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PORTSIDE  April 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDE April 2012, Week 4


France's Left Front Hopes to `Reinvent' the Left


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Wed, 25 Apr 2012 22:37:46 -0400





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France's Left Front Hopes to `Reinvent' the Left

    The far-left alliance has never before competed
    in a presidential race, but is helping forge a
    new European alternative.

By Yasmine Ryan 
April 24, 2012


The bid of Jean-Luc Melenchon for the French
presidency, while ultimately unsuccessful, has given
the Left Front, an alliance of far-left parties,
massive visibility in France.

The Left Front's candidate won fewer votes than was
widely expected, after opinion polls suggested he could
sway as many as 16 or 17 per cent of voters.

Nonetheless, with the leftist coalition's candidate's
score of 11.1 per cent, placing him in fourth place out
of some ten candidates, the far-left has managed to
reassert itself and regain a place in the political
conversation of the nation.

Al Jazeera's Yasmine Ryan spoke with the Left Front's
Raquel Garrido, a longtime ally of Melenchon. Along
with Melenchon, Garrido also quit the French Socialist
Party in late 2008 to take part in the new movement.


Yasmine Ryan: You left the Socialist Party right when
the financial crisis was beginning. Did that crisis
help trigger the group's decision to leave the

Raquel Garrido: It helped, it's true, because we knew
that times were going to get harder and that the left
needed to face the speculative attacks and the
financial crisis with a harsher standpoint than that
which the Socialist Party, and Social Democrats in
general in Europe, were ready to take.

But we actually did start thinking about leaving the
Socialist Party before, a long time ago. We first
started questioning our strategy when we started seeing
in Latin America left-wing governments coming into
power, but not with your traditional Social Democrat

To the contrary, most of those experiences - in
Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia - were
being triggered by new parties. New political
instruments that were organised outside of Social
Democratic, left-wing, traditional parties.

And the methods they were employing were radical,
whether it be in their fight against the IMF, or
whether it be in the means of remobilising their
societies through constitutional assemblies.

The constitutional assembly is a French invention,
[born of] the French Revolution. It means ensuring that
sovereignty lies not in the monarch, but in the people

Suddenly, at the end of the 1990s, the method was being
used in Latin America, and quite successfully so. So
that suggested that the social democratic movement in
Europe was failing, and wasn't going to deliver what it
expected to deliver after state communism failed.

We took from Latin America that idea that we were
facing two failures: the failure of state communism,
and the failure of European social democracy. And that
the left needed to reorganise in creating new

In 2005, in France we had a referendum on the European
constitutional treaty. Although the Socialist Party in
France decided to support that treaty, our faction,
around Jean-Luc Melenchon, opposed the constitutional
treaty, and we campaigned with all the groups to the
left of the Socialist Party that had a very clear
analysis on the dangers of that treaty, the fact that
it was enshrining into hard regulation very ultra-
liberal principles of free trade, of prohibition of
grants to public services.

And we won that election. We campaigned for a "no"
vote, and we won.

We were empowered by the vote, and thought that if we
dared defend what we were really thinking, instead of
sticking to internal competitions within the Socialist
Party, if we took that battle outside to the people, it
was possible to win it.

And right after that, we were invited to Germany, where
the former Social Democratic minister of the economy,
Oskar Lafontaine, had left the Social Democratic Party
in Germany and created a new party, Die Linke ["The
Left"], with the former communist party.

We were invited to that founding congress, with Jean-
Luc Melenchon, Pierre-Francois Grond and myself. And
that was what did it at the end, to convince us that
that was the way forward, there was no future remaining
[inside the confines of] those little battles inside
the Socialist Party.

We took time to correctly prepare that departure from
the Socialist Party, and, in 2007, we had Segolene
Royal as a candidate and she failed to defeat Nicolas
Sarkozy [in that presidential election]. Although the
Socialist Party was strong, there was no other strength
coming from the left against the right.

So, in 2008, we left, and immediately agreed with the
[French] Communist Party and others about [forming] a
coalition. The strategy to our succession was to
urgently reunite the other left [parties]. The rest of
the left couldn't remain in small groups, it had to

That's what we've been doing, up until now, and we've
managed to have all those groups support Jean-Luc
Melenchon's presidential candidacy.

YR: To what extent have the movements of the Arab world
inspired you? Do you see your party as retaking

RG: Yes. Even more than retaking socialism, we're
retaking a cultural nerve that exists in France, as a
core underlying cultural identity - "Liberty, Equality,

For us, what is very interesting in the Arab Spring is
the fact that, if you look at Tunisia, or even Egypt,
the method of the regime change is a constitutional
assembly. It's going back to the people, it's not just
internal rearranging. The solution is in the people.

You have to change the regime, and in Tunisia, the
regime was a kleptocracy. You had to change that and
you had to do that through the people. That really
inspired us. Although the Latin Americans had inspired
us, they are really far away, whereas Tunis is right

The history of French socialism has always been to
merge that underlying cultural French revolutionary
background with the importance of the working class and
trade unions and workers' rights.

We took that banner, and we added two more [elements].
The first one was environmental issues.

We decided to organise a very front-on opposition to
the National Front [the far-right party led by Marine
Le Pen, which accrued a record 17.9 per cent of the
first round poll]. I think all the commentators would
agree that we were alone in doing this. The results
show that we were right in analysing that the National
Front was an important issue in France that needs to be
dealt with. Not only with moral opposition, saying that
racism is bad. We need to be more precise on its

That's what we did. We showed that we thought the
National Front was trying to present itself as a party
defending workers' rights, actually it isn't. If you
look at its programme, it always opposes the
redistribution of wealth from capital to labour.

Verbally, it will always present itself as [being] on
the side of the poor and working class. Which is
typical of fascism and extreme right-wingers. But we
were the only ones to reply, and to look at the

The same thing applies to women's rights. Marine Le Pen
was present at the outset of this campaign as a modern
woman. Jean-Luc Melenchon was the one who showed that
if you look at her programme on abortion or other
[issues impacting particularly on women], she was
clearly not defending women's rights.

I think that's something no one will forget, that we
were the ones that started that process of trying to
strike back against the National Front.

YR: Most of the commentary, until the results were
confirmed yesterday, suggested that the Left Front and
the National Front were competing for the working-class
vote. But the voting results show that both of your
votes were record highs - the Left Front being a new
party, and the National Front rising significantly
compared with 2007.

RG: You are right on the spot. Actually we do not
compete for the same votes. The National Front competes
with the right, the UMP [Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for a
Popular Movement].

If you take the scores of the right-wing and the
extreme right, you're around 60 million votes. And
that's been the same in other elections. What happens
is you have transfers. Sarkozy got votes from them [in
the 2007 election] and now they're getting them back

And the more the UMP goes along with the themes that
are suggested by the National Front - immigration,
insecurity, halal food, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab -
actually all it does is favour the National Front.

Whereas on our side, our three million new voters are
actually three million new voters for the left. So our
rise is spectacular on the left.

We did our best, so that the working class that usually
abstains, voted for us - or in any case, didn't go vote
for the National Front. We did that containment job
very well, I think. The Socialist Party doesn't do
that. Even now, they are barely speaking about the
National Front's high score.

After the Toulouse killings, when the right-wing came
right at Arab people and Muslims, it was only Jean-Luc
Melenchon who said "Stop the harassment". While Sarkozy
imitates the National Front, the Socialist Party just
shies away.

YR: Sarkozy's strategy for at least the past year seems
to have been to seek the far-right vote. Within the
UMP, it seems this has caused a lot of internal
conflict, with many who would prefer to be closer to
the centre of the political spectrum. Why do you think
the National Front vote has skyrocketed in spite of
this strategy?

RG: It is directly linked to the fact that the UMP was
convinced that the way to win was to focus on those
themes. The score shows that this was wrong.

The only result they achieved by that strategy was to
help the National Front. So if they do it again between
the two rounds, they will do it again.

On the other hand, the National Front's strategy is to
have the UMP collapse and reorganise the right-wing
around themselves. They want to split the UMP.

Athough they have an anti-system rhetoric, their real
strategy is within the parameters of the right [as a
whole], and how that can be organised after Sarkozy, if
and when Sarkozy loses on May 6.

YR: So you think Le Pen will not endorse Sarkozy?

RG: No. What she will probably do is to appear as
though she is negotiating on issues - immigration and
security - to force the UMP to go there, to win that
cultural battle on the common programme of the right in

Then she will watch Sarkozy lose and say: "Okay, you
tried it your way, now we are going to try it my way."

YR: In terms of the Left Front's own strategy - this is
the highest score for the far-left since 1981 - are you
going to seek to negotiate with Hollande?

RG: No, we won't negotiate. Our strategy is to govern
on our programme. That strategy needs one compulsory
entry point, which is to defeat Sarkozy. That's way we
will support the Hollande ballot against Sarkozy with
no negotiation needed.

Then after that, life comes back. The ongoing debate on
the legitimacy and efficiency of austerity plans is
right there on the table. It will be for the next weeks
because we have parliamentary elections [in June], and
we will be campaigning for our own candidates
everywhere in France.

We certainly do not want to participate in any
government whose objective would be to implement
austerity plans, as Francois Hollande is planning to

YR: So you won't be seeking any cabinet posts?

RG: No. Millions of people have put their trust in us,
have shown up to our meetings and rallies. Something
really powerful happened with our campaign, and it
would be very disappointing if all of that ends up in a
cheap negotiation with the Social Democrats.

Our intention is to replace the Social Democrats as
leaders, across Europe. It will take time, but that's
where we're going.

You can follow Yasmine Ryan on Twitter at @YasmineRyan


From the Place de Stalingrad

    Election statement by the candidate of the
    Front de gauche.

By Jean-Luc Melenchon
l'Humanite April 24, 2011

You are so many here! My friends, the first estimates
we have been given, insofar as they are reliable,
permit us to draw some lessons. The first lesson forced
upon us is that our people are fully determined to turn
the page of those "Sarkozy years".

The total vote, on the right, all components of the
right wing included, is less than it was in 2007. But
the far right is at a high level. So we were correct to
concentrate our campaign on the analysis and radical
criticism of the proposals of the far right. We had
good reason to do that, and if we had not done so,
perhaps the results this evening would have been even
more alarming. They are alarming!

So it is the moment for me to say that we felt
ourselves alone at certain moments in this battle. One
candidate imitated me, the other ignored me. And we
carried on our backs the essential of that combat.
Shame on those who preferred to fire shots at us,
rather than to help us! Remember forever the names of
those who refused this combat, who preferred to relay,
against us, the lying and anti-communist arguments of
the far right.

At this hour, it is the score of the Front de gauche
that holds in its hand the key to the final results.
Thus it is all of you, and not me, for sure, who will
decide the outcome, because, in truth, we have been the
only new political force, the one such force that has
managed to break through and was born in this election.
It is we, henceforth, who have the keys to the final

I call on you, in clear conscience, fully to assume
that responsibility, not bothering yourselves with all
the commentaries, impressions, those petty games of
divination. I invite no one to abandon themselves to
these diversions. And I say again very clearly, at this
hour, in clear conscience, there is nothing to
negotiate! Our engagement needs no authorization, no
coaxing, to unfurl itself in all its force.

I call on you to mobilize around the rendezvous that
are offered to you. On the first of May, May Day,
behind the unions and the working class in combat, our
camp, our political family, the world of work and of
labor's demands. I call on you to join together on the
sixth of May, to beat Sarkozy.

I ask you not to drag your feet. I ask you to campaign
as if it were to help me, myself, to win the
presidential election.

Ask for nothing in exchange, just an act of your own
conscience. Why?

The battle that we wage is not a personal battle, not
even a battle in a single country, it's a question of
turning the table, in order to reverse the tendency
that, in Europe, keeps all the peoples under the same
yoke of the Sarkozy-Merkel axis. We must break the yoke
in France.

This is what we will do. And because we are going to do
it, then, it will be crystal clear, indisputably, that
it is we who make the decisions, henceforth, on the
Left, and in the country.

Let's raise ourselves up to the level of the power that
was given to us by our assembly. Let us continue,
calmly to march along our path. Because, I say it to
you that, ineluctably, we are going the way of History,
and History is coming our way. Ineluctably, the
solutions we have defended, in essence, that of sharing
the wealth, and of changing the regime, will be forced
on the agenda by the shocks we can see coming.

No matter who will be elected president of the
republic, the powers of finance are already determined
to attack the French people. And so, no matter who is
in the saddle, will have no other choice but to
surrender, or to resist. And when the word is
"resist!", there is no other force but ours.

(Cries of "Resistance!, Resistance!" from the

Keep your hearts warm with the satisfaction of a job
well done. Never forget the images of the force of your
gathering. Never again allow ourselves to be scattered
and dispersed!

In one stride, we have advanced into the pack at the
front of the race [1]. With the next, we will achieve
the definitive conquest of power, through the ballot
boxes, and democracy.

Long live the Republic, long live the working class,
long live France!

[1] Into the peleton de tete, as in bicycle racing.


Translated by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Isabelle
Metralfrom the sound track of the video by
DailyMotion. and from the blog of Jean-Luc Melenchon


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