Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mélenchon and Les Bonnets Rouges

The battle to harness the political energy of les bonnets rouges is on. Jean-Luc Mélenchon believes that the Breton social movement is in danger of being co-opted by the right and the extreme right. He has called for a demonstration on Dec. 1 against the government's tax policies, which he thinks are at the root of the eruption in Brittany. Meanwhile, however, he has referred to the demonstrators in Quimper as "nigauds" for allowing themselves to march behind the banners of the UMP, the bishopric, and even the Front National. His language is unlikely to win him many friends among the rank and file even if his diagnosis is correct, which there is reason to doubt.

The UMP and FN are chipping away at the same mother lode as Mélenchon himself. There is genuine popular anger in Brittany, and it remains to be seen whether any politician has the right mix of allures to win its favor. Mélenchon is of course continuing his quest to prevent the ras-le-bol sentiment from driving yet another contingent of the working class into the arms of the extreme right. It's a Sisyphean task, especially when the anger is now directed against a government of the Left, as Mélenchon recognizes:
Les Français ont porté au pouvoir en mai 2012 un gouvernement de gauche. Ils pouvaient donc s’attendre à ce que soit mise en œuvre une politique de gauche. Il en existe certes de nombreuses variétés, mais elles ont toutes, habituellement, un dénominateur commun : elles visent à promouvoir une politique de la demande, dont la logique est la satisfaction plus ou moins étendue des besoins de la société, et non une politique de l’offre, dont la logique est de produire n’importe quoi, n’importe comment sur le plus grand marché possible.
Unfortunately, when one asks the question that is begged here, namely, "What is preventing the government from adopting a demand-side rather than a supply-side policy?" Le Pen has a ready though deeply problematic answer that Mélenchon is obliged to reject. It's the EU, she says, and France should get out of it. Mélenchon rightly refuses this facile answer, but many of the demonstrators he would like to win over probably find it more plausible than his insistence that a more social Europe is possible. So he is hoist by his own petard--despite his insistence that he needs no lessons about social movements from people who have never participated in one. As one who has participated, he of all people should recognize that rational argument does not always carry the day.

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