Copycat Revolutionaries: France's Brand New 'Left Party'

Over the weekend, ex-Socialist minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon held the "founding meeting" for a new left-wing political force in France. He was joined by a thousand supporters, including Oskar Lafontaine, founder of the German Left Party.

France's crowded and confusing political spectrum got even more complicated over the weekend as an ex-Socialist Senator proclaimed a new "Parti de Gauche" (PG) in a suburban gymnasium outside Paris.

Peas in a pod: Jean-Luc Mélenchon (left), launched the first meeting of France's new Left Party on Saturday. In attendance was Oskar Lafontaine, leader and founder of the German Left Party.
DPA

Peas in a pod: Jean-Luc Mélenchon (left), launched the first meeting of France's new Left Party on Saturday. In attendance was Oskar Lafontaine, leader and founder of the German Left Party.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who quit France's troubled Socialist Party (PS) the day before its fractious November conference in Reims, declared his intention at the meeting to "assemble a majority of the left to govern the country," envisaging a broad "front" of left-wing parties, including the French Communist Party (PCF).

Among the meeting's most prominent guests was the German leftist Oskar Lafontaine, who, like Mélenchon, left his own country's Socialist party to found a new grouping under the label "the Left." Lafontaine's success has served as a model and an inspiration for Mélenchon, and he received a long ovation from the supporters in attendance. In a speech given in French, Lafontaine ridiculed the French Socialist Party as "a mouse" and called for a united European left that "refuses to accept rotten compromises."

Also in attendance was the Bolivian ambassador, who read a letter from Bolivian President Evo Morales offering encouragement to his "revolutionary friends" and proclaiming his "excitement" at the "idea of proposing an alternative to fight against capitalism."

A Popular Front against Brussels

The 57-year-old Mélenchon, who was still in secondary school during the student revolts of 1968, served as Trotskyist student leader while at university before joining Mitterand's Socialists in 1977. He started to become disenchanted with the PS after its decision to support the European constitution in France's failed 2005 referendum. Now Mélenchon says he wants to build an alliance with others on the left who formed part the "No" coalition that defeated the Brussels-backed constitution.

"The France of rebellion and revolution has once again found a will, a flag, and a party," declared Mélenchon at the meeting, adding that "there is tremendous opportunity on the left to confront capitalism" and to veer away from "the impotence incarnated by social-liberalism."

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Mélenchon said that he was borrowing his "method" from the German example. The key, as he sees it, is "to first build a front and then see what is possible, instead of -- before setting to work -- proclaiming the need for full political, ideological, and organizational consensus." As he was once advised by Lafontaine, "the best adhesive you can have is (political) success."

Mélenchon's new party faces an already crowded field on the left side of France's political scene. His biggest competition is the young and popular Trotskyist politician Olivier Besancenot, who earlier this year announced his intention to form a "New Anti-Capitalist Party" (NPA).

So far, Mélenchon admits, it is "mostly former Socialist Party colleagues who are flocking to us." Besancenot has been chilly toward Mélenchon thus far, but prospects are looking strong for an alliance between the Left Party and the Communist party during next June's European elections.

Still, the idea of furnishing France with yet another left-wing party is generating its share of skepticism. "All those who have decided to leave the Socialists have flopped," says political scientist Roland Cayrol, founder of the polling institute CSA. Mélenchon's latest contribution to the left-wing deviationist tradition is "an adventure without a future," Cayrol says.

cpg -- with wire reports

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