Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gauche contre Gauche

In a stimulating post on his blog a few days ago, Jean Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Front de Gauche and chief spokesperson for France's far-left, made the sweeping claim that his recent televised debate (titled "Gauche contre Gauche") with Socialist minister of the budget Jérôme Cahuzac was "the founding moment of a new era for the Left." Now as long-time reader (and sometime admirer) of Mélenchon I'm used to his extremes of mood; irascible and euphoric by turns, he has never been accused of understatement. Still it is worth thinking about his claim, not just on its merits but in relation to the evolutions of Italy's left and left-center parties.

What Mélenchon seems to mean is that his debate clarified the lines of demarcation between Cahuzac, a first-rate technocrat with primary responsibility for Hollande's austerity politics, and the authentically Left resistance to  those policies. Between soi-disant Socialists and the real thing, quoi, between the Left and its social-democratic impersonator. With parties like the French PS, as with Blair's Labour (or Obama's Democrats)  it has been possible to misconstrue centrist, neo-liberal policies as the only available version of the Left. But no, says Mélenchon: as the French Communists start to place themselves in opposition (note their hilarious New Year's  greetings video), and as he himself defines an implacable oppositional stance, it opens space for a resurgence of a true Left, and not just in France. Mélenchon goes on to cite the German SDP, the Greek PASOK, Spain's PSOE, as well as "the Italian party that changed its name," i.e. the PD, as European left-center parties in need of such opposition.

Whether Mélenchon's remarks prove relevant for France will not be clear for some time, as France will not have a national election for another 4 years. But in Italy we may see a test much sooner, particularly if Vendola chooses to pursue his strident criticisms of Monti and the centrists. I have been intrigued over several years to observe certain terms of resemblance between Vendola and Mélenchon, despite the near-total absence of any discernible rapport. As an MEP Mélenchon affiliates with the radical bloc GUE-NGL; Vendola follows the PD in its adherence to S&P, the more moderate social democratic group. Mélenchon has occasionally deplored the collapse of the Rifondazione movement, in which Vendola played a part. I noticed the other day on Le Monde's Campagne d'Italie blog that some commentators called Vendola a 'Mélenchoniste'--and not in a good way.

But as Mélenchon leads his Parti de Gauche towards Eco-socialism, as he began to do this past December, he will discover that Vendola is already there, and has been for a while. And if Vendola comes to realize that Bersani has no intention of breaking with Monti's neo-liberal economics, he may feel the need to look for that space to his left. If so, he will discover that like Die Linke, Mélenchon's FdG is in the field, a prototype, and not so improbable a one as some would like to think.


At January 14, 2013 at 6:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The complexity of these relationships (left and center-left, center-left and center-right) is, as you say, at the core of this election. Where I think you may have more hope than realistic expectation is in thinking that the left can come out ahead when the dust settles.

The problem we face (by we, I mean we in Italy) is the still fresh memory of Prodi's demise. The Italians I know blame the failure of Prodi's government completely on the Communists. I believe that's a central reason behind Bersani's ongoing reluctance to side with Vendola and to continue making overtures to Monti.

But there's another way to think about Melanchon's comments. Increasingly, leftists seem to be considering their role as part of the opposition, outside of the party in power, as having great long term benefits. This was Syrizia's approach in the last Greek elections and it's looking like it may pay off. So we may find that Vendola accepts a role as a strident oppositiont to Bersani, but not someone who would have to take the blame if the government were to fall (something Italians expect to happen).

Finally, I don't think that the fear that has been planted in the electorate of deviation from the euro-centric approach is still strong. While they hate the taxes and the labor attacks of the Monti government, they agree with Monti that staying in the euro and having the respect of the French and the Germans is essential.


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