What Face Should the French Sixth Republic Have?

Five analyses of the essential characteristics of the Sixth Republic, the creation of which is the central plank in the electoral platform of the Front de gauche in the current French presidential and legislative elections.

  • Jean-Pierre Dubois, Jurist, Professor of public law at the Université de Paris-XI.
  • Maryse DUMAS, labor union militant, member of the Conseil économique, social et environnemental.
  • Évelyne Sire-Marin, Judge for union affairs.
  • Roland Gori, Professor of Psychopathology, psychanalyste
  • Céline Malaisé, regional counselor of the Front de gauche, spokesperson for the Gauche unitaire.

Jacqueline Sellem: Introduction with some background information.

On 18 March, as a prelude to the march to the Place de la Bastille by the Front de gauche, some citizens met in Gentilly to reflect on a project for the Sixth Republic. The meeting was chaired by Patrick Apel-Muller, editorial director of l’Humanité.

“Presidential monarchy, presidentialism, …”, criticisms of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic are current everywhere on the left. What’s more, wasn’t it drawn up in 1958, not by a constitutional assembly of the people, but by a team piloted by General de Gaulle? Right from the beginning, the communists and some well-known people were opposed. In his book The Permanent Coup d’État, François Mitterrand took his place in the front ranks of the opposition. But, elected president in 1981, he made peace with this personalization of power, which was accentuated as time passed by a reduction of the duration of the presidential mandate [1], and the inversion of the electoral calendar [2]. The lesson seems clear: it is up to the people to elaborate and impose institutions that will not dispossess them.

Jaqueline Sellem
(French original)

In Order to Bring About Genuine Change …

by Jean-Pierre Dubois, Jurist, Professor of public law at the Université de Paris-XI.

Behind the succession of Republics formed since 1792, there lies the “substantive Republic”, secular, democratic, and social [3]. We are indeed far from that today. Over and above the behavior of a president who is a mockery of what he represents, there is a regime that has become more and more monarchical with the passage of years.

The left missed its rendezvous with a re-foundation of the Republic in 1981; the citizens feel dispossessed of any real power. There is no other chance [4] in 2012; if we want to change things this time, we must break with the Fifth Republic and pass to a Citizens’ Republic the rights, and democratic control of power.

Because France is a monarchy. Not a royalty, as in Spain, in Sweden, in Belgium, since in France it is not a king who governs, but there is nevertheless a single man in power. A man who, alone, decides to undo retirement at 60 years of age, or to get rid of investigative judges [5] independent of the political power. The candidates announce the future laws, but the president makes the law, and parliament votes it without making any essential changes. In no other “democracy” we are accustomed to would this be tolerated for a moment: a “republican monarchy” that permits one to dream of a man and an ephemeral state of grace, which then leads to a time of disillusion, where “they’re all the same”, and “Of what use is it to vote?”. Let’s get rid of this presidentialism-without-collective-deliberation, without citizen control, without counter-weights or balance of power, which is asphyxiating democracy.

To be sure, everywhere in the world the “government in power” has the initiative. But this can work only (1), under the real control of citizens and their elected representatives, (2), with control by independent judges over the fundamental rights of citizens and separation of powers, and (3) following collegial and pluralistic procedures.

We must assure political control by citizens and their representatives:

  • Citizen control of power: referendum for repeal by the people of an act of parliament, and by popular initiative; recall of elected officials in whom the people have lost confidence, again on popular initiative, referendum, and election for replacement.
  • Control, by the representatives of the people, of those governing: obligatory vote by the deputies of the National Assembly on the investiture of a new government; suppression of procedure 49-3, which permits the government to force the deputies to adopt a law without a vote!
  • Creation of a commission of inquiry when demanded by 25% of members of parliament;
  • Automatic dissolution in the event of a motion of censure, in order to respect the “legislative contract” passed before the people;
  • Election of deputies by proportionality, with a limited “majority bonus”, as at present for the regional counselors, election of senators by proportionality and by an electoral college not distorted in its distribution of sectors of the population.

We must assure the control of respect for the rights and powers by independent judges:

  • Designation by the National Assembly, by a 2/3 majority (to avoid partisan designations) of members of the Constitutional Court, as well as of independent authorities.
  • Alignment of the status of prosecutors with that of the sitting judges, and reform of the Judiciary Council.
  • Judiciary police under the real authority of the judiciary.

We must replace the presidential monarchy by a democratic government:

  • President of the Council of Ministers, the place for governmental deliberation, to be the Prime Minister, as head of government.
  • Suppression of the power of nomination by the president of the Republic of top public servants and those responsible for the public sector.
  • Suppression of the signature of the president of the Republic on ordinances and “decrees decided by the Council of Ministers”, which are decisions by the government.
  • Suppression of Article 16, which permits a temporary presidential dictatorship, unknown in any other democracy.

Return power to the citizens; subject the state power to the respect of rights; render the power truly collegial and pluralist … it’s either that or “voluntary servitude” in the face of an elective monarchy and an oligarchy of dominant individuals. It is possible, if only we wish it … together.

Jean-Pierre Dubois
(French original)

Reconcile the Social Question and the Republic, Political Democracy and Social Democracy

By Maryse Dumas, union activist, member of the Economic, Social and Environmental.

The march to the Bastille makes reference to the Paris Commune and to the Revolution of 1789. In the period between these two events, there was in 1848 what the workers called “la sociale”. Suspicious vis-à-vis the Republic, they feared that universal suffrage might be antagonistic to their class interests. Reconcile the social question and the Republic, political democracy and social democracy seem to me to be a major issue.

The first aspect to consider is the relationship between law and contract: the law is a matter of general public interest, it affirms the equality of all. The contract is, on the contrary, a matter of special interests and embodies relations of inequality. Since its inception, the MEDEF [6] has called for a change in the Constitution. It calls for “the normative autonomy of social partners.” It wants to make the contract autonomous, independent of the law. First, the parliamentarians would be required to transpose entirely into law those agreements signed at the national level between employers and unions. Second, companies would no longer be required to enforce labor law, on the pretext of having an agreement to the contrary with the unions. The collective contract would thus become a means either to make laws, or not to apply them, and at the convenience of employers, who would thus have political power greater than that of the legislature. This MEDEF position has been echoed by various right-wing leaders, and also, on the trade union side, by the CFDT, and even in an article in June 2011 by François Hollande, who has since then changed his approach. The so-called job-competition, and the law recently passed in Parliament are both oriented in that direction.

To affirm equality of all before the law (as Jean-Luc Mélenchon does), the primacy of law over the contract, to seek laws that are discussed and agreed to in concert as thoroughly as possible in advance of their passage through Parliament, to guarantee that the law and the independence of labor unions be respected should be the lines of force of the Sixth Republic.

A second aspect relates to social security in the professions. The current Constitution stipulates “the obligation to work and the right to have a job.” We see to what degree reality has escaped from principle: women, fulfilling at home, their obligation to work, are not, however, necessarily entitled to employment, except for part-time employment of limited duration in menial tasks, which is the situation for many women. To be responsive to society, the Sixth Republic should affirm the right of everyone to professional social security and the intent to create a labor statute that will protect employees from the vagaries of economic conditions, from unemployment and job insecurity. That seems to me to be more ambitious than the mere prohibition of economically-dictated lay-offs, which concern not even 10% of the unemployed, and leaves aside the mass of workers in precarious or temporary contract, salaries in small and medium-sized companies and subcontractors, as well as wage-earners forced to resign, and jobs lost by termination of contract: 600 000 this year.

The third aspect is that of employees’ rights to intervene in management strategies and on all social issues: a recent survey showed that three out of four workers and employees believe that once a demonstration, a petition, or a citizen referendum collects more than one million participants, a process of modification of laws and regulations must be set in motion: this is an aspiration to be taken into account, in order to reconcile the struggle with the ballot box.

Finally, we must ensure that all employees have effective rights to be represented, to meet, to organize and participate in the life of the union, not only in large companies but also in small and medium enterprises, in which a majority of workers are employed. We must ensure that interventions by wage-earners climb the entire chain of command, both vertically, even in multi-national corporations, but also horizontally, in order to treat questions involving the company and its territory.

Democracy is a conquest in perpetual flux and becoming, but it is also a practice that needs to be spread out to the greatest number of people – hence the importance of trade unions and political associations to sustain it, in businesses and communities as well as at the national level.

Maryse Dumas
(French original)

For an Insurrection of Conscience

By Evelyne Sire-Marin, Magistrate unionist.

The political and trade union Left has had little to say in recent years about freedom, justice, and the police, preferring to express themselves about combat on social issues, work, salary, pension, and the defense of public services. The political Left has often left to social movements and to associations for the defense of rights the scope of action on public and individual liberties, whether about maintenance of police files of personal information, video surveillance, prison conditions, anti-terrorism measures , the criminalization of poverty and insanity, the rejection of foreigners.

Yet history has shown that we owe the Left for what progress we have made in public and individual freedoms: the Law on Freedom of the press, enacted by the government of Jules Ferry in 1881, the specific rights of juvenile offenders and the humanization of the application of sentences, from the program of the National Council of the Resistance, the abolition of the death penalty and the Court of State Security, brought in by the Union of the Left in 1981. The law is a formidable instrument of equality of rights and allows for victory of humanism and dignity over the soft barbarity of a Republic that has become authoritarian.

For ten years, 32 security laws have, bit by bit, asphyxiated democracy, giving police sweeping powers, crushing the independence of justice in the punishment machine run by the magistrates of the Ministry of Justice, transforming the courts into production units to fill the prisons. The influence of executive power over justice was so strong that it led to unprecedented phenomena: demonstrations of black and red robes in an open revolt of the most senior judges, such as former Attorney Général Nadal, who expressed again, on 15 March 2012 via the radio, his indignation at the pillage of the judicial system. The Left Front thus demands the repeal of these laws, primarily because they rightly show the need for a democratic uprising of conscience, but also because they have set up, within the police and justice, a veritable industry of punishment.

Private groups have made considerable profits by building prisons, producing electronic bracelets and Tasers, installing surveillance cameras. Bouygues, Eiffage, Vinci have now partially replaced the State in the management of the official state functions of justice and police. Thus the new prison in Nantes will cost the local taxpayers 13 million euros a year for twenty-seven years, and will contribute an equal amount to Bouygues. But the essential argument for making a clean sweep of penal populism, and of these barbed-wire years, is that it is not only inefficient, but also destructive of those lives shattered by the penal machine.

Kafka has arrived on the shores of our criminal justice system, which we need completely to rethink. Here are some suggestions.

We want to get out of the surveillance society, where 36 million people are on file at Stic [7] for twenty to forty years. We demand control by judges and a parliamentary review of the usefulness of 59 police file systems and video surveillance systems, so expensive and so inefficient according to the Court of Auditors. We want to get out of the police state. A neighborhood police force must complement the existing police for maintenance of order, because it is not normal for people in neighborhoods to be afraid to call the police. The police must submit reports during identity checks so that, if necessary, evidence can be obtained that the controls are sometimes discriminatory. Transfer of police forces to local authority must stop everywhere, in order that it become once more a national police in the service of all. We want to get out of this prison society, where 70,000 people are in prison, almost twice the prison population thirty years ago. The prison is a school of recidivism. But the 2007 Law on Recidivism automatically returns prisoners to prison (four years firm for 10 g of drugs, one year for stealing baby diapers …). We propose that all sentences of less than one year’s imprisonment be served in community service, in civic service or with partial liberty. This would free up half of existing prison places, would avoid building new ones, and would be a humane and effective alternative to the brutality of the prison. We want to get out of the xenophobic society.

We want the outright return to the right of land of the French Revolution, according to the principle: we are born in France, we are French. We must also facilitate naturalizations that reflect a commitment to become a citizen and French, regularize undocumented migrants, prohibit retention of foreign children, and grant to all foreigners who work and pay taxes in France a residence of ten years.

Our tasks in these areas are immense. But in the words of Robert Guédiguian 
 about resistants, made while commenting on his film Army of Shadows, “We do not ask ourselves what we would have done in their place, ask instead what they would have done in ours.”

Evelyne Sire-Marin
(French original)

We Will Have Other Ways to Give Value to Our Businesses and to Our Lives

By Roland Gori, Professor of psychopathology, psychoanalyst. Initiator of the “Appel des appels”.

“Quickly, the Sixth Republic.” This is a beautiful program. But what would this new Republic be without a profound change of values that allow us to live together? How to restore the confidence of women and men in whom fear of the future has replaced hope for tomorrow? How to reinvent a republican democracy guaranteeing the separation of powers at the summit of the state without accomplishing the same reform in professional fields?

Following Jaurès I think there can be no social and political emancipation without cultural emancipation. And there will be no cultural emancipation without abandoning the religion of the marketplace, which requires us to live a certain ritual in every act of our existence. This is the model of a human being “in little pieces”, fragmented, isolated from others, transformed into an intellectual and technical tool in the hands of his controllers, that these new forms of assessment mold and reshape all our trades and professions —professions for the common good, the health care professions, education, research, justice, information and culture. These professions, those who have taken up the initiative of the Appel des appels [8], We are now suffering the movement of proletarianization that capitalism has imposed since the beginning of its history in all its forms and in the organization of labor in industrial mass production. By imposing upon professionals a new way of thinking about their practice, forcing them to think of their services as financial products, the state powers evaluate the means provided, only to ignore the purpose and meaning of these professions.

To achieve this proletarianization of minds as well as of services, the powers have established rating agencies, diverse and varied, just like those implemented in the financial markets, rating agencies from kindergarten to the university, from social services to hospitals, from information sectors to those of culture, from courts to the police. It is through this device, confusing value and rating, through this dictatorship of numbers, giving false legitimacy to those who give orders, that this new approach to government confiscates their professional expertise and destroys the dimension of their profession as a craft. The user’s manual of the digital machine has replaced judgment, thinking; and the power of decision of the worker is obliterated by these procedures. This is the very definition that Marx gives of the proletariat: the worker has become a proletarian when his knowledge and expertise have passed into the machine.

We must reinstate the Republic in the governing bodies and tools of the professions. We need the democratization of government bodies in a new Republic to “descend” to the sites of power and decision in our professions. Otherwise democracy would continue to be confiscated by the technocracy, leaving to the dehumanized, depoliticized citizen only the consolations of society-as-spectacle and the democracy of opinion polls. This proletarianization [9] of minds and collective intelligence, which enables the cultural hegemony of finance capitalism and market religion, reaches into political speech itself: loss of meaning of words, loss of substance in discourse, their histories and their references. When you lose the meaning of words, you lose the common world, and when you lose the common world, you go crazy and lose shared values. To lose your grasp on democracy for the shadow of public opinion is to enroll in a logic where Audimat rules, where you lose the values of commitment and responsibility.

This is why there will be new Republic, the Sixth, only if we place values in the center of the structure of the society, if we places culture, education, justice at the center of our living-together, avoiding the proletarianization of public speech and that of the ordinary citizen. We will have to deconstruct tyrannical features of this voluntary servitude. We will need other ways to give value to our professions and our lives, in a democratic, republican and humanist manner. I will say, by plagiarizing Jaurès, we must avoid the trap of projecting “on the future society the shadow of today’s society.”

Roland Gori
(French original)

The Actor Will Be the People, the New Constitution Will Be the Culmination of a Great Public Debate

Céline Malaisé, Regional Advisor Left Front, spokesman for Gauche unitaire [10].

Woerth, Betancourt, Karachi, Gaddafi, Balladur … names synonymous with political crises, both of the regime and of morality. Massive abstention at the polls as evidence of a crisis of representative democracy. However, these crises do not mark a disinterest in political matters as was demonstrated by the millions of protesters against the devastation of our retirement pensions, thus calling into question the political and financial oligarchy. This caste symbolized by Sarkozy, president of the rich, for whom the public disavowal is commensurate with its rejection of those who monopolize power in their own hands.

In this situation, what the Left Front proposes is revolutionary. To the “permanent coup d’état,” we oppose permanent democracy. We want to open a constituent process to rebuild a parliamentary, participatory and social Republic.

Starting in 2012, a Constituent Assembly with gender parity will be elected by direct universal suffrage and integral proportional balloting with no threshold. The new Constitution will be the culmination of a large public debate involving citizens, political and social organizations in the form of collectives. The great debate should be relayed by the media, to enable the people to take possession of what is at stake. At the end of the process, the new constitution will be voted by the Assembly and ratified by referendum.

The actor will thus be the people, who express themselves, create and develop, who take back the power and set up the institutions that will guarantee their sovereignty. Right to petition and to initiate legislation, inclusion in the Constitution of participatory democracy, a ministry of popular education and freedom of association — all are ways to ensure the people can fully exercise their citizenship.

In this process, we will defend principles.

  • Put an end to the presidential system brought to its paroxysm by Sarkozy, by giving primacy to the Assembly over the executive;
  • Render government, drawn from the majority, responsible to an Assembly, with gender parity, elected by proportional representation;
  • Debate the future of the Senate (suppression or transformation);
  • Guarantee the separation of powers and respect the independence of justice;
  • Assure plurality and quality of the press through independence of the media.

While “the employee is sovereign in the political order, he is, in the economic order, reduced to a kind of bondage” (Jaurès, 1893). The Left Front thus takes into account the totality of life and considers that the relationship to work builds, but sometimes destroys, life. Citizenship must not stop at the doors of enterprises.

At the heart of the future Constitution, we will reaffirm social rights (to employment, work, health, housing, education, social protection). The right to strike, the right to organize, and freedom of expression will be strengthened. Citizenship at the workplace will be recognized. Employees participate in the strategic choices in light of social, economic and ecological priorities. We also defend a suspended veto on economically motivated lay-offs. We reaffirm that in the company, law takes precedence over contract.

Our proposals address the social and democratic urgencies by opening the way toward a completely different logic. We carry these propositions in the debate, so that they will be adopted by a majority on the left and in the country. In order to meet the democratic expectations, the left can not do without a change of Republic.

This democratic and social Republic that we defend is rooted in the democratic moments in history, including the French Revolution, and particularly in the First Republic. So on March 18, when we marched along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, we remembered those sans-culottes of the suburbs, their unwavering defense of political equality, their clubs where they gave life to direct democracy by debating, petitioning, making demands upon, … members of the Legislature, their claims to a maximum price on essential goods, a right to work … In the words of Saint-Just, “One must imitate nothing”, but “one must overlook nothing”. It is time, then, for inventiveness, to found the new Republic.

Céine Malaisé
(French original)

[1] from 7 years, down to 5.

[2] Placing the presidential election prior to that for the National Assembly.

[3] The term “social” is employed in this article in its primary signification: “capable of being associated or united in a human community”, and designates the interests of the working class and people as a whole. It is not here used in its diluted form, quite common in American English, where it refers rather to festive gatherings. In a similar vein, the term “people” does not refer to the the subject of the so-called “popular press”, tracked by the “papparazzi” and abstracted from humanity to become consumers.

[4] ie: than this one

[5] juges d’instruction

[6] The French employers’ union

[7] Système de traitement des infractions constatées

[8] Roughly speaking, the “Petition of petitions”, initiated by the author of this article, with the purpose set out in the heading of its web site: “To put the human being back at the heart of our society. We, professionals of health, of social work, of justice, of education, of research, information, culture, and of all sectors of society dedicated to the public good, have decided to constitute a national collective in order to resist the voluntary and systematic destruction of the fabric and the links of society. United under the name l’Appel des appels, we affirm the necessity for us to reclaim a freedom of speech and of thought flouted by a society of contempt.”

[9] “commercialization” is a more comprehensible translation of “prolétarisation” in this context, but perhaps it is best to retain the author’s technical use of the term, as previously defined.

[10] United Left