialists, but of all citizens disaffected with their government and those concerned by the way our world is traveling.

In a day where political promises command very little respect, do you not worry that many citizens will feel, skeptically, that this is simply ‘one more of those political projects’?

Pierre Laurent: Of course skepticism exists; that much is clear. An environment of trust and confidence cannot be created without the mobilization and involvement of citizens themselves. We aim to support participatory and collaborative efforts. Our document “France as a communal society” maps out a new vision of society, which deliberately seeks to invent a new economic model which rests on the marriage of social emancipation and ecological respect, seeks to place culture at the heart of our vision, seeks to treat democratic reorganization of our Republic as a central tenet of what we wish to achieve. We know that to be credible, we must clearly lay out the steps necessary to reach our goals. This is why we have centerd our debate around fifteen priority principles and an equal number of urgent goals, such as the provision of sufficient quality housing and reindustrialization. We need to take both a top-down approach, looking down the ladder at the bigger picture of the society we wish to build, and also a bottom-up approach, understanding how we can tread the first rungs of this ladder.

The last departmental elections produced contrasting results, with strong support for the left and their advocates in a context of major overall losses for the left. In light of this, what are your feelings about the imminent regional elections?

Pierre Laurent: France’s thirteen new ‘large regions’ were created to encourage economic competition between different geographical areas. Regional power will play an ever greater role in the organization of our Republic. We wish to compete on this playing field. These elections will be the last before the general elections of 2017 and are crucial. Regional power directly impacts the national vote. We are therefore approaching these elections with two directly linked aims. First, it is out of the question that we should leave the right and the far-right to seize new powers which would be deployed only to drive forward regressive policies. Second, we strive for left-wing majorities in order to implement ambitious regional policies: in particular, investment in and development of public services and concrete measures to address the social inequalities of everyday life.

You have met with leaders from different left-wing parties. What form do your discussions take, when contextualized by deep divisions within the political left? Additionally, what are the key points of debate between other members of your party?

Pierre Laurent: Despite our differences, we ensure that we share a dual ambition: to dispel the danger of reactionary sentiment (as expressed by a shift in votes to the right) and to create regional left-wing policies. The current direction of the Socialist Party persists in stagnating governmental policies, and its only gift to the last regional elections was to create sketchy defensive strategies to neutralise the right and the far-right. The risk with this approach is that we see only an illusionary Maginot Line – preventative measures established without real conviction. We aspire to more than this. The left needs strong regional policies. The European Green Party (Europe écologie-les Verts) seems to be favouring independent policies, but leaving the debate open. Given this, we are issuing an appeal to all available resources – to society, to our thirteen regions, to our ecologists, to our socialists who seek an alternative political direction – to engage with us to develop together the most ambitious and progressive policies for our regions. The best of such policies includes the strongest possible guarantee to counteract the right and the far-right and to put in place long-awaited welfare safety nets. We invite our colleagues from the Front de gauche to join us in these ambitions to pioneer these policies to engage large swathes of voters in the first round of elections.

Certain presidents of left-wing regions appear to embrace the possibility of a coalition with the Communist Party after the first round of elections. Are you equally willing to enter into such an understanding?

Pierre Laurent: If it means recognising that victory for the left is not possible without a marriage between the Front de gauche and the Communists, we are willing. However, gains for the left are not simply a matter of the numbers adding up. We have all witnessed the joining of political forces, but for my part I remain convinced that the best means of leading this debate is not to rely by default upon such coalitions but to issue, without delay, public appeals to all citizens, social forces and willing notable personalities to broaden our spectrum of regional political projects. We will take any necessary decisions democratically in June. Until the regional conferences, and depending on the vote of Communist Party members, nothing will be ruled out. All aspects of the debate will be open to members to allow them to take fully informed decisions as to what the future of France’s political left will be.


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