France – Election 2012 – Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Parti de gauche – 9 April 2012

Interesting election the French are having, not the least because of the rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon as the “third candidate” in the Hollande-Sarkozy race for the presidency. It’s gratifying to know the French are, at this point, both bypassing the fascism-lite of Marine Le Pen and the “let’s all be Clinton Democrats and everything will be fine” principle-free centrism of François Bayrou.

Mélenchon created a political party called the “Left Party” (Parti de gauche, or PG) which is contesting the presidential election in alliance with the PCF (the French Communist Party) and the Unitarian Left (a group that used to be part of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, the remainder of which has formed the even more zany New Anticapitalist Party). The PG is modeled explicitly on the the post-communist Die Linke party in Germany, which was created out of the ashes of the old communist party that ruled East Germany with an iron fist through a period of four decades.

It is those kind of connections that make me want to shy away from any kind of advocacy of Mr. Mélenchon, to be sure. But the PG is an interesting new phenomenon in French politics, and is a party I wouldn’t completely write off as offering something of potential value.

The thing about communists is that they are often against the same things that more decent leftists oppose, but they don’t typically support the same solutions that more decent leftists support. That Mr. Mélenchon is backed by many of France’s communists should be judged with that in mind. The things I have seen the gentleman say about what’s wrong with today’s France suggest to me that he has a very clear understanding of the problems, most likely a better understanding of these than does Mr. Hollande, or indeed, any of the other candidates.

What he proposes to do? Well, that might be another thing. There I give the slight nod to Mr. Hollande. I’m not impressed that blaming deepening ties with the European Union is a reasonable strategy – France needs more Europe, not less. Mélenchon’s naive embrace of Hugo Chávez as a social model is also cause for alarm, and many in the PG have similarly naive views about the Middle East and Israel/Palestine.

I would still vote Hollande if the decision were mine to make, but I should point out that the “Left Party” model is not one I dismiss out of hand. As I’ve pointed out before, I have voted for the Québec solidaire (QS) party in Quebec provinical elections twice now (in 2007 and 2008). QS is basically Quebec’s “Left Party”, with the important distinction that it’s a party which is constructive in its policies and democratic in its process – that is, it isn’t just a party which knows what it opposes, but also one which knows what it supports. Though communist groups are involved with QS, non-constructive and anti-democratic positions have not come to dominate the party, and arguably, the QS has been instrumental in moving those groups closer to a “Eurocommunist” point of view accepting of electoral democracy and reform-oriented activism.

QS is one of the few “Left Party”-modeled parties I can see my way clear to supporting, and this is only because it makes such a point of rejecting the kind of pandering and autocratic ugliness that has characterised so many other of these parties.

Mr. Mélenchon’s party isn’t quite where QS is, in my view, but it does appear to be heading in that direction. It will be interesting to see if French politics change for the better because of the developments we’re seeing now.

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