Storming the Bastille

Translated Wednesday 14 March 2012, by Henry Crapo (who is a member of Truthout’s Board of Advisors) and reviewed by Isabelle Métral.

“We are going to create a material force from our ideas.” It was on the TV channel France 5, day before yesterday, on quoting none other than Karl Marx, that Jean-Luc Melenchon summed up the ambition of the Front de gauche in marching next Sunday from the Place de la Nation to the Place de la Bastille. It is a march and an event far from ordinary. A citizens’ uprising that is making plenty of noise.

Last week, when the Front de gauche passed the symbolic hurdle of 10 percent in polls for first round of the presidential election, it was clearly understood to be a turning point. Another poll revealed, in passing, that, for nearly half of those polled, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was the candidate with the most dynamic campaign. A “breakthrough”, for the news service Agence France presse.

From a commentator in the newspaper Le Monde, we find this analogy with a race horse: “He prefers to keep up a fast pace, which permits him to stretch out his legs, to let his power be felt, in order to work his way up in the pack, to reach the winners’ positions, even to finish in third place … “

And on France 5 again, this commentary: “He is a candidate in fine shape” who shies away from no obstacle, “no matter how high the bar.” But putting polls and commentaries aside, the candidate himself noted with humor, “Since last week there are people who treat me with more respect and courtesy.” This said, he added quickly that this breakthrough was first of all thanks to the thousands of men and women who have set to work for the Front de gauche.

Because it’s truly a new kind of campaign. You don’t hear, in the meetings, shouts of “Mélenchon president”, but rather “Résistance“. Resistance, a word to which should be added “reconquest” and “conquest”. It remains to find the rhyme. Reconquest, because this campaign has already given rise, in a very visible way, to the return to the political stage by masses of ordinary people and by the working class. The battle ’with axe in hand” waged against Le Pen now prevents the Front national from usurping and perverting the voice of those classes.

But what’s more, where would they be without the Front de gauche: those questions of guaranteed minimum wage (SMIC), of precarious living conditions, of the battle against the forces of finance? “Every time we pull the debate to the left,” notes Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the French Communist Party (PCF), “the campaign themes of the right fall back”.

And Jean-Luc Mélenchon on France 5, “François Hollande discovered at Bourget that finance was his enemy, but it was ’faceless’. Now, he has found their addresses …”.

Clichés nevertheless have a long life. Last week there was still one commentator, with a long way to catch up, who could still evoke the “anti-European-Union” position of Jean-Luc Mélenchon! Just who are the anti-Europeans? Those who want a socially planned Europe, based on cooperation, facing up to the dictatorship of the financial markets, providing themselves with the means for true economic growth, — or those who have knocked strikers to their knees, who swear only by the banks, unrestrained competition between peoples and nations, who speculate on insolvency when they are not working to create hatred of others.

“The left in Europe is watching us,” said Pierre Laurent, in Rouen.

Sunday it will not only be the left in Europe who will be watching what takes place at the Bastille.


In a similar vein, an interview of Jean-Luc Mélenchon by a group of student journalists at l’Humanité.

Translator’s Note:

As translator, I find it advisable to include some general remarks, to append to this lovely article by Maurice Ulrich, concerning the campaign of the Front de gauche in the French presidential election. It is difficult to lay my hands on an article that conveys enough of the general picture for a readership in other countries where not much will have been published about what is taking place here. So I add this summary of events, with links to material that will surely be of interest to those with some command of the French language. I hope that readers of this note will profit from the occasion to become aware of this party, its program, and its candidate. It is rare indeed to see such a progressive and articulate politician arrive on center stage. Personally, I have seen such a popular movement only once before, during the successful battle for the “Non” in the 2005 referendum over the proposed European constitution.

The 2012 French presidential election proceeds in two parts, on 22 April and 6 May, the latter stage being a run-off election between the two candidates with the most votes on 22 April. This year’s election seemed to be heading for a “second tour” between the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP) and the candidate of the Socialist Party (PS), François Hollande, the latter being ahead in the polls. But the political climate has been enlivened by the advance of the candidate of the Front de gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has taken the offensive, first, against the candidate of the extreme right-wing Front national, Marine Le Pen, daughter of the former leader of that pro-fascist fringe. Their recent confrontation is visible in this video. This week Jean-Luc Mélenchon passed the symbolic bar of 10% in expected vote, advancing steadily from a position in fifth place, and a majority of French voters find that he has waged the most dynamic campaign.

A dramatic résumé of the program of the Front de gauche is to be seen and heard on the recording of the television program Des paroles et des actes, broadcast on January 12 by the national channel FR2. The candidate Mélenchon is questioned for 2 hours 20 minutes by a panel of journalists and experts, including a former chief executive of the construction materials industry, Saint-Gobain [1]. In brief, the party program includes: an increase in the minimum wage, illegalization of financially-motivated layoffs and plant closings, giving priority to the creation of workers’ cooperatives, new taxation levels and a lid on high salaries, taxation of incomes hidden in financial paradises, the convocation of a constituent assembly for passage, under a new constitution, to the 6th Republic, a referendum on the treaty for European Union, and total opposition to the politics of “austerity” promoted by Sarkozy-Merkel, managed by the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Instead, theFront de gauche plans the move toward a society based on solidarity and cooperation, both within the nation and throughout Europe.

Meetings of the Front de gauche are heavily attended; 4,500 in the industrial center of Besançon, 10.000 in Villeurbanne (Lyon), 10,000 in Montpellier, standing room only in Rouen, 8,000 in Clermont-Ferrand…

The campaign headquarters is established in a shoe factory in the working-class suburb of Les Lilas, in a building known as l’Usine.

The web site for the campaign and the candidate’s blog carry an enormous amount of information about the program, the issues, the campaign. The vidéothèque is particularly rich, with the vast majority of his public appearances recorded and fully available. Addresses to rallies in major cities, interviews on radio and television, debates with various groups.

This Sunday March 18 the Front de gauche will hold a major rally in the streets of Paris, marching from the Place de la Nation to thePlace de la Bastille, on the anniversary of the Commune de Paris (1871), also on the official launching of the presidential campaign, when the final candidatures are legally determined.

[1] No English translation available at present.