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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les mouvements de lutte sont des partenaires à part entière

by Pierre Zarka

Protest Movements Are Entitled to Full Partnership

Translated Monday 14 November 2011, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

How can the Left Front give pride of place to the people?
“Let’s set the debate ablaze.” So reads a Front de Gauche (Left Front) [1] handbill. This has inspired the following reflections. [2]

A growing part of the world’s population is in a state of rebellion. The name indignados is spreading over several continents and a worldwide petition is going around: the call is for an alternative society. What this means is a rebellion against finance’s dictatorship together with the incapacity for most people to play an active part and have a say in politics because at the present stage only a few speak for all.

This also signals a crisis of the systems based on domination and delegation, though it is not so formulated explicitly. But what is implicit is the ambition to control one’s own life. The demand is not always simply implicit: Fralib workers are set on forcing Unilever to give them the financial means to keep production going. The demand for political empowerment is plainly in the air.

The Socialist primaries were an attempt to capture the aspiration to have a say in political choices. I will not expatiate here on the fact that primaries are intrinsically linked to the two-party system and to a hyper-personalization of politics. But the nearly three million people who voted in them clearly considered them as a way to influence the course of events. Why was this aspiration captured by the Socialist Party and not by the Front de Gauche? I would not have wanted the Front de Gauche to organize its primaries. But the fact that the people’s aspiration to assume political choices was not met by the Front de Gauche calls for a re-examination of its ways. To invoke the civil revolution, to accept the participation of the FASE [3] will not suffice to alter people’s feeling that the Front de Gauche is a cartel of parties and political leaders far above ordinary citizens.

At a time when so many people want to master the course of their destinies, the Front de Gauche should grow out of the classical system of representation by delegation. Democracy is not just the right to vote or to be invited to meetings around a platform. It must encourage and legitimize the intervention of the people in all the places where decisive economic choices are made as well as in those so far reserved to the State or to political parties. This double dimension for the empowerment of the people was ignored by twentieth-century revolutionaries. If the Front de Gauche does not legitimize popular intervention in the strongholds where decisions are made, too many electors will cast a “useful” [4] ballot for want of a better. It is time new concrete prospects were offered as to the way people, being the ones most closely concerned, can master the economy.

“To force capital to disgorge” is not the complete answer to the question. The question being: how can it be prevented from doing harm? I am afraid the store laid on realism sometimes blurs the frontier between radically breaking with capitalism and the illusion we can humanize it.

Being efficient involves bringing about a novel situation by accepting protest movements as equal partners, by considering them as places where a strategy of rupture with capitalism can be devised. A Leftist Front cannot exist without their being granted equal status… They must be allowed to dictate to the elected representatives what their mandate on such and such a question should be. The traditional distribution of roles is no longer acceptable: politics and power for the parties, social anger and lists of demands for the rest.

What other convincing, realistic objective can be set for the oncoming presidential election? The Front de Gauche at the Élysée? Pressure on the Socialist Party? Just as in 1981 or in 1997? Each time the Right came back into office with a vengeance. It is not enough to shout “Place au Peuple!” (The People First!), the motto must be at the core of all battles, whether social or electoral. As long as protesters declare that they “call upon the Left” rather than “We are the Left”, it means that they have not been given their due place.

[1Originally set up by the French Communist Party, the Left Party (a splinter group from the Socialist Party), the Gauche Unitaire, a splinter group from the NPA - new anticapitalist party - the Front de Gauche has invited groups from the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), the French Workers’ Communist Party (PCOF), République et Socialisme, and the FASE.

[2Pierre Zarka, a prominent militant of FASE, is author of Oser la vraie rupture (Dare to make a bold and radical break), Éditions de l’Archipel

[3The Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique aims at merging different political radical traditions and bringing about a new form of political movement and engagement by abolishing the frontier between social protests of all kinds and politics proper.

[4i.e. Socialist

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