Friday, January 30, 2015


It was just two weeks ago at the Japy Gym, a left-wing haunt in the east of Paris, that the four slightly scruffy-looking characters on the left were photographed together. They are (l. to r.) Clémentine Autain, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Cécile Duflot, and Pierre Laurent, leading figures in, respectively, FASE (a red-green movement), the French Left Party, the French Green Party, and the French Communist Party. The fact that they posed together here, at a rally for Alexis Tsipras on the eve of the Greek elections, became itself a news item in French political circles inasmuch as factional differences tend to keep them at some distance from one another. The Tsipras campaign, though, along with the depleted condition of the French Left and the dire prognosis for European workers seeking sustenance in the depressed, deflated European economy, managed to bring them together, along with some dissident left-wing Socialist Party members seated nearby. Why is this news?

Consider Mélenchon. A former Socialist minister (under Jospin), he was for many years a conventional socialist (pink, rose in French), but as the Party moved into the center and abandoned Marxism, he split to create the Left Party (Parti de gauche), which then teamed up with Laurent's moribund Communist Party to make the Left Front. After years of steady Communist decline, the Left Front rebounded with Mélenchon's Presidential candidacy in 2012, winning 11% in a multi-party first round.

Apart from serious organizational jealousies, though, the red and pink factions of the Left Front face a large policy contradiction: the Parti de gauche is eco-socialist, environmentally centered, questions the wisdom of indefinite growth and looks to local, sustainable realignments to build the economy of the future. Laurent's PC supports a solidly productivist platform: maximize growth and share out the proceeds with the producers.

Enter Duflot. Former Secretary of the French Greens (Les Verts) recently allied with Hollande's centrist Socialist government and Minister of Housing--a major post--in return for her party's support of Hollande, Duflot left the government, along with several left-leaning Socialist ministers, to protest its rightward drift. She and Mélenchon appear  increasingly together, ideological soul-mates articulating a new, ecologically informed, small-is-better, grass-roots community-based socialism that is more red than the Greens, and more green than the Reds, so to speak. It also isn't very fully articulated as yet.

But here are a few points of note: First, this is a talented group. Mélenchen is a powerful orator and charismatic (though polarizing) politician, Duflot a rapidly rising star, Autain a natural conciliator and high-profile feminist spokesperson. And Laurent? In some ways the odd man out, he runs the most disciplined organization on the far left, controls many local offices, carries the legacy of a venerable tradition, and--key point--needs the revitalized worldview of his green frenemies to avoid the descent into irrelevance that has threatened the PC for twenty years. Is this the basis for a red-pink-green alliance that will enter the electoral lists with a substantial following from all three sources?

Second point: this combination, or variants of it, is very present in Syriza, the meteoric far-left party that has just assumed power in Greece. Elements of it reappear in Podemos, the movement that is polling ahead of everyone in Spain as it prepares to hold elections later this year. On the evening of Tsipras's victory, Italy's Nichi Vendola, who runs a small party called SEL (Left Ecological Freedom) called for a broad red-pink-green front to unite Italy's scattered left movements as its Democratic Party, formerly socialist, moves like Hollande's government toward the center-right.

As Naomi Klein notes in her recent book This Changes Everything, the climate crisis cannot be successfully addressed within the capitalist world-system. America offers no road out of that system, but Europe still has an anti-capitalist political tradition. It also has had for decades a serious Green movement that wins elections and sits in governments. Can those traditions, red, pink, and green, come together to make a united front against the doomed neo-liberal consensus of the mainstream parties? Tsipras is a first small step. The guys in the photo know it--that's why they're there, together, looking for ways to take the next bigger step together. A lot is at stake as they make that effort.

1 comment:

  1. if petty differences keep sinking the left then we can infer that the "leaders" care more about power than about the planet