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September 2010, Week 3

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Sat, 18 Sep 2010 16:33:45 -0400
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France's 24-Hour Parti People

The Fete de l'Humanite draws communists and
sympathisers from across France with its mix of
politics, music and fine wines

By Tony Shallcross
Guardian (UK)
September 17, 2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/17/fete-de-l-humanite

The Fete de l'Humanite - which the Rough Guide
describes as "an inspired internationalist jamboree" -
is 80 this year. It is run by l'Humanite newspaper,
formally the official publication of the French
Communist party, now independent but still strongly
linked to its political roots. Second world war
occupation aside, the Fete has been held annually since
1930.

Each year, during the second weekend of September, more
than half a million people - most of them young - visit
the Parc des Expositions du Bourget just outside Paris
to enjoy three days of concerts, a cornucopia of food
and drink, debates and heart-stopping fairground
attractions. "Get your tickets! 19 euros!" cry the
vendors near the motorway bridge.

For a festival featuring the Prodigy, Madness and
Simple Minds, among many others, how come entrance is
so cheap? Simple. Unpaid labour. Communists and
sympathisers from all over France and abroad work over
the weekend to make the event a success. Many even take
holiday time to help set up and dismantle the stands.
Cooks, waiters, barpersons, security (no police allowed
at the Fete!), musicians and sales assistants put in
tens of thousands of hours for free.

Inside, colourful crowds teem in the maze of avenues
lined with a startling variety of stands. Signs tempt
passers-by with Basque piperade or Aude cassoulet;
stalls overflow with fine pates, rillettes, sausages
and cheeses - each regional speciality more
mouthwatering than the last. And the wines! Bordeaux,
burgundy, champagne along with a hundred lesser-known
but equally entrancing elixirs. The Esperanto activists
are here, as always, waging an uphill battle for their
purpose-built international language. Other political
parties have hired space: the far-left NPA and the
hardline Trotskyists of Lutte Ouvriare, who must be
feeling a little out of place at this Parti Communiste
Francais (PCF) extravaganza.

In the "world village", Iraqi communists rub shoulders
with Iranian progressives on the avenue Che Guevara,
while citizens from dozens of other countries fill the
air with exotic music and delicious cooking smells. One
stand demands freedom for Mumia Abu Jamal, another
presents the World Coalition Against The Death Penalty.
Across from the Palestinian students' stand, "real
Belgian chips" are being sold.

Further on, the Communist Youth bar's banner demands
"No war between peoples; no peace between classes". The
class struggle is still alive and well. Nearby, I meet
Patrick, a fellow English expat who's been in France
for more than 40 years and a PCF member for 36. "When I
joined the party, it was scoring about 20% in
elections. After a long period of decline, things have
been picking up again," he says. "The PCF has now
formed the Front de Gauche with other parties and I
hope that strategy will work. I think we need to build
broader alliances, especially to deal with the problems
of globalisation and the environment - starting in
Europe, with joint political and trade-union action to
fight for universal rights. I'm actually a bit of a
federalist."

Such ideas are a far cry from the staunch nation-state
policies of the old PCF. Some communist groups, such as
La Riposte and Rouges Vifs, feel that the PCF has
abandoned its revolutionary principles and want to see
a return to purer, more hardline politics. However, I
can't help feeling that in today's world - where the
PCF scored 9% in the last local elections compared with
nearly 30% directly after the war - a little more
reflection, pragmatism and compromise may be needed.
Still, these old-school activists will have their say
in the future of the left.

At the Nanterre stand, I meet Nadine Garcia, a leading
communist politician. "Here in France, the rightwing
government is currently destroying all the progress
made over decades," she explains. "But a national
movement is growing, opposed to the right's policies.
The left, especially the PCF, has to be able to address
its concerns and help bring all these anti-capitalist
forces together. Everyone has a part to play, and I
think we have to work on every level of power: locally,
nationally and internationally. The process isn't
always easy, but in a changing world, parties must
adapt to new realities or fail." And France's
communists seem to have no intention of calling it a
day.

Back at the main stage, Jacques Dutronc (Mr Francoise
Hardy), "rightwing anarchist" and French pop legend,
plays a smoothly professional Sunday evening set,
slipping the words ". les filles de la Fete de l'Huma"
into his 60s hit J'aime les Filles. Finally, at 1am,
all's quiet at the reception and security base next to
the main entrance. Most of the lads on duty are getting
some sleep in the dormitory tent and only a skeleton
crew are still keeping an eye on things. A few people
from different stands pass by carrying boxes and
material. A fairground worker is beginning to dismantle
his ride. It's all over. Until next year .

_____________________________________________

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