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—Jovan Dučić, Serbian poet (1871-1943)
(Swans - April 23, 2012) Stranded in the barren landscapes of the US politicking, meagerly offering only the dull and uninspiring Republican primaries, and in anticipation of what can only be even less consequential presidential elections later this year, what is a political animal to do? Why, there is always France!
A refreshing, coherent, clear, and compelling movement, the Front de Gauche (Left Front), emerged methodically on the French electoral scene, with -- oh, what a shock -- an actual political, economic, and ecological program, carefully elaborated and masterfully presented, defended, and explicated by its presidential candidate, a philosopher and poet Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
But why should I bother? Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1960, I was educated according to the French and Yugoslav public school curricula, in elementary and high school, in an experimental French immersion pedagogical effort with teachers who came from France, which prepared me well for my eventual decision to study philosophy and become professor at an American university. That is already some connection, French being my first foreign language. But with language comes the entire culture, with all its elements: glorious history, literature, philosophy, and cuisine. Also, with a francophone wife and a stepdaughter, our family of six often thrives in a trilingual environment. On top of that, I have numerous relatives who live and vote in France. Hence, I reached out to them to and encouraged them to seriously consider the Front de Gauche, by urging them to familiarize themselves with its political program, and the solutions it offers to the burning problems of France and the entire Europe of today. My late uncle, who sympathized with the ideals of the French Communist Party (and later with those who spoke out against the Front National when SOS Racisme emerged), was brazen enough to argue about the bona fides of Yugoslav communism with none other than Georges Marchais at Lilas. It is safe to say that I have been raised with some ideals.
Before summarizing what I find compelling in the ideas of the Front de Gauche, a point about the notion of the European left is in order. Two drastically different things go under this banner. The first, entirely serious left, is the entire theoretical and practical tradition with essentially anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist orientation. The name to mention first could be that of Jean Jaurès, a universalist, a humanist, and a republican, who sought to realize his ideas through his scholarship and political involvement, and was the first, as early as 1887, to suggest that workers should have pensions, accident and sickness insurance, and other social welfare measures to improve the working conditions. One could also mention Rosa Luxemburg, who advanced an international, rather than a nationalist, outlook, emphasizing "spontaneity" as a grass roots approach to organizing a party-oriented class struggle. However, in the present context, of critical importance is to call attention to the Popular Front that epitomized the third essential characteristic of the genuine European left: anti-fascism.
In response to the growing threat of fascism in the 1930s, the Popular Front demonstrated that it is not only possible to organize an alliance of left-wing movements, but also score an electoral victory and engage in meaningful social reforms. Headed by Léon Blum, the cabinet for the first time ever included women ministers even at the time when women did not have the right to vote.
The second is what can only be called "the Fake European Left," constructed after WWII by Western intelligence agencies, particularly the C.I.A., precisely in order to prevent the real anti-capitalist left (the communists) from coming to power in countries like Italy or France. The strategy was to support the so called "anti-communist left" -- a term that may strike one as an oxymoron, were one to take "communist" in the sense of "anti-capitalist," thus giving us a likely incongruous notion of ("anti-anti-capitalist") "pro-capitalist left" -- by lavishing with untold quantities of C.I.A. dollars, channeled through various front and real private foundations, numerous "left" magazines, journals, galleries, theaters, and public "intellectuals." Far from being a bizarre or questionable claim, today this is so well known that the C.I.A.'s own Web site features an article that proudly details this construction of the fake left, detailing this "theoretical foundation of the Agency's political operations against Communism" in Western Europe. Supplementing this in essence peaceful, ideological, and clandestine way of distancing Europe from the real and serious left political option was a much more sinister set of intelligence operations coordinated under the auspices of NATO that would see "terrorist" activities in Europe, the goal of which was to boost the political right-wing forces by influencing policies through the means of "false flag" operations including assassinations, coups d'état, bombings, and massacres. The official name for these initiatives was the Operation Gladio. And if anyone should think that these are simple relics of a bygone era that of the wicked Cold War, think again. Instead of dissolving after the collapse of the USSR and the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, NATO successfully transformed itself from a defensive military alliance into an offensive one by embracing the so-called "humanitarian mandate" that allows it to bring war to various countries under the guise of securing protection of human rights. Not only that NATO did not dissolve, it expanded. And when it comes to intelligence agencies in the U.S., they have proliferated to the point that apparently at present there are sixteen of them.
It goes without saying that Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Front de Gauche belong to the former, serious European left. Their program can be summarized, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon himself does in eight minutes, in five key points.
First, the Front de Gauche intends to return power to the people by grounding the republic, its institutions, and the entire society in a new constitution that will give rise to what they refer to as the 6th Republic. On the model of the actions taken by some Latin American nations, this would be accomplished by calling a constitutional assembly, the result of which would be the end of "the Presidential Monarchy." Citizens' Revolution is the way to accomplish this. The phrase should not provoke fear, as the two words are to be understood as follows: the term "revolution" evokes a change in three domains, those of values, institutions, and mode of ownership. That it is a citizens' revolution signifies taking and exercising power and indicating the form this takes is institutional and democratic, founded on universal suffrage and collective deliberation resulting in a consent by all. This Citizens' Revolution has two pillars: education and media. Education is important as the subject here is a free people, but a people cannot be considered free if it is uneducated and unable to grasp the stakes of the epoch in which they live. To this end, the Front de Gauche intends to expulse capitalism from education by making it unified and available to all; this would be the first line in the new budget. And as far as the media are concerned, an end will be put to the practice of presidential appointments to the directorship of the public service, which will be democratized.
Second, the question of wealth distribution will be addressed by restituting 195 billion euros, which represent the 10% of wealth that during the last twenty-five years passed from the working class into the pockets of the rich rather than the society at large. This sum of money will be more than sufficient to complete a detoxification of the world of finance. With citizens' revolution also comes a change in peoples' minds and hearts, and a clear realization that the uber-rich are socially irresponsible, their spending is by definition wasteful, i.e., anti-ecological, which is clear from the fact that they are repeatedly placing their funds from one to the next speculative bubble. This, of course, goes against the very idea of a decent and dignified human being.
Third is the idea of ecological planning. This is an element of the economic program developed by Front de Gauche. "Productivism" is a term that designates a practice in which items are mass-produced in the first place, usually accompanied by massive energy usage (particularly nuclear energy), and only later, through intense marketing, the need for those things is artificially generated so that they can be sold for profit. Collective intelligence and capacity exists in France to change this way of production around into another model of production and consumption. No one should be afraid of either of the words that make up the phrase "ecological planning." The French are capable to lead the way towards this new way of living, working, and producing that would eliminate existing on credit that our planet gives us. We cannot continue taking in a year of production what takes more than a year to replenish.
The fourth, key element of the program comes from considering the question: How does one accomplish all of this? Well, the answer comes from the realization that none of it could be done within the confines of the Lisbon Accord. However, France must extract itself from it in a politically intelligent manner by focusing on questions that are of importance to all French people. For example, people are against privatization and trading within the sector of public services. But, how can one put a stop to these practices when precisely the Lisbon Accord guarantees them? The answer is obvious: by putting the question directly to the French people. If they say they do not want this, then the French can say, in the British style, "We Opt Out!". Those who want to continue with these practices can do so, but under such circumstances, France thus, with a mandate from the people, can take the French sector of public services off the free market. Of course, this is also connected to the citizens' revolution, as way of confronting the power of the financial institutions, which cannot be accomplished without incorporating the people as whole, people who understand the key issues, and understand the stakes. By applying their intelligence, everyone must participate in this collective campaign, not in order to say what is good for him or her, but what is of essential importance for all. Naturally, all of this requires a high level of political consciousness, which is acquired through the struggle, and the process of understanding the issues the country is facing. That the accomplishment of this goal is not unrealistic is evidenced by the recent experience of many Latin American nations. To continue with the example, it is not hard to imagine that the requisite level of collective understanding can be achieved with respect to such an important issue as the fate of the French sector of public services: Who among the public would want to expose it to the randomness of the unfettered free market? And so on, with other such issues that will enable France to regain an optimal degree of sovereignty with respect to undemocratically-imposed aspects of the Lisbon accord. This is not all that difficult to achieve with a political force, like the Front de Gauche, that is willing to engage in the pedagogical effort as well as to subject its ideas and proposals to universal suffrage.
The last, fifth, element of this political program requires a bit more serious consideration by the public, and has to do with the values of peace. Those who were seduced into thinking that peace is the natural state of affairs must be reminded that Europe was subjected to brutal wars, the consequences of which are still very palpable. At the same time, everyone should be made aware that the U.S. has been substantially weakened both economically and politically, so much so that it must demonstrate its power through the presence of 600,000 of its troops in more than 700 military bases all around the world. Such a world is a powder keg. Peace is a political construct. France must clearly state, in a way that does not hide behind various dubious enemies of humanity of yesterday or tomorrow, that she will not accept to be an accomplice in American wars along the pipeline routes. France must leave Afghanistan, and exit not only the Joint Command, but NATO itself. France, to the extent that it is a republic, must have a neutral and independent defense politics under the control of the sovereign people, the French citizens. An effective defense must be on the mind of everyone who wishes to take part in the citizens' revolution. This is not an issue a country could bargain with.
Armed with this program so ably explained and defended by the Front de Gauche presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in his media appearances and well attended public meetings, has generated huge interest and a wave of popular support. By far the most impressive event of this presidential campaign, without a doubt, was the massive response to the call by the Front de Gauche to symbolically "retake" La Place de la Bastille on March 18, the anniversary of the Paris Commune. More than 120,000 people showed up for the festivities and to hear the speech by the candidate, Mélenchon. The political happening of this magnitude would normally have to be the talk of the country and subject to all kinds of political analyses bound to further place attention to the program defended by the Front de Gauche. But this was not to be.
All the talk about the "taking of the Bastille by the people" was preempted by an improbable tragedy at a Jewish school in Toulouse where an assassin shot in the head a seven-year-old girl, then also killed a teacher and his two young sons. Suddenly, a nation in shock could not talk about anything else but this gruesome act. Promptly, President Sarkozy visited a school in Paris and told the young learners in front of shocked pedagogues that danger is out there and that the killer could have chosen to kill any one of them. The message of fear was being sent by the president via innocent children and their parents to the rest of the country. The menace of terrorism of the Islamic fanatics variety, of course, is alive and well in France and must be dealt with. Calls for suspending political campaigns were made by the parties of the right who wanted instead to focus on the suddenly-emerged terrorist threat and the contribution the Muslim population in France might be making to it. For at least a week all talk of the issues of political import to the country ceased for the most part. Even talk of a "French 9/11" was broached by Sarkozy. Similarly creative formulations called for thinking about France "before and after Toulouse," conveniently demanding to see everything that happened "before Toulouse" as unimportant. Thus, the talk of the taking of the Bastille would have to fall under the rubric "unimportant" and could not be the subject of any discussion in the media. The only candidate who refused to give any political significance to the killings, insisting that they were an act of a deranged individual, was Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He refused to engage in any explanations or discussions of intent and allegedly political motivations behind the despicable act. He stayed clear of all analyses that emerged, calling into question the official story of the government that was confused and contradictory regarding the alleged perpetrator killed in a 32-hour stand off with the police, described as an Islamic extremist who was under the surveillance of the French intelligence for years. Rather than fall into the trap of what would quickly become "conspiracy theories," feeding demands on the right for a full-blown security state, Mélenchon redoubled the effort in his winning strategy of delivering popular education on the key issues of importance to France and Europe at large. And he was right!
In this year's presidential campaign in France something very interesting is in the process of playing out. Two conceptions of human freedom have been brought into sharp focus. On the one hand, there is the familiar emphasis on the individual. True freedom is to be found in the unfettered free market that unleashes competition, which is the ultimate source of creativity and progress. On the other hand, there is a much older, almost forgotten view that there is nothing to the individual, and therefore to her freedom either, without a collective that supplies the individual with her personal identity (traits and characteristics that together supply an answer to the question "Who am I?"), and hence the possibility of freedom as a value for her as a person, as an individual. On this view the laissez faire is to give up, give up on the humanity of a person with an actual identity. For anyone who would agree that the latter conception of freedom ought to prevail as the basis for constructing more humane political structures of the state, the current French elections must appear as the most important political event of our time. As such these are elections full of hope. And this hope is not audacious, for it is real.
In the end, I shall conclude by bringing this text a full circle back to the personal note from the beginning: my interest in the French elections this time around. Presidential candidate Mélenchon is often confronted with objections that the program he is offering to the French voters and defending on behalf of the Front de Gauche is radical and unrealistic. But, for me, this is not the case at all. In fact I have a vivid sense of déjà vu, something I have already lived, and lived very well growing up in Yugoslavia. If this were possible in then-Yugoslavia, why would it not be in France of today? Squeezed between two military blocks, Yugoslavia not only pursued a neutral and sovereign defense policy, but it was actively engaged in shaping an alternative in the form of the movement of non-aligned countries in a very difficult geopolitical situation. Ecological planning seems equally familiar, while the values of liberty, equality, and certainly brotherhood were firmly implemented in all areas of life, opening great opportunities to women, minorities (called at that time "nationalities" as opposed to the state-constituting nations of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) and all citizens through free and unified education, caring for the health of the workers and their families, while providing resources for culture and the arts-free from market dictates and mind numbing advertisements (a kind of freedom no Westerner can even conceptualize to even dream about it) -- not to mention state support for sports. Whatever was bad in Yugoslavia, my own experience of the Yugoslav trente glorieuses testifies to many good things I thought were irrevocably lost, most of which have found their way in a compelling way into the program of the Front de Gauche, making it not even in the least radical, difficult, or impossible to implement in France. And why stop there? If it could be made to work in France, why not in Greece or Germany? And, finally, why could it not even cross the Atlantic with some refreshing winds of objectively good life in Europe led yet again by France? And because one of the things I did not care for in Yugoslavia was the cult of personality -- though I certainly offer a fraternal salut to Jean-Luc Mélenchon -- I say "Résistance!"
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