Jim Wolfreys reports from Paris on a 60,000-strong election rally for Jean-Luc Mélenchon
The first round of the French presidential election will take place on Sunday. The Socialist Party candidate François Hollande is set to defeat incumbent right winger Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round on 6 May.
But the most dynamic element in the campaign has been Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front, a coalition of former Socialists, the Communist Party and radical left activists.
Support for the Left Front programme of wealth redistribution and ecological renewal stands at close to 15 percent.
Mélenchon’s final campaign rally took place in a massive indoor arena in Paris yesterday (Thursday), attracting 60,000 supporters. It was relayed to gatherings all over France.
Arriving onstage to cries of “Resistance! Resistance!”, Mélenchon declared that Sarkozy’s defeat would echo like a “thunderclap” through Europe, striking at the heart of the European austerity project.
The choice facing Europe was “to capitulate or to resist”.
In too many countries, he argued, opposition to austerity was finding expression in the distorted form of the far-right.
The Left Front’s task was to ensure that it won more votes than the Front National (FN), which was diverting anger at the banks onto immigrants, “persecuting people and inciting a war of religion”.
FN leader Marine Le Pen was singling out “our companions in work, love, family—our children, grandparents, cousins—by attacking Muslims, once again, as previous generations attacked Jews”.
While the FN appealed to the “good will” of the bosses, the Left Front stood for “class struggle”.
The larger the vote for the Left Front, “the stronger you will be in the workplace”. After the election workers would be able to tell them, “‘Carry on like that, and we’ll call on Mélenchon and his friends’—because they only understand force.” The more the bosses were afraid, the more they would concede.
“They are right to fear us,” claimed Mélenchon. The people that had defended the right to retire at 60—“tooth and nail, through the power of its resistance, its strikes”—would return to claim it back.
The campaign, he went on, had revived the confidence of everyone who had been told that “the working class no longer exists”. France’s 6 million manual and 7 million white collar workers “hold the future in their hands if they only become aware of themselves and their interests”.
“Spread this word around you and don’t ever be diverted,” said Mélenchon. “The rich have a class consciousness and they never forget it. Have a class consciousness, a sense of the general interest.
“Your preoccupations and your aspirations are not luxuries to be given up in favour of some kind of prosperity that’s going to come about some day—because prosperity already exists.
“This country produces more than it has ever produced... You owe them nothing—they owe you everything!”
“This system,” he continued, “is on its last legs” and incapable of “facing up to its contradictions” or managing the ecological crisis it has created.
Those “trying to prolong an old world” did not understand “that we have understood—the model they propose no longer speaks a human language”.
Money that should be spent on invention and creation was being diverted into speculation and share options, “and then they come and give us lessons in production, intelligence, political economy. Good for nothing parasites!”
Mélenchon’s campaign is a product of the many struggles that have punctuated the past two decades in France.
Radical left parties have achieved significant votes in successive elections since 1995. Until recently the political initiative among these currents was with the New Anti-Capitalist Party but it has lost momentum and experienced internal divisions. No single candidate has yet won support comparable to Mélenchon’s.
Whether Mélenchon can translate electoral success into a durable organisation rooted in struggle and capable of stemming the Islamophobia that has regenerated the FN remains to be seen.
What is clear, however, is that his campaign has emphatically asserted opposition to austerity and put the possibility of an alternative onto the election agenda with impressive verve and confidence.
Mélenchon’s success has shaken the advocates of austerity and their lackeys. In response to the campaign, one major right wing magazine has devoted its front page this week to what it sees as the major revelation of the election—“Hatred of the rich”.