THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Vive la Crise

In France, the Left Returns

PARIS–Two improbable new political parties have been born in France. One claims to already have the support of 15 percent of the population –not merely of the French republic but of the entire European Union. In a multi-party parliamentary democracy, that’s big. And mainstream pundits expect that number to double within a year.

France’s resurgent left has been born of a movement borne of a level of mass rage and popular resentment the likes of which no one has seen here since the 1930s. Like Americans, French voters are terrified as securities markets falter and companies lay off tens of thousands of workers. They’re furious about bank bailouts that cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of euros, with little to no accountability as the beneficiaries spent the money on everything except helping the ordinary people and small businesses who need it most. But unlike the United States, the incendiary rhetoric of France’s left has seized the popular imagination and is redefining the acceptable range of political debate.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon quit France’s Socialist Party a few months ago, decrying his former comrades as out of touch. Now he’s the co-founder of France’s Left Party (PG), a coalition of left-of-center parties. A week earlier, Olivier Besancenot formed the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), which he says has 9000 “militants” dedicated to the overthrow of the liberal economic system that has dominated Europe since the end of World War II. Anti-capitalist!

Even in left-leaning France, there wouldn’t have been enough wine in all of France to convince a politician that he could successfully market the NPA’s battle cry–they want nothing less than “a total break with capitalism”–to the voting public. “The right to happiness,” a PG deputy said flatly, “is still a new idea.” And that’s what they’re selling.

The Left Party seeks to unite France’s left-of-center factional parties–communists, socialists, greens and members of the New Anti-Capitalist Party–under an umbrella alliance that would preserve their ideological differences while focusing their attention on dismantling the free market system that many agree has brought France to the brink of economic ruin.

To this American’s eyes, revolution is in their air. One week ago, labor unions and leftist political parties declared a national strike, forcing schools, banks, transportation links and government offices to close. More than a million Parisians marched in the streets, calling for the ouster of [conservative French president Nicolas] Sarkozy. (Adjusting for France’s population, that’s the equivalent of five million demonstrators in Washington demanding that Obama step down.)

“There is room for everyone with legitimate political opinions, a PG official said in a radio interview. “This does not include the right.” What should French conservatives do, he was asked? “They should leave the country.” “Down with Sarkozy,” a sign hanging from a city hall in the Auvergne region read, “Death to the capitalists.” The Auvergne is one of the country’s most conservative regions.

What does “anti-capitalism” mean? Besancenot, head of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, foresees a society where “the majority controls and expropriates wealth. Nowadays, the fruits of one’s labor is stolen by a minority; we will ensure that everyone gets his or her fair share.”

Communists have always been around, especially in France. But the mainstream Socialist Party (PS) has expressed a willingness to unite with its erstwhile rivals. The PS, PG and NPA all say they’re setting aside factionalism. The last time France’s Left was this unified was 1936, when a similar anti-capitalist coalition formed the Popular Front government.

Of course, there are cynics…on the left. “I’m not going to close down my shop and waste the afternoon marching in the streets unless it’s for real revolution, for a real popular movement,” a store manager told me. These demonstrations are just to prop up the official left, which supports the status quo,” he continued.

Capitalism is in crisis, both here and in the United States. Is it doomed? No one knows, but the future of minimally regulated free markets is anything but certain.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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24 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Vive la Crise”

  1. Grouchy Says:

    (Adjusting for France’s population, that’s the equivalent of five million demonstrators in Washington demanding that Obama step down.)

    I doubt such an event in Washington would get much media attention unless the demonstrators were rightwing…

  2. Y_S Says:

    Now This is International Reporting!

    Vive La RALL !

    Y_S
    Pakistan

  3. Santiago Says:

    Funny… I never thought I’d see the end of capitalism in my lifetime… Yay!

  4. Angelo Says:

    Where’s the paragraph contrasting this to discourse in the US?
    Guess it was too obvious.

    Somehow, even with having a higher standard of living, they don’t behave like American sheep.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    While I wait for the postman to deliver my DVD of “The Battle of Algiers”, I’m reminded of how many lessons America never learned from their mistakes. Dorme bene…

  6. Angelo Says:

    aggie,

    on the topic of what happened to edward…

    First there was Edward Orisiek. Then there was edward.
    Finally came Anonymous.

    See, by getting rid of the name we knew him by, we can’t throw in his face all of the supply-side crap he used to try to sling.

  7. Incitatus Says:

    Yup, bring back the ’30s and the broad spectrum of political options they had then. Who would want to miss that?

  8. Incitatus Says:

    Yup, bring back the ’30s and the broad spectrum of political options they had then. Who would want to miss that?

  9. onetwothree Says:

    The real tragedy of hard-leftists is that they too owe everything they have–their wealth, their freedom, their security–to the free market. Everything.

    But wealth, freedom, and security do not, and will not ever, bless anyone with the smallest amount of intelligence or gratitude.

  10. Susan Stark Says:

    Something similar is happening in Iceland and Greece. I’m wondering if anything will come of it.

    People bemoan that something similar hasn’t happened in the US, but the media is too fascist here. Protesters would be labeled “terrorists”, and that would be that. On the other hand, if the economy got bad enough . . .

  11. arbenz lumumba Says:

    *shrug* If you think resurgent opposition parties, even far-left ones, haven’t been thoroughly infiltrated (and thus, vetted) by the same corporate entities that keep $250,000-a-plate dinners for the big guys going, you’re pretty naïve. How long does it take Latin American presidents to reneg on their promises of nationalization, from bottle to throttle? Coincidence much? Considering that’s in a part of the world Western operatives have to take at least a plane ride to reach, how long do you really think people with genuine leftist intentions would remain genuine once in power? (bonus points for developing world leaders: how long do they get to keep breathing?)

  12. clownstotheleftofme Says:

    Good God, but you people never get tired of your self-righteous, completely unrealistic bullshit do you? (Not really about TED here)

  13. praise jesus Says:

    > The real tragedy of hard-leftists is that they too owe everything they have–their
    > wealth, their freedom, their security–to the free market. Everything.

    I think this is the same kind of language fanatical Christians use when they're telling you that you owe everything you have to God. And you better praise Him if you know what's good for you.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I’m reminded of how many lessons America never learned from their mistakes.

    When I said “their”, I meant France. Oops.

  15. Angelo Says:

    onetwothree said:
    “The real tragedy of hard-leftists is that they too owe everything they have–their wealth, their freedom, their security–to the free market. Everything.”

    You realize we have gone from being the biggest creditor to the biggest debtor, right?

    I wonder if that even qualifies as capitalism.

  16. Susan Stark Says:

    Incitatus,

    You forgot this spectrum:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism_in_Spain

    Spain had, for a brief period of time, fully functioning anarchism. It worked until the Fascists crushed it.

    The Europeans have tasted first-hand both Stalinism and Fascism, and I don’t think they want to go back to either one. But anarchism and/or decentralism is still a viable option for them.

  17. Susan Stark Says:

    >>>The real tragedy of hard-leftists is that they too owe everything they have–their wealth, their freedom, their security–to the free market. Everything.>>>

    Well, the "free market" sure did work for Afghanistan, didn't it?

  18. Aggie Dude Says:

    I’m with Incitatus on this one. Taking France back to 1936 is a little ominous, don’t you think? Hm….what else was going on then…..oh yeah, the summer olympics were being played in a totalitarian dictatorship, and a miraculous American won a lot of gold metals!!!!!!

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Arbenz lumumba drew attention to
    a very valid point.

  20. Marion Delgado Says:

    Ted your mom’s French, right? So I assume you’ve been there. Their electoral system is the worst one I know of. It was most evident in the election between Chirac and LePen, which did not reflect a sudden swing to the right, just the usual 100 parties on the left and 2 on the right running, and only the top 2 make the runoff.

    Until that’s fixed France is ultimately worse off electorally than we are.

  21. Incitatus Says:

    Quoth Susan Stark:

    Spain had, for a brief period of time, fully functioning anarchism. It worked until the Fascists crushed it.

    That should read “part of Spain” and the “functioning” is highly debatable, unless you fully functioning bloodbath. Anyways, the Spanish “anarchists” (they were just a different brand of totalitarians, really) were crushed just as much my the Falangists than by the Commies under direct guidance from the Comintern.

    You’re right in the essence, though: the ’30s were a terrible time to live, in most countries I know, Spain being one of the worst.

  22. Our Man in Abiko Says:

    Er, sorry folks. But the French are always revolting. On the brink of another revolution? They always are aren’t they? Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just that their moment setting the world to rights passed circa 1815 methinks.

  23. Angelo Says:

    incitatus said:
    “Yup, bring back the ’30s and the broad spectrum of political options they had then. Who would want to miss that?

    Who said anything about bringing France back to the 30s?

  24. Cleveland Bob Says:

    Good reporting. Thanks, Ted.

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