Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Mélenchon Candidacy

I confess to a guilty pleasure: I enjoy French demagoguery. Perhaps it's because French isn't my mother tongue. There's a certain thrill in grasping the demotic register, and the virile bass tonality masks the monotony of the content. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has a style that combines a certain old-leftist grandiloquence with flashes of colicky anger. His hyperbole could fill textbooks:

Je redis que le FMI est une organisation internationale vouée à organiser la famine, le désordre et le démantèlement de l'Etat. Avec DSK, le PS s'enfonce dans l'impasse", insiste M. Mélenchon.
The IMF seems to be the designated whipping boy of this moment in French politics, no doubt because Dominique Strauss-Kahn became its head with Sarkozy's backing. In my youth, the role now assigned to the IMF was filled by the Trilateral Commission. For some, the ills of capitalism must be imputable to some identifiable central agency in order to achieve the requisite degree of monstrousness. The truth, that the vices as well as the virtues of capitalism can be attributed precisely to the fact that it is a body without a head, a marvel of coordination without central control, was known to Adam Smith as well as Marx. But this truth is of no use for the dramaturgy on which Mélenchon's rhetoric draws. For some reason I'm reminded of Fritz Lang's film, "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse." For those who want the longer version of Mélenchon's views, his blog is a good place to start. His written style is more in the grand manner, nourished by the great myths of revolution and national liberation. Here is a sample (on the revolution in Tunisia):

Nul n’est plus légitime au pouvoir, quelles que soient ses difficultés, qui a fait tirer l’armée contre le peuple. L’usage de l’armée contre le peuple marque la ligne de partage dont aucun pouvoir ne revient sans s’être transformé en autre chose. Ben Ali le savait. Et comme il était irréel de l’entendre parler de cesser les tirs « à balle réelle », façon d’avouer qu’ils étaient autorisés auparavant et donc froidement délibérés.


CJWilly said...

I've never seen such a boorish blowhard in my life. He's also, for some reason, held on to an unreconstructed Communist's affection for Leninist tyrannies. He said recently that Cuba "was not a dictatorship". Whatever you think of the Castrist regime's successes and failures, one could at least recognize a despotism!

See Jean Quatremer's post on this:

Niall Smith said...

I love this post.

As someone who has studied french and become fluent (sadly rusty now but using your blog to keep my eye in - thanks btw), there is something slightly addictive in reading proper demagoguery, understanding the individual words, putting it together and then having the exhilarating horror/urge to resist laughing out loud as you realise what he's actually saying.

The 'oh no you didn't' moments.

Steph said...

As a French, I was really interested to see some Americans getting interested about French politics! Usually it is the contrary you know...
So, congratulations for being open minded up to the point to read about J-L Melenchon, who created the Left Party "Parti de Gauche" in France 3 years ago, following the German "Die Linke" from Oskar Lafontaine.
I spent almost 3 years in US. I know Melenchon's arguments must appear weird to most American people. However you should know that Melenchon, at first a philosopher, has been for many years one of the most interesting and thought-provoking men in French Politics. I think one of his central arguments is that a society that submits itself to "a body without a head" like the international free market, without inventing a new political power to counterbalance it, is actually gradually giving up democracy. This is what is happening now. Look: in France people want to keep their social state but they get answered that it is impossible because our firms have to be more competitive in the global free market. But did we vote to establish this global free market where competition is the rule? No. We lost democracy on the way.

There are two possibilities to recover true democracy: Either you invent a transnational political power strong enough to force the free market to follow some regulations that the citizens want, either you fight against the undemocratic power of the free market capitalism on a national level. Until 2000, Melenchon followed the first strategy and was thus a strong supporter of the construction of a federalist European Union. Then, admitting the failure of this strategy because European Union was not heading towards a political Union but was on the contrary an avant-garde of the global free-market, he adopted the second strategy and created the Left Party.

If you wish, I would be happy to continue the discussion by email or whatever. I am very interested about political debates, especially with people with different political backgrounds.