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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les communistes rebattent les cartes à un mois de leur congrès

by Julia Hamlaoui and Maud Vergnol

The Communists Reshuffle Their Cards, One Month Before Their Congress

Translated Tuesday 9 October 2018, by Henry Crapo

Activists preferred the "Manifesto for a 21st Century Communist Party" to the text presented by the national leadership. This is a new situation in the history of the party, in which everyone calls for a "joint effort".

30,833 members of the PCF participated in the vote this weekend. That’s 62.65% of the party members, as compared with 56.92% for the congress in 2016.

The aftershocks of the 2017 political earthquake continue to be felt. This time, it is in the Communist Party that the tremors are manifested. For the first time in the history of the political movement, the text presented by the National Leadership for the extraordinary congress, to be held at the end of November, did not come out on top. With 42.15% of the votes cast, it was "For a 21st century Communist Party manifesto", led by André Chassaigne, MP, that obtained the highest score on Saturday. It thus becomes the "common basis" for the rest of the congress, ahead of the PCF leadership’s proposal, by 1,258 votes, which stands at 37.99% (see box for details of the results). "I take note of it," Pierre Laurent reacted as early as Saturday evening, noting that "the results are very mixed", and that there is "no majority at this stage for moving forward".

On 6 October the vote took place on the choice of a "common base", here in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Photo: Cleuet/Hans Lucas

"It is no surprise, but we did not think that the Manifesto would achieve such a score," says André Chassaigne, for whom the result represents "a formidable signal of hope and testifies to a new political ambition for our party. For the MP for Puy-de-Dôme, this vote expresses the desire to "break with the spiral of disappearance, and quickly to implement a new dynamic that ensures that the PCF has a place in the political landscape". This analysis is far from being shared by the historian Frederick Genevée. "This result is very bad news," says the man who campaigned for another text, For a springtime of communism. "The party is deeply divided and without a clear majority," he said. "But above all, it is a sign of a form of withdrawal, of a nostalgic affirmation, whereas this need for a new communist radicality requires, on the contrary, to be based on modern ideas." This alternative text, also defended by MP Elsa Faucillon, received 11.95% of the votes cast on Saturday, with 3,607 votes, or 3,300 fewer than in 2016. "The number of contributing members has decreased by 7% in two years, many of who have left would have been committed to our text," explains Frédérick Genevée. And then the "useful" vote against identity withdrawal worked in favour of the victorious common base, according to the historian, for whom "the anti-Melenchon referendum effect also played a role".

"The desire to turn a painful page"

The 2017 election year concentrated the communists’ dissatisfaction, some demanding a "balance sheet" of support for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s candidacy for the presidency. A vote that had already divided the PCF in 2016, since this choice won by a narrow majority (53.6%).

"What was expressed in the vote was first and foremost the desire to turn a painful page and to open a period of transformation for the party and for our strategy," said Sébastien Laborde, Gironde’s Federal Secretary. The way the communists experienced the legislative and presidential campaigns, the failure of the Left Front... all this weighed heavily. "The national and international situation is extremely difficult. We are confronted with major challenges, a very strong class struggle," says Nathalie Simonnet, leader from Seine-Saint-Denis. Faced with the challenge of re-assembling our forces, in order not to withdraw into ourselves, we need to reflect on the difficulties of the alliances we have led. This goes back not only to the Left Front, but well before that. »

The outcome of the vote is also a cause for great concern. "Deadly dangers must be radically eliminated," explains Céline Brulin, departmental secretary of Seine-Maritime. "Those of isolation and withdrawal, of nostalgia for a political landscape that no longer exists, and above all of being self-centred in the coming weeks when we have a lot of fighting to do, starting on Tuesday in demonstrations and alongside pensioners." For the young senator, "gathering dissatisfaction and discontent is not very complicated, drafting an effective orientation in the current situation is much more difficult". But this person whose federation sent three deputies to the National Assembly in 2017 remains confident: "The PCF will only regain momentum if it is useful to our fellow citizens. It is the compass we must never lose. In our department, we experience daily the fact that we can be completely communist and completely unifying. And that is where we need to be fully engaged. »

The coming days will be decisive. First of all, because the debate is likely to continue, as the adopted text is intended to be discussed and amended locally and then at departmental level before the national meeting at the end of November. "The very idea of a ’common basis’ is to choose a text in order to enrich and transform it," says Nathalie Simonnet. This text is not the choice of the communists of Seine-Saint-Denis, but it is the result of democracy and we will ensure that the quality of our debates makes it possible to change the common basis, in particular on the question of Europe. "And for some, there is an urgency. Between those who think we need to take an exit line from Europe and those who think we must work within the European institutions to win power and redirect the ECB, our campaign is not the same," recalls Fabien Guillaud-Bataille, head of the Val-de-Marne. But for Frédéric Boccara, one of the initiators of the ’Manifesto’: "The chosen text has a coherent orientation, for example by refusing to oppose the gathering and development of our ideas. On Europe, we want to wage a great battle on the European Central Bank for public services, it is at the heart of our text and unites all its signatories, and far beyond. The debate is not about leaving or staying in Europe; that is what Macron wants to impose. But what battle are we fighting and with what perspectives? »

"We’re not here to cut off heads"

As for the "Spring" supporters, "we will continue to play the congress game, to defend our ideas," explains Frédérick Genevée. We will make greater efforts to convince the communists of the need for a profound transformation of our organization. We are also determined to address all those who have communism at heart, starting with those who are or have been members.

In the meantime, before the next local assemblies, two national meetings are planned in the coming days. On Monday, the PCF executive is scheduled to meet before next weekend’s national council, where the first candidates for the European elections are to be considered. But the question of directions to be taken will also be raised with a progress report from the commission in charge of candidatures. "We are not here to cut off heads or to lock ourselves into a debate about people that would handicap the fundamental debate. From the lines defined together, we will talk about the faces that will present this policy. It is up to the national secretary to take note of the results, to express his opinion on how he envisages the future," says André Chassaigne.

A fierce desire to bring all communists together

However, among some activists, the question sometimes becomes more pressing and the name of Fabien Roussel, MP from the North, as a candidate for the head of the PCF is already circulating. For Sébastien Laborde, if there is a "feeling that the national leadership is dysfunctional, there is no desire to split away".

There remains the spectre of a possible division of communists, with a text that does not carry an absolute majority. Moreover, the results are not homogeneous across the country. In 40 PCF federations, the "Manifesto" came first (with an absolute majority in 24 of them) but in 49 it is "Communism is the 21st century issue", proposed by the PCF National Council, which ranks first (with an absolute majority in 29). It is undoubtedly the largest federations (those with more than 1,000 voters) that are making the switch, since three of them (the Nord, which had decided in 2016 for a Melenchon candidature, the Pas-de-Calais and the Val-de-Marne, which opted for a communist candidate) gave an absolute majority to the "Manifesto", against only two (the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Seine-Saint-Denis) for the National Council’s proposal.

"This phase is always has its divisions. Now, I believe that everyone has a responsibility to work toward communist unity. When I see the declarations, there is obviously a willingness to do so," says Sébastien Laborde. Indeed, since Saturday, André Chassaigne has been reminding us that this vote is only one step. "The debate continues," he says. It must be carried out by listening and in mutual respect, in the collective construction of what we are going to implement. This requires a lot of modesty and a fierce desire to stay together. "We have before us a huge debate to pursue concerning our choices, and a huge challenge to take up for this common construction, unity and bringing together of communists prior to the congress," recalls Pierre Laurent. The coming weeks call upon us all to work together. I will put all my energy into it. » [1]

[1Translated with the aid of the free online version of DeepL

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