Jean-Luc Mélenchon – A French Jeremy Corbyn

With the France Insoumise movement led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, we are witnessing a moment of popular awakening. Let me provide some background: Mélenchon has a rich political history. He made his debut in politics as a student activist in the May 1968 movement. Initially a Trotskyist, he moved on to the Socialist Party where he became close to President Mitterrand. For many years, he was a Socialist Senator and later served as a Minister in the Jospin government. In 2005, he broke with his own party line and successfully campaigned against the European Constitution referendum. This saw Mélenchon campaign (and get closer) with different figures to the left of the Socialist Party. Despite a democratic consultation, the French political establishment ignored the referendum altogether and pushed it through parliament nonetheless. It was clear the Socialist Party was a dinosaur unable to change and which had long given up on socialism and moved to the right. Mélenchon left with his supporters in 2008 to found his own political party, the Parti de Gauche ( Party of the Left), subsequently creating an alliance of different anti-liberal left-wing parties, the Front de Gauche (the Left Front). The alliance was inspired by the Die Linke German party model and achieved some success in the 2012 presidential election with Mélenchon as its candidate scoring a respectable 11%.

The Socialist Party won the 2012 Presidential election and did so for the first time in over 30 years. In fact, people were so sick of Sarkozy, the Socialists ended up winning everything. Despite controlling all branches of government with a left-wing mandate, it still governed by the same failed right wing policies of its predecessors. There was initially a lot of hope as it was President Hollande who told us that he was ‘the enemy of financial system’. Instead, he became the lapdog of the financial system. The Socialist Party didn’t accomplish anything substantial and left the country in a worst state than ever, propelling the National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, into leading the polls for months. The failed Hollande government also left some serious questions on whether there are any real differences between the traditional left-right political factions.

President Hollande decided not to run for re-election – it was clear to him like everyone else that he stood no chance. Hollande’s replacement, Benoît Hamon, polled poorly and was overtaken by Mélenchon whose poll numbers kept rising. The 2017 presidential election saw a total of 11 candidates across the political spectrum. Mélenchon presented himself for the second time, formerly as Front de Gauche and now as the France Insoumise movement, inspired in part by Podemos and Latin American movements. The advantage of running La France Insoumise as a movement allowed Mélenchon to step away from the political party structure and become as inclusive as possible.

The France Insoumise movement reaches out to the good sense and logic in us. The programme called L’Avenir en commun (‘our future together) calls for a 6th Republic where everything will be shaken up. Mélenchon said: ‘we wish to put in place institutions that will prevent the election of a President such as the last one we had’ and this means giving the power directly to the people. Currently, in the French 5th Republic system most of the power lies with the President and it’s often referred to as the Presidential Monarchy. Leaving this 5th Republic can be done with a Constituent Assembly, comprised of elected (and some randomly selected) citizens who will be responsible for drafting a new French constitution to redefine all of the rules of French democracy. The new constitution, the 6th republic, would be subject to approval by referendum. 

The programme is also strong on environmentalism, with the aim being for an ecological transition fuelling job growth with 100% renewable energies, 100% organic agriculture, a green rule established directly into the constitution where one cannot take more from nature than it can replenish. The programme is well planned out. For example, all French pupils would get a free organic and vegan school lunch and would help boost the nascent organic agriculture industry. Amongst other things, the French people will have the permanent choice of recalling any of their elected officials. Salaries over 360,000 Euros per year will be taxed at 100%, Mélenchon has warned employers: ‘you found cheaper labour to do the work, we will find cheaper bosses to replace you’.

Additionally, EU Treaties would be renegotiated and Mélenchon has already signalled to the powers in question, France is not Greece and he will not be pushed around like Tsipras. It’s hard to imagine how you cannot have an EU without France but it’s time to stop the policy of liberalisation and privatisation of public services to satisfy the economic imperatives of Germany. Amongst other things, there’s also a 32-hour workweek, leaving NATO and so on. The programme is extensive and was very well presented by its main candidate.

Mélenchon’s speeches are poignant and honest. He integrates philosophy, poetry, ecology and education into his speeches: ‘It is completely ridiculous to create 5kg of vegetable protein that will only produce 1 kg of animal protein’. Even those who disagree with him can feel his genuineness. His love for the French Republic and its people come across as very natural: ‘Do not doubt yourselves and do not doubt your country’. Mélenchon also integrates ecology into the heart of his dialogue: ‘Do you understand people, if we don’t do anything we will destroy everything!’ He also has a talent for shaming his opponents – during a debate he told Le Pen: ‘You serve no purpose and for 50 years all you have done is distribute hate’. In the same manner, Mélenchon has no problem pushing back against journalists and calls them out when they evade talking about the real issues.

The campaign embraced new technologies such as holograms, social media, video games and despite running on a tinye budget (in contrast to his competition) was very effective. Mélenchon with his programme and amazing oratory skills attracted record crowds, over 100,000 on Bastille Day! His message was very well received by the working class and young people. Mélenchon not only knows how to connect with people, he really knows how to reach youth too: ‘Don’t listen to those who say it was better before, the world your parents had is now gone forever and you are the first generation who now have to think about creating a new world’.

Hundreds of groups were set up in France and around the world, to support the movement and Mélenchon’s candidacy (including right here in Glasgow – Ecosse Insoumise). Most of the movement relies on volunteers, not just for typical canvassing but for web development, video game programming, social media management and event planning. In fact, the well-organised campaign included a lot of talented people from all sorts of backgrounds who cohesively worked magic with the little they had. The France Insoumise is learning how to federate the French people.

The reaction of the media has been very aggressive. Everyday drowning the airwaves with the narrative about the ‘vote utile’ – the vote that really counts as Macron is the only candidate capable of winning against Le Pen. Macron supposedly incarnates political renewal despite being a former Socialist Minister backed by the oligarchy and the worst of the old Left and Right parties. By way of association, they accused Mélenchon of supporting aggressive regimes like Syria, Iran and wanting to instore a Venezuelan like regime as his programme called for French Guiana and the French West Indies to join ALBA – the ‘Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra’ (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). It’s a cooperation alliance, France is part of many such organisations and this doesn’t seem to be an issue nor is it an issue when France sells arms to Saudi Arabia. It’s true, Mélenchon can be feisty but he has to be. This attack was disingenuous and meant to frame him as an angry and dangerous radical by making a connection that isn’t there to Iran and Syria (who are former observer countries of ALBA). Mélenchon was very good at responding and made everyone know that the longest border France has is with Brazil in French Guiana and not with Germany, also pointing out ‘France is not a Western nation, France is a Universalist nation’.

In any case, it’s hard to imagine Mélenchon not making the second round of the Presidential elections had there not been such dirty media tricks. With seven million votes, just a few hundred thousand away from a second round place (polls showed him beating Le Pen in the second round), it’s still an amazing accomplishment! Held shortly after, the legislative elections were complicated by record low turnout especially amongst the working class and youth electorate. France Insoumise still managed to make its debut in the National Assembly with 17 deputies including Mélenchon himself elected for Marseille. This is just a start and is enough to constitute a formal group (15 deputies is the minimum, a deputy without a group has no speaking time) and will be a great platform for the movement going forward. The future is bright. Finally, there is a fresh voice for the people of France: an opposition who will speak out loudly and clearly against a failing economic system, the misery and poverty experienced by too many French people.

Daniel Brillet is the creator of the Ecosse Insoumise – Auld Alliance Defiant Scotland support group. It arose from Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left-Wing movement and its programmeme, ‘L’Avenir en commun’.