Friday, April 13, 2012

Mélenchon's Friends

I see that Jean-Luc Mélenchon has a lot of friends among readers of this blog, many of whom seem to share his good manners in treating their opponents, of whom I have now designated myself one. Yes, indeed, I am a "social traitor" with an undoubted soft spot for imperialist lackeys and plutocrat bankers (I keep my money in a bank, after all, as do many of my fellow reactionary old codgers, who've saved what they could from the grasping predators), but I'm not without comrades in the treacherous social-democratic camp. Here's one:
Malgré son talent, son humour dévastateur, son énergie, sa culture, j’ai beaucoup de mal avec ce bonhomme : il personnifie la franchouillardise jacobine et centralisatrice, l’arrogance du « gallus » perché sur ses ergots qui pense avoir raison contre le monde entier sous prétexte qu’il fait davantage de bruit que ses voisins de basse-cour.


Anonymous said...

At first I thought the last comment was a joke, a parody of the most intolerant phrases and pieces from typical rhetorics.
Apparently, I was wrong.
I don't like Mélenchon and don't support his ideas, but I don't think he's dangerous to democracy the way le Pen is (was?).
My friends here kept laughing this Thursday, saying "Russian tanks in Paris!"
Yet one would have thought his supporters know they won't convince anyone by insulting them.
"The true left" is forever accusing everyone else of being traitors. They'll score 1% together and infighting will continue.


Anonymous said...

He's an arrogant slob, and unforutanely, in the current political climate, this is what people on the far left are looking for. This is an extension of the "tout sauf Sarkozy" campaign of the last election, with a bit more color.

I don't deny that he's got experience, but he's trying to paint himself as being outside of and against the system, the very system he's been part of for decades.

Anonymous said...

"Fun with the French extreme left":

Bernard Girard said...

La sympathie que Mélenchon continue de susciter chez les journalistes malgré sa brutalité à leur égard, brutalité que vous rappelez à très juste titre, est plutôt un signe de l'objectivité de cette profession. Mais on devrait tout de même s'interroger : pourquoi tant d'intellectuels de qualité sont-ils séduits par ses thèses?

bernard said...

A very long time ago, I was being denounced as an ennemy of the working class by some AJS big mouth - hey, I had links with a rival trots sect, sorry, internationale. This was taking place on the steps of Jussieu. I offered the chap to split half half what we had in our pockets, as show of true communist values, which he refused (he was an assistant professor and had some cash, I had hardly any, being a student). Nowadays, having joined the ranks of the bourgeosie and having some cash in my pockets, I prefer the social-democrat we can elect, which, I suppose allows me to join Art in the wrong class.

That said, I think Melenchon is better than painted and I do think that his form of agressivity, which is really only in discourse, is quite traditionally, quintessentially, French and is, in fact, useful in remobilising large sections of French society which have been living in despair. Even Chirac, who knew a thing or two about politics, led in 1995 a campaign that I nicknamed at the time a French maoist-type campaign with the motto "on a raison de se révolter".

I would also argue that former Trots age way better than former Maoists: the latter simply join their money and the conservatives or worse, as that repulsive "historian" of communism. Former trots join the socialist party or the front de gauche, their hearts remain in the right place.

Last, for our foreign friends who are astonished that some French can term themselves communists: please remember that for most communists in France - not the Apparat of course - being communist from the 1970s onwards has always been mainly about being people who cared about the poor, rather than being people who acted in favour of the Sovblock. Where they dupes? Maybe. But fundamentally they were nice people.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of Mélenchon;s 'friends' so let me try to set a higher standard for civility. I am struck by the frenzy of attacks his successes have engendered (given their unlikely consequence). First the tired old question of his temperament: is it such a bad thing to have confronted (last year?!) a scandal-sheet journalist who is flogging brothel stories during a presidential campaign? More seriously, I am surprised that the level of red-baiting is rising to McCarthy-era levels: would-be commissar? Cuban-style dictatorship? Clearly he has touched a nerve. Or maybe it's not just his vintage rhetoric and archaic (but quite effective) symbolism. Maybe among the defenders of the pensée unique there is a growing anxiety that the world-system, the end-of-history one that had all the answers, isn't working, and the people, especially the young ones, are growing dangerously restive: in France as in Spain and Greece, in Bolivia, in downtown Boston, New York, and Chicago, even under the watchful eye of the Chinese oligarchs. Mélenchon's 'program' may not be implementable as is, but maybe it does express a new set of premises, the outline of a new order. Instead of ad hominem take-downs of JLM, commentators would do well to consider what it is that people--lots of them--seem to want, and aren't finding in the same-old parties ...

brent said...

Sorry--meant to sign the previous post (don't mean to be 'anonymous')...

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Brent, While it's true that "lots" of people seem to want something that Mélenchon is offering, that doesn't make his politics coherent or preferable to the present system, which, as you argue, isn't working. But one could make the same defense of vociferous supporters of the Tea Party: they too are angry about a system that isn't working. So, granted, the rhetoric of protest and anger can be effective in such situation, but the implication that those responsible for "the system"--"under the watchful eye of the Chinese oligarchs"--aren't attempting to fix it is wrong. The assumption that allowing it, indeed forcing it (if Mélenchon's proposals were implemented), to collapse in a disorderly way would be preferable to trying to find a reasonable way out is, I think, misguided. And the allegation that it's alarm at Mélenchon's successes that has led to "red-baiting" is, if I may say so, a red herring. What is alarming to people like me, as Bernard Girard's comment suggests, is that so many sensible people seem to find Mélenchon's proposals in some degree persuasive. This suggests a degree of economic illiteracy in the electorate that is not surprising--one sees similar absurdities in the United States--but rather disappointing.

bert said...

They say "the sound and the fury" comes from Faulkner.

Actually, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" comes from Nicholas Shakespeare.

You'd think Melenchon would know that.

Anonymous said...

People don't necessarily find Mélenchon's proposals persuasive; they may like his fiery passion, his ability to use the French language, his skill at referring to many pieces of literature and events in history (always a crowd-pleaser in France, even if there are mistakes :p). I know some former sarkozy voters who'll vote for him because of his gruff style, one they associate with a "manly" man. And finally many people fear Hollande will be too "soft", too "lukewarm" for the task ahead and hope a high Mélenchon score will force him to take a leftist prime minister rather than a "bland", center-left one - Aubry rather than Ayrault, for example.
I don"'t think people with degrees actually believe for a second that there'll be a "smic à 1700 euros", but they see it as a sign that Mélenchon will try to defend a salary increase for minimum wage or accross the board, for example.
BTW there's a definite salary problem, in my opinion, at least it seems to me that salaries are really low in France - a business school graduate may start with 27.000 euros a year, if the graduate has a Master from a university s/he may have as little as 20.000e a year. The median salary, including experienced workers, is 18.000 euros a year. Overall, it's about half of what people with comparable skills and experience would get in the US.
My personal opinion aside, I'd rather have people vote for Mélenchon than not vote at all, and if there can be a re-enchantment for politics thanks to him, so be it, because Hollande sure isn't creating any enthusiasm. Seriously, when you think how people took to Royal, for all her iconoclastic ways, there was something that was appealing. So perhaps someone who wants to be moved and inspired switched to Mélenchon for the high, even if the policies don't interest them - easy enough, since many people don't think Mélenchon will be in the second round, and since there's no risk Le Pen will do better than Hollande, there's no incentive to vote for Hollande "to make that vote count" (actually, how would you translate "vote utile"?)

Anonymous said...

Mitch Guthman said...


The argument between Mélenchon and the journalist was itself largely incomprehensible to me. I felt like I was coming into the theater during the middle of the third act. Nevertheless, I agree that Mélenchon’s manner was overbearing and totally unwarranted. His little hand gesture was insulting, rude and a uncalled for way of addressing someone who seemed to be engaging him in a polite dialogue. I might have a quibble or two with Riwal Ferry but even as one who is both an admirer of Mélenchon and a relative novice at observing French politics, I cannot deny that there is much truth in what he said and in your own observations.

I share many of the critiques you have made of Mélenchon’s economic policies. I think of myself as a man of the centre-left and so, clearly, Mélenchon’s politics are not my politics. Nevertheless, I am more impressed with him than I am with any other politician in France or in my own country. He is the only who is speaking out forcefully about the causes of our current crisis and about the need for those who caused it to be held accountable. He is the only one pushing politics at all in a leftward direction. In a very real sense, he is helping to move French politics in a leftward direction just as the Tea Party (consisting as it does mostly of Birchers, Neo-Nazis and stereotypical rightwing Texas oilmen) has moved American politics even more radically towards the extreme-right.

Without doubt, Mélenchon’s policies are often ill-formed, too radical and too harsh. Nevertheless, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing under the circumstances. What do you get if you start out with one side advocating for the politics of the extreme-right and the other decides to hue as close to the right as possible without causing a revolt in their party? You end up with a country where the political center of gravity is center-right and can only shift further right over time because the far right is where all the energy is to be found. You get an America in which Richard M. Nixon is the second most liberal president of my lifetime. Whatever his faults (and I acknowledge they are many), Mélenchon and his rise in the polls is the first real sign of life on the left for a long time. If Hollande ends up with decent policies it will be almost entirely Mélenchon’s doing.

There is another possible benefit to Mélenchon’s rise: I have been thinking about the article by Jean-Clément Martin about the possibility that we are in a "pre-revolutionary situation." How did we avoid bloody revolution at the end of the 1st Gilded Age and instead began an era of progressivism? Increasingly, I think an important part of the answer is that the rich feared what might happen to them and their families if the anger of the workers and middle-class spiraled out of control. The Gilded Age capitalists did not bend to the people’s desire for social reforms because they were noble-minded but because they feared the guillotine.

Today, the super-rich of this 2nd Gilded Age are increasingly disconnected from the real economy and shielded from the repercussions of economic collapse by the increasingly open system of bribes and political favors that nourishes them. Without the possibility of consequences for the super-rich, our political system will remain incapable of self-correction and reform. As Samuel Johnson said: “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging”. If nothing else, Mélenchon reminds our current lot of robber-barons that might want to think about backing off a bit because it will be the fire next time

Anonymous said...

Mitch Guthman said...
"Mélenchon reminds our current lot of robber-barons ..." Bravo. A superb argument for the reintroduction of the guillotine in France and the death penalty everyone else where it has been abandoned by the soppy Left. Leashing banksters requires life threatening sanctions.

Mitch Guthman said...


You may think of this analysis as a joke, if you wish. I am increasingly coming to believe that the First Gilded Age came to a close and the Progressive Era dawned in large measure because the Robber Barons feared a societal collapse and the possible rise of Communism, which would spell doom for them. The pressure from the extreme left moved the center of gravity in American politics more to the center.

For a long time now there hasn’t been any similar pressure from the left and the super-rich haven't had, as they say in American sports, any “skin in the game”. The has been a disaster for the liberal state. Compare the political aftermath of the 1929 crash (more and better regulation of banks) with aftermath of the crises of 2007-08 (no meaningful increase of regulation). The crash of 1929 lead to stronger regulation of the financial sector because the consequences of excessive risk taking were felt by the super-riches along with everybody else. The markets destroyed everything and everyone. No one was protected. No one was saved by the intervention of the government. Regulation of banking was seen as an necessity by everyone because everyone was at risk in a future crash.

By contrast, the super-riches profited hugely from the banking crises of 2007-08 because the governments in America and the USA essentially went bankrupt to shield the bankers from the consequences of their excessive risk taking. Not a single important financier went bankrupt. Not one. All their “performance bonuses” were paid. They didn’t even have to give up their private jets. They were given, and are still enjoying, an immense gift of taxpayer money and subsides. Free money for bankers. Austerity for the rest of us. That is why nothing has changed and Wall St and the City are back to business as usual. It the real moral hazard that the governments and the ECB should be worried about.

We must have changes in the regulation of the financial sector. There will be no change without pressure from the left. There will be no change so long as bankers are insulated from the results of their crazy gambling. There will be no change until the bankers fear that that the aftermath of the next crash will see a banker hanging from every lamppost on Wall Street and the City. Perhaps figuratively. Perhaps literally.