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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La gauche radicale en quête d’une position centrale

by Philippe Marlière

The Radical Left In Quest Of a Central Position

Translated Saturday 5 September 2015, by Isabelle Métral

Philippe Marlière is professor of political science at the University College London. A former member of the left of the French Socialist party, he is now a member of Ensemble (Front de gauche). The question he addresses here is this: How can the left that militates for social equality and individual freedom pull itself out of its rut and become a major force in Europe?

It can profit by the mounting discredit and rejection of the Social-Democrats. Social democracy, as embodied in France by François Hollande or Manuel Valls, is actually neither social, nor democratic. By implementing austerity policies it has disowned its left flank and alienated an electorate for whom voting for the socialist party was to cast a leftist vote. But the thin trickle of representatives and militants defecting to the radical left can never tip the scales in favour of the Front de Gauche. Calls to ideological discipline or the repeated taunting of social-democrat leaders will only become tedious to the public at large. Professional politicians, those of the radical left included, are open to suspicion.

The Left that fights for social transformation must therefore devise a strategy that can rally and retain a majority of the population. It can only meet this objective by setting for itself the aim of forcing out of office those renegade social-democrats who can no longer be distinguished from the Right Wing. How can the radical left achieve this ambition without reneging on its own values and platform? It can meet this end if it succeeds in acceding to a central position in the left. By centrality I do not mean political moderation or standing midway between right and left. What I mean is that the radical left must strive to become THE main leftist movement. Three political forces in Europe have recently succeeded in reaching that end.

Between 2009 and January 2015, the total amount of Syriza votes rose from 4.6% to 36.3%. This unprecedented jump is not due to ideological or personal factors, but to concrete political proposals. Alexis Tsipras committed himself to a policy of radical change which was deemed feasible and necessary, even to moderate Greek electors: the platform included the denunciation of the memorandum and renegotiating the debt. You will of course observe that once in office Syriza totally failed to meet this goal. Yet it remains that Syriza has effectively succeeded in coming into office on a moderate basis.

As for Podemos, in Spain, it succeeded in a different key, in rallying a multi-layered electorate of all generations with simple and concrete proposals - namely to bring austerity and corruption to an end. It was on this basis, rather than on a Marxist, anti-capitalist discourse, that Pablo Iglesias came to be recognized as the leader of a large anti-austerity front.

In Great Britain, against all odds, Jeremy Corbyn is on his way to being elected leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn himself is a pure product of the British Social Democracy, yet his ideas and militant commitment rather evoke those of the radical wing of the Front de Gauche. He too rallied Labour members around anti-austerity proposals and the defence of public services.

These examples, all three of them, prove that in order to win a significant popular support it is not necessary to split the revolutionaries from the semi-reformists, nor to insult one’s adversaries or recycle the latest fashionable “theory”. Tsipras, Iglesias and Corbyn, each in his own style and mode, speak a language that all can understand, and in genial, non-aggressive tones. On the political scene, they stand in the centre of the space vacated by the Social democracy. And in this way the radical left is in a position to promote radical reforms that meet the expectations of the public.

This strategy constitutes the modus operandi that enables the radical left to remain true to its revolutionary objectives.

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