Discussion Article: Mélenchon and the division of “the left”

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05/04/2022 by socialistfight

From Revolution French Section of the International Marxist Tendency, closely linked to Socialist Appeal in Britain and its main founder, Ted Grant

For three months, the militants of the Popular Union and France Insoumise plus a large number of old ex-militants from the PC and the extreme left have been campaigning for Mélenchon’s candidacy.

This candidacy has succeeded in generating a rising dynamic between the youth and the concious working-class because all the left-wing militants of this country are clinging like shipwrecked men to the salvation table to this candidacy to avoid the continuation of Macron’s policy or the arrival in power of the extreme right.

More and more in the last few days, intellectuals, scientists, small formations are joining this campaign but above all, public meetings in big cities are mobilising workers and youth by tens or even hundreds of thousands as in Paris.

Hier in Lyon a conservative city, there were more than 15000 to the meeting full of youth searching an alternative to Macron-Le Pen.

No other candidate of the left and by far, have done the tenth of this demos and they are focusing not on Macron and Le Pen but on Mélenchon. It’s disgusting.

The paper that follows, with few cuts, said better than me what is at stake.”

Viriato.


With six days to go before the first round of the presidential election, one thing is certain: Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the only left-wing candidate likely to reach the second round. In a few weeks, he has gone from 10 to 16% of voting intentions. However, the same polls place Marine Le Pen in second position (behind Macron), with a lead over Mélenchon that varies from 4 to 6 points.

Of course, these figures should be taken with a grain of salt, especially in the context of a deep economic, social and political crisis, which induces a very high volatility of opinion. For example, a higher than expected turnout could significantly shift the lines. However, a number of general trends are emerging. On the evening of 10 April, the composition of the leading trio will most probably be the one announced and Macron will probably come in first place). On the other hand, second place is not a given for Marine Le Pen. It is possible that Mélenchon will come in ahead of the far-right candidate.

Across the country, tens of thousands of activists and supporters of the France Insoumise (FI) are working day after day to win the votes of a maximum of voters. The “action groups” of the campaign are multiplying the sticking of posters, distribution of leaflets, door-to-door and public meetings. Each one tries to convince members of their professional, friends, and family circle.

During this time, the other “left-wing” candidates – the inverted commas here are essential – are doing everything they can to obtain… the defeat of Mélenchon. That’s not what they say, of course, but it’s what they do, because their campaign can have no other effect than to help Marine Le Pen qualify. And this is obviously a source of incomprehension, frustration and anger for many young people, workers, unemployed and pensioners who are hoping for a victory for the best-placed left-wing candidate.

Certainly, the delay that Mélenchon is experiencing, in the face of Le Pen and Macron, is not solely attributable to the competition of the other “left” candidates. Since 2017, the leaders of the FI have made a certain number of (right-wing) errors, which we have regularly underlined. These errors now carry a lot of weight. But they will not be corrected by 10 April. As a result, all attention is now focused on the factors in the final sprint that can tip the balance one way or the other. In this area, the responsibility of the other “left” candidates is enormous.

A serious obstacle

Not all these candidates are equally harmful. To reproach Jadot and Hidalgo with “dividing the left”, you first have to classify them as left-wing candidates, which is in itself highly debatable. Politically, Jadot and Hidalgo are clearly closer to Macron than to Mélenchon. These two champions of the capitalist “free market” are organically incapable of supporting the candidate of the FI.

That said, the pro-capitalist ideas and programme of Jadot and Hidalgo are one thing; another is the social and political composition of their respective electorates. In particular, a fraction of Jadot’s potential electorate is made up of young and working people who are hesitating between the Green and FI candidates.

 In recent weeks, the polls have recorded an electoral movement from Jadot to Mélenchon. This movement could continue over the next few days, despite the wealth of demagogy that the Green candidate deploys to try to interrupt it. The higher Mélenchon rises in the polls, the more credible the hypothesis of his qualification becomes, the more the left wing of Jadot’s potential electorate will be drawn into the dynamic in favour of the FI candidate.

By violently attacking Mélenchon, Jadot and Hidalgo underline their unfailing loyalty to the established order. In this sense, they are clarifying.

What is more lamentable, from our point of view, is the role played by the candidacies of Roussel, Poutou and Arthaud, who claim to be radical on the left. By dividing the potential electorate of Mélenchon, they slow down the dynamics of his candidacy. To take the measure of this obstacle, we have to understand that it cannot be reduced to simple electoral arithmetic. The problem is not only the number of votes which, instead of going to Mélenchon, will be captured by the PCF, the NPA and Lutte Ouvrière. The problem is broader. This division undermines the FI’s electoral potential in other parts of the popular electorate.

Let’s put it positively. Let’s suppose that, tomorrow, Roussel, Poutou and Arthaud announce that they are withdrawing from the race and, without renouncing their ideas, call for a vote for the best-placed left-wing candidate. On the one hand, a significant fraction of their respective electorates would follow the movement and, on 10 April, vote for the FI.

 But on the other hand, this withdrawal and this call would have very positive repercussions – for Mélenchon’s candidacy – in those layers of the popular electorate that observe the division of the left with a scepticism that is fraught with reproach. “These people are incapable of uniting because they are less interested in our fate than in that of their little shops”: that’s what millions of exploited and oppressed people think, in one way or another, especially among abstentionists and the working-class electorate of the RN.

It’s clear that this reproach is right on target: by maintaining their candidacies, the leaderships of the PCF, the NPA and LO are essentially seeking to defend the interests of their “shops” (or their owners). It’s all the more lamentable that these parties will emerge even more discredited than they already are, because of the counter-productive role they are playing in this campaign.

Of course, Roussel, Poutou and Arthaud are not saying: “vote for my shop”. No: they present their candidacy as a positive contribution to the struggle of the exploited and oppressed. No matter how much we point out to them that, from the point of view of this struggle, a second round opposing Macron to Le Pen is not the best scenario, the leaderships of the PCF, the NPA and LO do not give up.

Last February, we devoted an article to the pathetic campaign of Fabien Roussel. We don’t have much to add to it. Since then, the “Roussel dynamic” – carried for a time by the favourable winds of the bourgeois media – has fallen back to around 3% in the polls. It was predictable: hundreds of thousands of potential Roussel voters have taken note of Mélenchon’s rise and are rallying to him, in the hope of beating the right and the far right.

Like Jadot, Roussel reacted by redoubling his aggressiveness against Mélenchon and imploring his potential voters not to give in to the “useful vote”. The PCF candidate insists that a vote for his candidacy “is not a useless vote”. One wonders what his “usefulness” consists of. Roussel’s campaign is not only useless; it is positively harmful, in every respect, and particularly with regard to the objective of beating the right and the extreme right. Let’s bet, by the way, that if Mélenchon is eliminated in the first round, the PCF leadership will not hesitate for a second to call for a vote for Macron against Le Pen, after having favoured the latter’s qualification.

Misery of the “extreme left”

Let’s come to the two candidates of the “far left”: Poutou and Arthaud. As in 2017, the leaderships of the NPA and Lutte Ouvrière are incapable of rising above a sectarian, ultra-leftist and counter-productive position.

Take, for example, Philippe Poutou’s interview on Franceinfo on 28 March. To a journalist who asked him if he was going to withdraw in favour of Mélenchon, the NPA candidate replied that this hypothesis was “absurd”, before continuing: “They’re playing the useful vote trick again. (…) [But] the NPA vote has a purpose: it’s to say that we’re fed up with this capitalism. (…) We don’t believe at all in an institutional solution. Even if Mélenchon could get through his mouse hole (…), it’s going to be even more complicated in the second round: we don’t see how he could win, because the electoral balance of power is not on our side today. It’s not on the side of the left. So we might as well discuss plan B. If Macron wins, which is most likely, or if the far right wins (…), how do we defend ourselves right after the election? And that’s where the problem arises of rebuilding a political tool, a radical party, rebuilding the unions. (…) The solution is in the streets, in the strikes. (…) The only way out, for us, is not the revolution in the ballot box, as Mélenchon says. It’s the revolution in the streets.

These few lines are typical of sectarian reasoning. Thank God, NPA voters are not the only ones who are “fed up with capitalism”: this is also the case for Mélenchon voters in general. Their vote has an anti-capitalist meaning. Despite its reformist limitations, Mélenchon’s programme targets the power and privileges of the bourgeoisie. But the fact is that it brings together 15 to 20 times more “anti-capitalist” voters than Poutou’s program, so that it is Mélenchon, not Poutou, who is likely to qualify for the second round. If Mélenchon doesn’t make it, the second round will be between two declared enemies of our class, two solid supporters of capitalism: Macron and Le Pen. We don’t see how this would mark any progress in the struggle against this system!

But Poutou puts forward another argument: even if he qualifies for the second round, Mélenchon will not be able to win it, because “the electoral balance of power is not on our side today. It is not on the side of the left”. This pessimism is characteristic of ultra-leftists: they constantly claim to be workers, but they don’t trust them, basically. In reality, Mélenchon’s qualification would be a political earthquake whose shockwaves would spread to the depths of our class. It would awaken even the most inert workers, who would be faced with a fairly clear alternative, from a class point of view: Macron or Mélenchon. In the interval between the two rounds, political polarization would be intense, so that Mélenchon would have a chance of winning by capturing many abstentionists from the first round and a fraction of the RN’s popular electorate.

None of this is on the minds of Poutou and his comrades. Instead of seizing the opportunity to sweep away Macron and Le Pen, the leaders of the NPA are undermining the dynamic that is developing around Mélenchon, while proclaiming that this battle is lost in advance, that Macron has already won, that we all need to retreat 50 kilometres, dig deep trenches – and, from this comfortable position, “rebuild a political tool, a radical party” and prepare for “the revolution in the streets”!

This caricatured sectarianism will not advance the construction of a “radical party” one millimetre, let alone contribute to the victory of a revolution. Poutou’s candidacy will result in aggravating a little more the crisis in which the NPA has been mired for more than 10 years. But the most serious thing is that this candidacy constitutes – in the same way as those of Arthaud [1] and Roussel – a significant obstacle to the qualification of Mélenchon.

Revolution calls for turning our backs on the narrow-minded calculations of the leaderships of the PCF, the NPA and Lutte Ouvrière, for taking the measure of the possibility of beating Macron and Le Pen in the coming weeks, and for mobilizing massively to contribute to it. In doing so, no one needs to renounce their ideas. Revolution has not renounced them. While calling for a vote for the FI candidate, we insist on the need for a program to break with capitalism. From the point of view of revolutionary Marxism, this is the only constructive approach in the current context.

Notes
[1] Concerning Nathalie Arthaud, let’s just note what she wrote in her last editorial: “In the coming elections, nothing good can come out of the ballot box for the workers, nor for the immense majority of the population. The candidates who promise miracles or claim to have ‘solutions’ within the framework of this system are in reality nothing but hucksters.” Mélenchon’s candidacy is neither mentioned, nor a fortiori characterized. In the end, we have the equation: Mélenchon = Jadot = Hidalgo = Macron = Pécresse = etc. = “hucksters”.

This kind of hollow abstraction is the old brand mark of Lutte Ouvrière.  As the philosopher Hegel said: “in the night of the Absolute, all cows are black”!

3 thoughts on “Discussion Article: Mélenchon and the division of “the left”

  1. Viriato says:

    We are approaching the election.
    Today is the last day of the campaign and the Insoumis, as well as the parties and individuals who are accompanying this campaign, will be doing two or three activities today.
    But I don’t want to talk about Mélenchon’s campaign or the chances, small but real, if workers mobilise, but about my very subjective observations from my experience in working class neighborhoods in the suburbs of Lyon.
    The first observation is that the comrades I work with are all, absolutely all, proles. The most “titled” is a POI teacher. In fact, if in Venissieux there is a rather hard-working POI team in Feyzin, it’s rather ex-PCF who run the show.
    Among them, few young people, for reasons of work and study, and a majority of pensioners, the ratio of men and women being more marked in Venissieux and equal in Feyzin. They are GAs or Action Groups who self-proclaim themselves and who link themselves to the central candidacy by mobile phone.
    The center sends the propaganda to a specific person and she distributes it as needed. This is done in strict accordance with the very strict French electoral law. If you mess up, there is no reimbursement of the material and people are keen not to ruin the movement.

    There is no much political discussion, but when someone, me for instance, brings up a subject for discussion, it is discussed and resolutions are made.

    To my astonishment, the POI, the only structured organization that participates (the Insoumis are a “gaseous” organization, which means that they are not organized) only tries to follow Mélenchon’s orientations, to try to organize everything better, to sell their newspaper but not to the Insoumis and to campaign like ordinary people.

    These two teams intervene in proletarian suburbs, but in Feyzin there is also a sector of small “well-to-do” bourgeoisie (when compared to the proles).

    Vénissieux has two markets: the Minguettes market is almost 90% frequented by immigrants who have been living in France for a long time and a good part of whom have obtained French nationality and can therefore vote.

    The Centre market, both of which are visited by many people, is more native working class but with at least 50% immigrants, some of whom have the right to vote.

    In Feyzin they attacked the chemical factories, numerous in the area, and/or stopped the traffic to distribute leaflets.

    The population basically receives us with two attitudes: Either a very favourable reception, especially by the population of Muslim origin who heard the racist speeches of Zemmour and Le Pen and whom Mélenchon, who was very fair and tactically correct, defended.

    There is a fringe, especially in Venissieux, which will vote PCF (Venissieux is a “communist town hall”) but some of them are changing for Mélenchon. The ones between the population that “feels” themselves better off, snub Mélenchon, except, of course his supporters who must represent 35% of this fringe.
    But still, I found very rarely people who make a choice for Macron, none for Jadot, Pécresse, Hidalgo or even the far left even if not too far from where we place are the PCF and Lutte Ouvrière. The majority announce angrily, their vote Russel, PCF, but find no arguments in front of the instant replica that they vote for a party, for a “shop”, instead of the general interests of the workers.
    Only once did the bourgeois with their propaganda for Macron show up. They were so “well” received that they never went back. It was a group of neurotic and pretty young girls and “ladies” around a deputy who, instead of doing the work of distributing leaflets, chatted nervously amongst themselves waiting for the hour to pass to escape the atmosphere of workers, small market traders and immigrants.
    Never a team of Zemmor (They should better not…they’d get massacred) nor of Le Pen, who has no militant presence in Vénissieux ou Feyzin, or not openly.
    They are “fachos” without troops. It’s quite incredible to have done the whole campaign without having seen a single one. Only you have a perception but not a view, when they have collages their posters, the other battle to occupy the few places authorized to stick.

    The young Insoumise troupes, this exist; driven by their enthusiasm but by their lack of knowledge of the laws of sticking, there are heavy fines for those who stick elsewhere, cover everything and stick everywhere and it’s still a battle won.

    Macron, Pécresse, Jadot, Hidalgo, have companies sticking up for them and their posters do not stay because the average time of permanence is one night, if they are lucky, because the teams of LO, the PCF but above all the Insoumis who have more volunteers, cover Macron, the fachos and the company as a priority.

    It must also be said that neither the PS nor the Greens rely on many militants. The UP, the other name of the mélenchonians, have an influx of wills and activists, many of whom are young people entering politics or old activists bleached under the harness of collage, towing, conversation, conviction and everything the arsenal necessary to carry out a campaign.

    The campaign of Mélenchon, its rise and its possibilities, was, has been and is being made by this enormous militant work which should have, which could have been carried still further with a systematic, planned, controlled work of a political organization more on the left than the reformist program of Meluche (affective nickname). Useless to say that the POI don’t do that work, only they accompanied the movement and in some parallel way, they sell their propaganda and papers. They are too “shy”, non-obtrusive, lacking any audacious move of fear of being expulsed or something which is the idea of no one in a totally volunteer movement where everyone do whatever he likes and judge nobody. They have the “persecuted Trotskyist’s symptom”.
    Even, I feel that here in Venissieux, we have done too much. You cannot just ‘fed up’ the people. I have “made” those markets at least 10 times or more and people just tell us “I got it and I will vote M. but you have just told me the same the last three week…”
    This last dayswe feel a somewhat of a dynamic for Mélenchon but there are still a lot of people that say “All are the same, there is no difference between them” and there could be many abstentionists which is no good news for us.
    Will see. If he passes to the second round this will be quite a political coup, because that would mean, better than any, that de next government should count with the messes that are in no mood of being ill-treated.
    On the contrary, I have the impression in his numerous speeches that when he goes “left”, “communist” even he got the maximum of approval as when he criticizes the capitalist world et open a perspective to “another world.
    But when he goes “right” as per example with this OTAN/Russie war, the mood of the masses attending is one of silence, that thinks that this is made only for the electoral sake, but no one agree. He, who feels instantly the mood of the audience, just change subject.
    Tomorrow there is campaign rest and Sunday we vote.
    This election could be of no little importance. If the French people again, changes the drive to the right and fascism for a sort of Allende’s sort of social democracy with its own characteristics, this will give an emotional atomic bomb of enthusiasm and encouragement to every people in the world.
    If not, we will run into war.

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  2. Viriato says:

    Mélénchon will not go to the second round.

    He missed 500,000 votes, a little less than the score of the PCF candidate Roussel who made a lousy score, 2.3%, but enough to prevent the arrival of the Popular Union candidate, the insoimate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

    The Mélenchon vote was clearly a class vote and a young vote. In the last week many personalities and workers, even “abstentionists” who have been whitewashed by their leftism, decided to vote Mélenchon. They missed the votes of the PCF, and of two far-left organisations, NPA at 0.7% and LO at 0.6%, which are sinking further into the void of sectarianism.

    Of the 39 French cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, Mélenchon came first in 20 of them.

    In the Lyon region, all the proletarian suburbs carried him ahead of the other candidates with remarkable scores like in Vaux-en-velin where he obtained more than 65% of the vote, 49% in Vénissieux, two former communist municipalities.

    The Macron vote was mainly among the old who fear any change and the middle classes in conservative cities, such as Paris, Lyon, Nice and in villages and medium-sized towns.

    The Le Pen vote, described by some as a “working class vote”, was most active in the countryside and small villages, where immigrants do not live, or in second place in larger cities.

    Not one of the big cities saw Le Pen win. It is a reactionary and xenophobic bourgeois vote, nothing else.

    The Mélenchon vote is the vote of the workers and youth sectors who want “change”, who are fed up with Macron and the crisis and the war.

    Mélenchon has succeeded in launching a vast popular movement that their supporters will try to continue.

    “The struggle continues!” was his last sentence in the traditional post-election address and the base intends to continue it.

    This base, still reformist, will be reawakened by the problems that either candidate, Macron-Le Pen, will put in place.

    The base feels, without being able to say it, that the times to come will be of struggle in the streets.

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  3. Viriato says:

    In fact, the second round is marked by how the Melenchonites would vote.
    Some facts has come to the fore that are important.

    The first one is the half awakening of the working-class and the youth. Half because the abstentionnists are still mainly working class voters. 24% of those registered to vote.

    But, there has been also a massive mobilization of the immigrant working-class, mostly muslims that have been for years abstentionnists but now have voted by complete famillies for Mélenchon because he has defended them in the context of french secularism against open racists as Zemmour and Le Pen.

    The main political phenomena is the “mounting” of the Mélenchon vote and the acute conciousness that with the votes of the two sectarian extreme-left groups (NPA and LO) and with the PCF vote the second round will have been a direct confrontation between the Left and the Right, every one taking position in a real open fight between the classes.

    This sentiment, this frustration has traversed the youth and all those who do not want either Le Pen or Macron and who are looking for a way out.

    I have the feeling, after having been an activist during the whole campaign and having been in contact with people at the popular markets and demonstrations, that the voters for Mélenchon is and was more to the left than the candidate himself.

    One day after the election, when one might have expected at least a momentary demoralisation, more than 500 students occupied the Sorbonne to demonstrate against this “non-choise election” and on the Saturday afterwards demonstrations against the far right (read Marine Le Pen) took place all over France. They had the disadvantage of being confused with support for Macron, but the slogans, especially from the youth, were quite combative and explicitly against Macron too.

    We won’t let them do it to us. The future looks full of fighting in the streets.

    Both Le Pen and Macron are trying to get closer to the Mélenchonian electorate, by “socialising” their discourse or by becoming “ecologists” of the last hour, but this doesn’t fool anyone.

    Nevertheless, a part of Mélenchon’s electorate, consulted by Internet, will vote for Macron to ‘avoid fascism’. More than two thirds of those consulted (220,000) will vote ‘blnc’ or ‘Nulle’ or abstain.

    This facts, remember me the last defeat of Allende in Chile. The movement to the left could not be interrupted by the triomph of the right, on the contrary a dynamic has stablished that could only be bracked by outright white terror. Things goes fast in this kisd of periods, furthermore when it is also a part of a broader classe movement in many places in the world.

    It on’t be easy neither for Macron or Le Pen to pass the agenda of the bosses and of NATO.
    There will be resistance and not a mild one.

    Hopefully again the magnificent french working class and his youth would show the way.

    Neither the plague(Macron) nor the cholera (Le Pen)! is the mot d’ordre the masses.

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