Jean-Luc Mélenchon: we can conquer the power

The leader of the left-wing political tendency in France tries to convince the public to support the united list of the left at the parliamentary elections in June 2022

A Cross-border Talks’ interview with Gael de Santis – a journalist at l’Humanite, in which he analyses the results of the French presidential elections of April 2022

The leader of the left-wing political tendency in France tries to convince the public to support the united list of the left at the parliamentary elections in June 2022

Diego Chauvet and Julia Hamlaoui of l’Humanité 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the leader of French left-wing political party France Unbowed. Previously, he was a MEP and one of the founders of the Left party in France. In the recent presidential elections, he got 21,95% of the vote and almost made it to the second round. 

Following the April 2022 presidential elections, there were signs that a part of the French public has grievances towards both leading candidates for the Elysee Palace – Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen. Mélenchon tries to attract the vote of those who look for a third way: a social France. 

The interview was first published on 28 April 2022, before the left-wing parties in France agreed to form NUPES:  New Popular Union, Ecological and Social. 

This interview has been translated and republished by Cross-Border Talks thanks to participation in the Media Alliance led by transform!italia. Special thanks for co-operation go to the Italian magazin Left.

You call upon the citizens of France to elect you as the prime minister. How to convince them that a victory in legislative elections is possible?

The presidential elections led to a recomposition of the French political landscape. Three political camps, more or less equally strong, emerged: the liberal camp, which also included the traditional right, the extreme right camp and the camp that we called popular. The last one appeared as a result of a strategy dating back to 2012 and the Left Front of that year: a strategy of patient building and engaging more and more social groups around the idea of „Common Future”. The popular camp is a social block, the block of the disenfranchised, the block that is coherently advocating measures leading to a break up with capitalism. The presidential elections did not bring a definitive political majority. All the signs of the crisis of democracy are still there, just like the signs of ecological and social crises. This already means a lot.

Those who supported me in that elections now feel frustrated: we have lost the second round by 420,000 votes only. We could have done it, had we worked as one alliance with the communists. But this is not a resigned frustration, because the fight goes on into the third round: and we can conquer the power. The stakes are high: everyone who waits for a raise of minimum wage or for retirement at the age of 60 understands that. The last key element is our capacity of proving that we have done everything we could to unify as many forces as it was possible.

The Macronists mock your hopes for such a victorious scenario. They say it is simply impossible, given the electoral calendar of the V Republic. This calendar tended to promote the presidential party. How do you answer them?

This would have been true – had Macron convincingly won the election. But this is the third time when we voted for the lesser evil, and not for our preferred candidate. In 2007, 3/4 of voters were represented by candidates who made it to the second round. This time, it was only 1/3 of the voters. Abstention increased and the winner lost almost 2 million votes compared to the previous election. It’s a chasm. I’m betting that there will be no bonus in the l forthcoming elections for a president who attracted little enthusiasm.

Others criticize you for „personalizing” the parliamentary elections, turning them into a kind of game of personalities, and thus strengthening a certain trend in the V Republic…

I even heard that I was devaluing the legislative elections by calling them the third round of the presidential election. It is exactly the opposite: I want to raise the stakes of an election considered as an administrative formality after the presidential election. It is already a bit of the Sixth Republic inside the Fifth.

What would your first days at the Matignon look like?

My first decision would be: right to pension at the age of 60, le refus du RSA-travail forcé, the reduction of wage differentials, the dignity allowance, the guarantee of autonomy for students… I would also act, in discussion with the President of the Republic, in order to initiate a constituent process, or, if this is impossible, the RIC (citizens’ initiative referendum – editor’s note) and the recall referendum by negotiation between the two chambers of parliament.

In the legislative program we can find the essential markers of what we had in the presidential program already. And this not because we would like to be “hegemonic ”, but because we have spent twenty months campaigning, convincing, day after day, through thousands of meetings.

May 7: Jean-Luc Melenchon speaks at the New People’s Ecological and Social Union convention. Photo by Hugo Rota.

How much freedom of maneuver would you have as the Prime Minister in cohabitation with Emmanuel Macron?

The V Republic is the child of circumstances: we were emerging from an Assembly regime, from a terrible national crisis linked to decolonization – and de Gaulle put his eggs in several baskets. So much so that the Constitution gives an absolutely extravagant role to the head of state but it also confers a lot of power on the prime minister. Article 20 even says that he “determines and conducts the policy of the nation”.

Two months after the Russian invasion, the war in Ukraine is bogged down and raises fears of the worst. What initiatives to take in favor of peace?

The war, for which Putin bears full responsibility, is a geopolitical earthquake whose full consequences have not yet been measured. As a first step, we must obtain from Russia an end to the fighting and the evacuation of troops from Ukrainian territory. Nuclear sites must also be protected, and the Prime Minister can offer to send Blue Helmets there, or even French forces.

Then, we cannot talk about economic sanctions without talking about the means to protect ourselves from their consequences. We cannot do without gas or oil. We must therefore think of alternatives, for example a pact with Algeria: whear for oil and gas. We, the French, had affirmed that Europe would never again be the scene of a war and that deterrence would protect us from it. But the war is taking place, and we could not do anything!

A huge challenge is thrown at us. My policy remains that of a non-aligned. The French have no interest in going to hell in all the fights in the world without having decided for themselves what is most in line with their interests.

You call for “expanding the Popular Union”. What do you exactly propose to other political forces?

The presidential vote settled at least one question: who has the majority on the left – those who want to break with neoliberalism or those who want to function within it. It gives a course, a general orientation. And the citizens voted as much for the program as for a candidate. “The Common Future” is a program breaking with the past. This is a program-heir to the struggles of French society. It is an extension of the “Human First”, program of the Left Front in 2012. It was updated through parliamentary battles, where Socialist votes were often convergent with ours. If we look at Communist votes, we see that we agreed in 98% of cases. The differences between our program and that of the Communists are not so great as to justify the separation imposed by the presidential campaign.

Then, it is not an electoral agreement that we are proposing. It is a programmatic agreement without which there can be no electoral agreement. We want a program that allows us to govern. What we are proposing is not the old union of the left. It was then a dominant party without any structure of mediation with the others. We propose that each party has a parliamentary group, and at the same time we all have a common inter-party group, and a common parliament including members of the current People’s Union. Once agreed, we can continue to hold the line for five years.

If we call ourselves “union of the left”, we remain locked into the logic of the collection of logos and vertical political command. The People’s Union is an approach based on a program. It gives a method which allows each organization to remain itself and the people to take action. I am talking here about a federation, or a confederation, which creates a common framework, a shared program, a common Parliament.

In 2017, you felt that the gathering of left-wing forces represented a failure. What has changed since then?

Nothing. But our electoral score decided for us. You have to turn the page and throw the grudge into the river. Either the masses decide the issues by voting, or we get stuck in the conflicts. It is not our arguments that change reality, it is practice. If the Communists today accept the agreement offered to them, they are welcome and we will work together with them. (later it was announced that the French left of various tendencies will run together on the French parliamentary elections in June 2022 – note of the translator)

This presidential confirms a political recomposition in three blocks. A major element of this election is, however, the fact that the center of gravity of the left has shifted from social-liberalism to a left of social transformation. How do you analyze this first ideological victory and how to make it bear fruit?

We had already won back in 2017. But as everything seemed accidental back then, including Macron’s appearance, many did not see what the collapse of the two traditional parties of LR and PS meant. In France, one of the countries at the center of world capitalism, the radical left was on the verge of reaching the second round. This progress is not final, but the Italian scenario of the eradication of the radical left is behind us. Especially since, in the meantime, the social-liberals have lost the capacity to carry society along. The social composition of the centre-left prevents it from leading the working classes into a collective liberal illusion of well-being for tomorrow. This is also a reason why the alliance with the communists is so important. Communist culture is a culture of rupture with capitalism. We have this base in common, and it is extremely important that this culture is as strong as possible.

As far as the left is concerned, it has always existed, and it always will. My whole life is linked to the left. But I proposed to omit this word, that is to say, to wait for it to manifest a new fruitfulness. We are not there yet. What made our strength in the past were concentrated masses: workers in factories, civil servants – millions of people together. A new actor plays this central role today: the people. With communist thinkers, we got a little stuck on the concept of people. But I want to discuss it. The 21st century needs a materialist theory of citizen revolution, a common goal of our two organizations.

Twelve million voters did not vote in the first round. Part of the working classes, especially those in rural or deindustrialized areas, have turned more towards abstention and the far right…

There is indeed a fourth abstentionist bloc. It contains different components: invalid votes (and there are several millions of them) and others who do not vote, believing that it is useless. That their vote never changed their lives. It is hard to tell them that they are wrong.

The left that fought for a 35- hour working week begins to be ancient history for the young generation. That common program is like Vercingetorix for the youngest. We have hard work to do.

I do not subscribe to the concept of “peripheral France”, according to which citizens are reducible to their address. As they are not to their religion. They are all of these – and more.

As for the far right, many citizens think that it is the biggest stick to beat Macron. You have to be present on the ground like us against the social imposture of the Rassemblement National. Let us stop mythologizing social classes by attributing automatic thought to them. Indeed, the Le Pen vote in the second round represented for some a “class vote”. The working voters were encouraged to do that. Especially by those who barked against Muslims or denied police violence! They also waged a stupid war against intellectual tools showing us how the question of religious discrimination could intersect with that of social class: this is intersectionality, that only the ignorants can refuse. They have never read Frantz Fanon! Breaking rotten consensuses, such as these, is part of our tasks. Intersectionality is a tool for understanding reality, like materialism.

Will you be a candidate in the legislative elections?

I’m not trying to create a false suspense but I’m still hesitating. I don’t need to be an MP to be prime minister. Six out of 24 since 1958 were not. For the time being, winning the legislative elections is what interests me.

Photo: A meme with Jean-Luc Melenchon’s message from this interview (source: Cross-border Talks)

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