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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Candidature : le temps presse

by Olivier Mayer

Candidature: Time is of the Essence

Translated Friday 15 December 2006, by Henry Crapo

2007. The diverse political sensibilities of the anti-liberal movement did not succeed in arriving at a common position, starting from the majority choice by the collectives in favor of Marie-George Buffet.

The delegates of the local collectives parted on Sunday with a promise to continue their common adventure, but this engagement cannot mask the profound divergence that the two days of meeting were unable to resolve. The nave of the sports hall of the Isle de Vannes in Saint-Ouen, made famous as the site of some congresses of the French Communist Party, resounded with tense debate, at times exceedingly tense. The anti-liberal collectives had nevertheless made good on their wager: more than 1500 delegates participated in the meeting intended to put a seal on their political agreement, with the designation of their candidate. thereby moving their assembly toward a collective candidature. They had arrived at this point following the adoption of a common political ambition and strategy, at a meeting in Saint-Denis in September, and of a program of social transformation at the meeting in Nanterre, in mid-October. The step to be taken this weekend was the most delicate. But, while renouncing to take this step, they were unable to reach an agreement.

Build a double concensus

The local collectives all expressed themselves in recent weeks on the candidature, after debates in which all the facets of the question, all the various positions held, were thoroughly aired. The collectives used different methods to render their decisions, but whatever the method, they placed Marie-George Buffet in first place. (See this count, in a French version.) Claude Debons, of the national collective, who opened the discussion on Saturday morning, recalled the method chosen by the collectives, quoting from the text adopted in Saint-Denis: "We must debate, convince, endeavor to reach a double consensus in the collectives and among the organizations, and choose that person who will incarnate our assembly on the ballot." He emphasized that the national collective could not agree on a method, and "left to each collective the choice between a simple vote or a preferential ranking of the candidates".

For two days, partisans or adversaries of the Buffet candidature, the delegates took turns at the microphone. Majority choice or consensus? "We don’t change the method just before the decision", explained Clémentine Autain. "We can’t oppose democracy and consensus", responds a delegate from the Loiret. The debate sometimes took on a more heated tone. Orators who announced the results in their collectives were very often "booed".

But the debate over methods does not do justice to the fundamental divergence. For Gabriel Massou, delegate from Hauts-de-Seine, it is not a question of opting for a majority choice, but of "respecting the choices of the collectives, and working onward from that point". Michel Navarre of Avignon explained that "in order to reach a common accord, they must work on two elements: the first is to take into account the choice of the collectives, the second is to respond to the common desire that the campaign not be constructed around one party". Outside the French Communist Party (PCF), the political formations making up the assembly are opposed to the candidature of the national secretary of the PCF. For them, as for certain other delegates of the collectives, such a candidature would be "that of the PCF", and thus would be incapable of generating any large following.

A majority of the collectives did not agree, but in the name of "consensus" their opinion was not taken into account. "Consensus is a state of consciousness", explains Roger Martelli, a communist leader who does not support the Buffet candidature. "It is a search for the most reasonable solution. If any political force is ostracized, this is not reasonable. If one political group wants to assemble all others around itself, this is not reasonable". "This means looking for the least common denominator [1]", responds a delegate from Nice. "That is not the way to find a good candidate to lead the campaign."

Up until Saturday evening, when the Commission for a Synthesis was scheduled to meet, few propositions came forward, aimed at reaching a consensus. Olivier Dartigolles, in the name of the PCF, repeated the propositions formulated last week by Marie-George Buffet to achieve "a collective campaign on the basis of strict equality of candidates at meetings, in the drafting of campaign materials, in the print and audiovisual media". Yves Salesse announced he is ready to withdraw his candidacy "if this would serve in the selection of a consensual candidate." Francine Bavay, of Alter-Ekolo, asked that all withdraw their candidatures in order to leave room for a candidate with a history in the social movement. Eric Coquerel of the group Mars repeated his choice, to hold a primary in January.

Sunday morning, the attempt at synthesis during the night was rendered public. "No consensus emerged from the discussion. For the time being, there is no double consensus either for the name, or for the method to decide the issue."

"Invent a new campaign"

The atmosphere becomes tense again. In addition, anger mounts among the partisans of Marie-George Buffet, an anger contained only with difficulty. To an intervention aimed at "reassuring the PCF" by affirming that all will fight "to preserve the present seats" held by the PCF, a communist militant calls for "respect". "I am not here to save 22 communist deputies, but to win dozens and dozens of anti-liberal seats in the National Asssembly".

In mid-afternoon, Claude Debons proposes a motion asking the collectives to "envisage any candidatures, even new names, that will permit us to arrive at an as yet impossible consensus". The motion points to "a new assembly of collectives" He tried, without success, to put the motion to vote without debate. Patrice Cohen-Seat then put forward new propositions on behalf of the PCF. "The first is that we don’t stop. We continue. This meeting is a step in the process, not its finality." He proposed to go further in the process of creating conditions for a collective candidacy. He proposes to the collectives "to invent a radically new form of campaign with, at its heart, a citizens’ democracy, and as content, the collective movement." He proposes to let the collectives speak. "The PCF refuses defeat, and is determined to surmount these obstacles, and to succeed."

During a press interview, Marie-George Buffet confirmed that "the communists wish to continue", and asks that "It is now the turn of the militants of the collectives to speak". "We can’t put off the decision until January", she affirms. On a motion to "ask the collectives and political sensibilities their views and proposals to surmount the present dead end and to arrive at a consensus", the delegates go their various ways, divided between fears and hopes".

See also the corresponding interview with Marie-George Buffet.

[1Translator’s note: There is an error here in mathematical terminology, either on the part of the speaker or of the reporter. Correct expressions are "greatest common divisor" or "least common multiple". The least common multiple is always equal to 1, the least element, ie: nobody’s choice.

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