Jean-Luc Mélenchon [File photo]
A renewal of support for the radical left has revived the French Presidential elections. Their candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is expected to pull in more than 15 percent of the vote on April 22, thereby doubling his support over the last months. Mélenchon was the Minister of Vocational Education (2000-2002), in the Socialist Party (SP) government of Lionel Jospin, but he broke with the SP in 2008 to form the Left Party. This move emulated the formation of the Left Party in Germany. The French Left Party joined together with the Communist Party (PCF) to form a united Left Front to counter the elections.
Mélenchon's campaign has upset the cozy manufactured media debate between the incumbent right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party candidate François Hollande. Both leading candidates would impose severe measures on the people after the elections in order to "balance the books" and "calm the markets", i.e. they will run the country by business command and not by popular demand.
Mélenchon has tapped into a deeply-rooted sense of discontent and alienation with capitalism and its institutions. Workers, the unemployed, young people and groups otherwise alienated from the electoral theatre, respond with enthusiasm on hearing their problems and needs addressed in flaming revolutionary rhetoric. The PCF's machine has effectively mobilized Mélenchon to speak at large rallies in towns and cities across France – where he proclaims that the era of revolution has arrived to stormy applause. Visions of an alternative society float into view as he appeals to the people to "take power".
He rails against finance capital and the injustices and undemocratic nature of the European Union, and calls for France's withdrawal from NATO. He advocates public ownership of the banks and key industries, support for cooperative enterprises, and popular participation in administration and governance. These concepts bear similarity to those of the socialist movements that transformed Latin American politics after Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. The movements' increased democratic control over the institutions of the state, took important sectors of the economy into public ownership and created more participatory systems of popular control.
Mélenchon's vision also corresponds with the main ideas of 2011's global Occupy movements. They claimed that 99 percent of the people are ruled by 1 percent of the elite and governments under capitalism are all agents of big businesses and private banks; they do not represent the people. Mélenchon proposes to raise the minimum wage from €1,400 to €1,700 a month, impose maximum pay differentials of 1 to 20 in all businesses, and a 100 percent tax on incomes above €360,000 a year. These demands are popular with the working classes and the poor.
Under Sarkozy the maximum tax rate is only 50 percent. The popularity of Mélenchon's redistributive ideas has forced Hollande to put on a left face, now he calls for a 75 percent tax rate on incomes above €1 million. The French elite are blackmailing the electoral body by threatening to jump ship, abandon their beloved homeland, and channel their money into Swiss Banks. For these "patriots", democratic politics is good only as long as it fills the pockets of the rich and organizes society taking into consideration their interests.
France is sharply polarized, Sarkozy and the French right have carried out severe and unpopular measures regarding pensions and education, and unemployment has risen sharply. Financial government scandals have rocked Sarkozy's authority, but although on a rhetorical level, Hollande leans to the left, he swallows the "need for cuts". This orientation is designed to appease the frightened middle classes and the elite. Here in a nutshell lies the hollow basis of Social-Democratic politics across Europe. The leaders claim that they cannot push through radical policies on behalf of the workers, because the employers need to be appeased or they will run away. The middle classes don't want to pay more taxes and would prefer the working class to pay for the crisis. So in the name of winning power, redistributive political economy is jettisoned.
However, if Mélenchon gains as many votes as forecast, Hollande will require his supporters' votes in the second round. This will lead to some form of collaboration and an inevitable shift to the left in the politics of the SP. Hollande will be wise to listen to the message echoed on the squares during Mélenchon's rallies – that radical social change is required and can win popular support.
No matter what the final result of this election may be, the PCF can now build on Mélenchon's tremendous campaign. From organizing rallies that talk about the need for a new republic and a revolutionary change in society, the party must draw in tens of thousands of new members, to build a political force capable of organizing electoral and extra-parliamentary activities. The widespread mood of discontent can be felt in protests and strikes all over Europe, but great historical transformations require more than unrest and action. The Mélenchon campaign shows that the French have a huge interest in revolutionary ideas. These ideas can "grasp the mind of the masses" all over Europe, providing a new and powerful impetus to popular social change.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn