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I'm an Irish guy living in France. I like music, books, creative writing, art, history, vegetarianism, people, and chocolate.

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Saturday 15 November 2008

Pink Elephants

Here in Reims, the Socialist Congress is currently taking place. It is part of a process during which members of the French Parti Socialiste have to agree on a new party secretary. This is a tricky task as they need someone popular enough to unite the whole Party. During a preliminary vote, Ségolène Royal, failed candidate of the last presidential election, came out with the highest number of votes — but only by a small margin. She is reasonably popular in France, but she is rather pro-free market and authoritarian, more a social democrat than a socialist. In fact, some believe that if she had become president, the only thing which would have been different from Sarkozy would have been the rhetoric. Which is probably true. But several big names in the Socialist Party are uniting against her : several candidates continue to fight for the leadership. When members of the Socialist Party actually manage to secure positions of power in their party, they stay there. Forever. (Because of this the French media nicknames them "the elephants"). And that's the major problem with the French Socialist Party. They spend so much time bickering that they don't concentrate on opposing the government — not in a responsible, constructive way. Which means that many left-leaning French people are sick of the party.

What are the alternatives? The Communist Party, which abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat several years ago, is what the French Socialist Party was a few decades ago : truely Socialist and reformist. But their popularity hit an all-time low during the 2002 elections and they never quite recovered. Perhaps it's because they are perceived as not being very young and dynamic.
A truely popular figure among French leftists is Olivier Besancenot, a trotskyist postman and leader of the Revolutionary Communist League. He was one of the candidates for the French presidency last year and I went to see him speak one evening when he was in Reims. He was small, dressed in jeans and a jumper, without a tie, but he was the most charismatic of all the candidates. Man, he knew how to talk. He is known for his speeches —he never uses any notes, he just memorises them entirely or makes it up as he goes along! He is especially popular among young people, because of his youth and passion. I like many of his ideas, but frankly, they are really very utopian. But what really bothers me, however, is the fact that his party hasn't given up the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat and revolutionary struggle. Even if they never put it into practise, it's still in their manifesto, and I can't condone any party or politician who sees violence as a solution.
On the same line, there's the trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière ("Worker's Struggle") a party whose leader Arlette Laguillers is a running joke, partly because she's been steadily leading the party since the 1970s. She's a friendly wee granny now, but it's harder to pull off being a revolutionary at that age. And besides, the party has the reputation of working a bit like a cult or a Masonic lodge, because of its watertight hierarchy system.
That leaves no other real party to oppose capitalism and Sarkozy's increasingly thatcherist-gaullist politics. Well, there's the Greens, which I have a soft spot for, but they're not "watermelon" enough for me : plenty of green, but not enough red. It's hard to see to which extent they care about the people. They have a reputation of being a party for upper-middle-class bohemians...

It's hard not to be left disappointed by the Left.

What France needs is not so much a party as a movement, grassroots if possible, a sort of united popular front which would bring a viable alternative to capitalism. The French are good at protesting. Well, that's a first step, and "bravo" for that. But opposing is not enough. Creating, imagining, building and offering alternatives is the only way forward if the Left doesn't want to be left in the sidelines.


Jonny said...

Don't be too discouraged! Here are some examples of what the DUP, NI's largest political party believes:

-The earth was made in literally seven days
-Gays are an abomination (God says so)
-Climate change is a myth (according to the Environment Minister)

Groovy Shamrock said...

Yes... compared to that, I can't really complain!

Emerald Champagne

rambling on...

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