Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Like the beleaguered PS, I have reliably radical critics on my left flank: Brent and Mitch. Both castigated yesterday's post for its hostility to M. Mélenchon's "personality" and neglect of his "ideas," which Brent characterized as "ecosocialism." But one doesn't have to put up with--or revel in, as the case may be--Mélenchon's acidulous style to encounter new ideas about sustainable development, innovative energy sources, etc. There's this, for example, from the "social-liberal" Jacques Delors Institute, well to Mélenchon's right.

Both Brent and Mitch seem to be outraged by Hollande's timorous approach to governing, which quickens their taste for something bolder, which they find in Mélenchon. But boldness is cheap when it seeks no compromise and contents itself with standing perpetually in the minority. Ideas may then be merely a camouflage for intransigence. I see in M. Mélenchon's ideas nothing as distinctive as his style or personality, which is why I direct my criticism at these to my mind unfortunate defects rather than praise his undoubted qualities, among them rhetorical mastery, historical acumen, and a readiness to embrace any number of innovations, some of them worth supporting, others not.


Anonymous said...

It looks like Brent and Mitch need to (re)read my blog post on Mélenchon from last year. http://arunwithaview.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/on-jean-luc-melenchon/

As for JLM's policy ideas, he can say whatever he pleases, just like any politician who has no chance whatever of exercising executive power. When it comes to the economy or any policy that involves money, no electoral majority exists for almost anything Mélenchon has to propose.


Pierre-Louis said...

Dear Arthur, I am no fan of Melenchon’s personality either. But beyond speculations on the guy’s psychology, there is an all-too-easy case to make on the Left for not siding with the PS during the next elections. One need not to be a wild-eyed Trotskyist to recognize that Hollande has so far followed an essentially neoliberal, supply-side logic : ratifying the European fiscal compact with no compensation, dropping the tax on financial transactions, implementing a banking reform friendly to the big banks, making an unprecedented bid at fiscal austerity, trying to make the labour market more flexible, preparing the next round of neoliberal pension reforms, etc. Not to mention, of course, a general islamophobic and anti-roma atmosphere that is… not strongly discouraged from above, shall we say.

Now of course you can argue that, sadly enough, there is really no alternative right now. And that Mélenchon is nothing but an old-fashioned nationalist populist mammoth for saying the contrary. You can also argue that he is cynically trying to capitalize on this Right Turn for mere personal gain. And you can equally sympathize with the Communist party’s need to feed its troops. What you cannot argue, though, is that there is not a gaping gulf now between the PS and the FdG, policy-wise. And that this gulf does not create an enormous pressure from the base, within the PG of course but within the PCF as well, to keep hammering “la droite complexée”. Mélenchon’s personality is no doubt interesting, but it is not the only issue here.

Pierre-Louis (a faithful reader).

brent said...

Sorry, Arun. I tried (again) to read your completely unreasoned, ad hominem screed. I even got through the part where you declare that JLM cannot be a friend of the people because he doesn't like (professional, corporate) soccer. But when you suggested he looks like Hitler ... first, you lose the argument automatically (Godwin rule), and secondly, you lose all claim to respectability. Friendly advice: take it down quick, while some may still regard you as a serious commentator.

Meanwhile, Art, sincere thanks for steering the discussion toward the substantive. The Delors Institute paper is indeed posing some useful questions, but the answers seem hopelessly mired in EU-style process. They will still be debating rules of procedure as small coastal countries start to vanish beneath the waves. A more urgent (revolutionary?) transformation is needed. Interesting to note the footnote that mentions the demise of Delphine Batho and her replacement with Philippe Martin--and how's that working out within the PS consensus?

Does JLM have a more systemic, realizable plan? I haven't been able to find out, but that would be a more worthwhile research pursuit than Arun-style character assassination ...

Art Goldhammer said...

Yes, "EU-style process" can be extremely tedious and frustrating to observe. But aren't you simply reacting as I react to Mélenchon, but in reverse? It's the style you object to, and hidden in your objection is the implicit assumption that une grande gueule and a forceful commitment to rapid change will get the job done more quickly than "the EU-style" approach. Years ago I might have agreed with you, but experience suggests that political will is not the juggernaut you imagine it to be. People have to be coaxed and cajoled and don't take kindly to being bullied, or to having their concerns peremptorily dismissed. JLM was on France2 last night and raised a number of pertinent objections to the government's proposed retirement reform. He was absolutely right to say that Ayrault's plan essentially ratifies the Right's actions under Sarkozy (as I predicted a year ago). But he buried his lack of substantive response under a torrent of rhetoric about reducing the purchasing power of the working class and cutting demand in a period of slow growth, ignoring the fact that the level of cotisations is not the sole or even a major determinant of demand. His scowl is all that one will remember of his intervention. To me, this is as frustrating as EU-style haggling over rules and process.

Anonymous said...


Your invoking Godwin's Law is well taken (I invoke it often myself) but my observation here was made in a specific context, in passing, and does not detract from the rest of my argument.


bernard said...

Well, Melenchon certainly arouses passion if not votes, which are both vital characteristics for continuing to lead a "groupuscule"...

Anonymous said...


P.S. Here's a follow-up blog post I wrote on JLM, a few days after my "delectable demolition" of him (quoting a political scientist friend of mine; Mélenchonistes excepted, I received near universal praise for the post)


Mitch Guthman said...


I did read your posts about Mélenchon and was impressed and influenced by what you said. It is undeniable that you provided a great deal of important historical perspective about Mélenchon and your criticisms of his personality were unquestionably trenchant. Where I think we part company, however, is that your distaste seems to have blinded you to the larger question of whether Mélenchon is playing a productive, important role in the current debate about the right direction for France and Europe.

We are now roughly five years into the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. Almost everyone who isn’t a CEO or a banker or a member of the political class is suffering. Things do not seem particularly to be improving on their own and the political situation throughout Europe is rapidly becoming unstable.

My own view is that these are perilous times. The ship of state is drifting towards the rocks. The left should not continue to acquiesce in the neoliberal consensus. We need to be plotting a better course, we need to advance new ideas about controlling capital and regulating enterprises for the common good.

Yet, I must ask you this: In this time of crisis, who on the French left (or even the centre) is raising his voice on behalf of the middle classes and the workers? Certainly nobody in the Parti Socialiste. Nobody in the Communists, either, apparently because they are too busy protecting their sinecures. Of the leading figures on the left in France, only Mélenchon is talking about new ideas and new directions. And, in fairness, he seems to have experienced some personal growth. Certainly, he is more receptive even to the ideas of the centre and the center-left with which he’s previously disagreed, if they offer the promise of getting the French economy moving again.

Hollande, on the other hand, sits and waits uselessly to be saved by some miracle. He tinkers with little adjustments at the margins. Mainly he waits for the economy to hit bottom and starts to recover a bit on its own, even though this callous policy entails needless suffering for millions, along with decades of economic decline for France.

I favour engaging with what Mélenchon is doing and saying today, rather than with his personality. Whatever his defects of personality, he alone seems to be fighting the good fight, he is clearly more receptive to new ideas and he is clearly trying to find a better path forward for France. I see no advantage whatsoever in sniping at him.

Mitch Guthman said...


We seem perpetually to be going around in the same circle. Yes, it’s easy to sit in the cheap seats and howl for the gladiators to fight harder and draw more blood. But one can also make a similar criticism of those who don't advocate for a change of course even when they can see that the ship is headed for the rocks.

I think the core of our long running disagreement has two closely related components:

The first is my unhappiness with Hollande’s apparent decision to follow the Mellon Doctrine of liquidationism (“Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate”) and simply wait for the economy to hit bottom. Eventually, of course, the economy will find bottom and even improve slightly since, as Keynes observed, everything wears out eventually and must be replaced. In the meantime, however, there is an immense amount of totally unnecessary human suffering taking place partly because Hollande has abdicated his role in setting France’s course.

The second area of our continuing disagreement is the degree to which Hollande’s freedom of action is restricted and what, if anything, he should do to free France from those constraints. As I have previously agreed, France is undeniably constrained by alliances which once were greatly to her benefit but which have now evolved into something quite different from the friendship treaty with Germany and the Common Market of the core European nations.

In particular, I recognize that France does not have its own currency; the ECB controls interest rates and the money supply. Treaty commitments prevent France from implementing a real stimulus program and taking other necessary steps to bring growth to the French economy. Every day, the misguided austerity will shrink Europe’s economies, and, as economic activity declines, so too have declining tax revenues made impossible even the modest stimulus Hollande has suggested.

The real nub of our disagreement, then, is that you seem to believe that it is pointless for Hollande to fight for a better future for his country because the hold of Germany and the Troika is too strong. I, on the other hand, believe that the only way forward is that France must do everything possible to break free of these constraints, particularly those imposed by the insane currency union. There is simply no alternative. For the President of France to stand looking on as the misguided austerity policies destroy generation upon generation of European families and exhume the demons buried by the Friendship Treaty and the birth of the Common Market is immoral and unacceptable.

Hollande must try to gather around him like minded leaders of EU countries who are also suffering under austerity and who fear the rebirth of the old demons that nearly destroyed Europe twice before. Only France has the stature and the economic power to lead such a movement. Hollande must fight for control of ECB and of the other institutions of the EU and, if necessary, he must lead France out of the European Union.

Regrettably, Hollande has chosen to simply wait and see whether the fire will consume Europe or burn itself out before it can destroy all that has been achieved in France since the end of the Second World War. Which brings us to the current disagreement about Mélenchon. It seems to me that if Hollande cannot bring himself to do what is necessary, then perhaps relentless pressure from Mélenchon will force his hand, just as it did during the first round of the 2012 presidential election. That is why I urge that you move beyond your personal distaste for Mélenchon and engage with him and his ideas with an eye to energizing the debate over the way forward instead of becoming bogged down in the past.

Pierre-Louis said...

Seconding Mitch heartily here, who have just made the point I was trying to make, but much more forcefully and eloquently.