April 12, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- At the third national congress of the Left Party (Parti de Gauche) held in Bordeaux from March 22 to 24, France’s newest and fastest-growing socialist group seemed to come of age.
Only four years old, the Left Party was born after its leading figure, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a long-time leader of left currents in the Socialist Party (PS), abandoned it after the tendencies in the PS opposing neoliberal austerity mustered only 19% support at its 2008 congress.
The December 2008 founding of the Left Party was immediately followed by the launch of the Left Front (Front de Gauche). Initially, the Left Front was a coalition between the Left Party, the Communist Party (PCF) and Uniting Left (GU), a current that abandoned the New Anticapitalist Party after the NPA’s 2009 founding congress rejected joining the Left Front.
With Melenchon as its candidate, the Left Front won 11.1% (nearly 4 million votes) in the May presidential poll last year. It was the best result in 30 years for a force to the left of the PS. It also put the term “revolution” back onto the French political agenda.
Over the last four years the Left Party has grown from 4500 to more than 12,000 members and gone through rapid changes. Originally mainly made up of ex-PS members and left republicans like national secretary Éric Coquerel, the party rapidly won recruits from the NPA and the Greens (EELV), most notably EELV deputy Martine Billard. She was later elected co-president with Mélenchon at the party’s November 2010 second national congress.
Many ex-members of other left groups also joined. But the main source has been people inspired by last year’s presidential campaign, especially union activists and young people.
Over the same period, founding members like former PS deputy Marc Dolez and prominent railway unionist Claude Debons left the new party. They criticised its“leftist” line towards the PS and (in the case of Dolez) Mélenchon’s June 2012 head-to-head campaign against National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen in the 2012 legislative election and his supposed “overkill” on ecological issues.
These departures reflected what is still the major issue of debate within the Left Front — how to relate to the presidency of the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande and the millions who voted for the PS last year but who are now becoming disillusioned with the PS-EELV government.
Developing the principles
When the Left Party was founded, its basic DNA was clear. A December 2008 statement specified“the society we want” as human-centred and ecological and built upon a radical redistribution of wealth. It supported citizen participation in a democratic Sixth Republic and the refounding of the European Union as a “democratic and social space respecting popular sovereignty”.
The “party we want” was to be open and democratic, internationalist, respectful of differences on the left yet committed to unity wherever possible, and a promoter of social action and popular education.
The task of the third national congress was to flesh out those principles. The 900 delegates who filled the cavernous hall on the outskirts of Bordeaux had four main jobs to do: to adopt a detailed political perspectives document called“Let’s Dare!”, vote on the party’s statutes, elect new national leaders and decide whether to adopt an explicitly ecosocialist objective, as outlined in the document Eighteen Theses for Ecosocialism.
This last text had been developed through a process involving forces outside the Left Party, including former NPA leaders Michael Lowy and Janette Habel. It had been launched in December at the first of series of “Conferences for ecosocialism”. On his blog (which averages 15,000 hits daily) Mélenchon called the document’s adoption “the furthermost point of the congress”.
The“Conferences for ecosocialism” are now being repeated across France, with plans for them to become international.
The document explains: “Ecosocialism is a refounding of political ecology which would be powerless without a strategy for overcoming capitalism. It is also a refounding of socialism freed from productivism.”
But what is the strategy? A third of “Let’s Dare!” is devoted to the Left Party’s perspective of “a citizens’ revolution for ecosocialism”.
It summarised as being “fed by electoral contest, social mobilisation and democratic debate. Made by citizens, it also creates citizens. The taking of power we aim for therefore merges with the emancipation of the people.”
“Let's Dare”fuses the French revolutionary republican tradition and the Marxist class struggle outlook ― also drawing inspiration from revolutionary processes in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
As a result,“all forms of domination must be fought simultaneously”. It says a primary duty of the Left Party and Left Front is to be the voice of people’s rage against the system and the “political class”. The price of neglecting this, as Melenchon stressed in his closing public meeting, is that the job will be done by forces like Italian comic Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, or worse.
As Mélenchon put it in his blog: “The diagnosis and the strategic line contained in the slogan ‘let them all go to hell’… that guided my presidential campaign, has been confirmed in all the languages of southern Europe.”
Read more here.