Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Resistance Metaphor

Another thing struck me in the reports from Mélenchon's Marseille rally: at several points the large crowd changed "Résistance! Résistance! Résistance!" What the chanters proposed to resist, of course, was the forces of globalization, even more than the Sarkozy government. The metaphor of "resistance" is a very powerful one in French political culture, for obvious reasons. Resistance was not only the raison d'être of Gaullist politics, it was also the chief claim to legitimacy of the Communist Party, "le parti de 75 000 fusillés" (it would be bad form to quibble about the precise number).

I have no wish to quarrel with the legacy of the Resistance. But "resistance" is not a political program, as even the actual Comité National de la Résistance discovered in 1945, when the unity imposed by the existence of a common enemy disintegrated in the face of the problems of postwar government. This is the essence of my quarrel with the Mélenchonistes. Resistance may stem from good instincts, but those instincts must be educated by sound analysis. And legitimate pride in standing in solidarity with the victims of wrongheaded policy must not be allowed to veer toward overweening arrogance toward those who cannot march in lockstep with the resisters. A genuine political program must recognize the existence of choices, not between good and evil, which is the stark choice to which resisters want to reduce every conflict, but between better and worse: "Gouverner, c'est chosir," said Mendès France, and that dictum still holds true.


Massilian said...

Take a word, stretch it, de-construct it, focus on it, and it may well loose all the "natural" life it had when it was uttered. I was on the beach, saw the orator, heard the people chant "Résistance !" Never felt they referred to The résistance. It was more like "indignez-vous !" a first step away from remaining passive and subject to what happens. I felt it was more linked to the Arcelor Mittal workers and a few others. I hear all of what you say about Melenchon and I share some if not most of it. Still. If the left stopped at Mendes France or even Montebourg, we'd miss something. The left can't be all about "gouverner". Gouverner is a necessary compromise, therefore it is disappointing and often deceitful. We need more. We need utopia for inspiration and we must accept anger because it releases frustrations.

Anonymous said...

We’ve heard this a million times before. It’s the stock response liberals turn to whenever they’re confronted with real democracy in action. It’s not so much an argument as a mood. I bet that if I cared enough to go through this blog’s archives, I could dig up similar posts about the unserious anti-political and utopian nature of other manifestations of popular will that attracted Art’s ire. It’s a stock response—a blank refusal to engage with popular sentiment. The same thing happened to OWS.

Merlin said...

How many French did actually resist?

These are people who do not face reality, because they have always been protected from reality. The spoiled chidren of hard workers, spending their inheritance and going broke and who cannot face the prospect they actually have to change their way, and work, and save.

Anonymous said...

Among people on the left, probably more so the more you go to the left (hence with 100% Mélenchon supporters) there's a sense that Sarkozy and his ilk are destroying the French republic, making a mockery of "her" values. (And if you think this appeal to fighting the other as a threat to the country is Mélenchon's, listen to Nicolas Sarkozy's speech yesterday: "Ils veulent détruire la famille! ... N'ayez pas peur, ils ne gagneront pas!" or his supporters "Mais si la gauche passe, c'est le pays qui coule, en 3 mois il n'y a plus de France!" On the left, I know the motiv started when the police were sent to schools to arrest and deport children with undocumented parents. Recently a reminder was posted of a 12 year old who jumped off a window rather than be sent back to the country of his birth. The jump to résistance to protect children gave rise to RESF. The children's film "les mains en l'air" chronicles how the idea took hold among people who weren't especially political.)

Hence the idea of "resistance" not just applying to globalization but also to Sarkozy. There's a song by Cali that's quite explicit about this. The chorus is pretty much résistance, résistance, résistance. Someone linked it for me to a song called "Motivés, motivés" which is the chanson des partisans from WWII, with rai music and "motivés" added in.
Résistance is also linked to the popular movement "résister c'est créer" created by the Aubracs I think, for youth education. Here, résistance is a state of mind - refuse to be brainwashed, don't follow the crowd, think for yourself, see what's right, do what's right sort of thing.
Résistance is of course on everyone's mind since Raymond Aubrac just died. They broadcast a poignant interview when he explained that for a week, a whole week, all he could think of, dream of, was to get shot in the head. A friend said "Yes I saw him then, they were carrying him on a piece of cloth because he couldn"t walk, they were taking him in for torturing". Apparently Nicolas Sarkozy requested to speak at the funeral and the request was denied. He was allowed to attend with other politicians only if the only speeches were made in honor of resistance. I checked: Mélenchon will not attend because he'll be at a friend's funeral. Sarkozy, Hollande, and Bayrou were present.

Anonymous said...

*addendum: speeches in honor of résistance/resisting, by actual friends of the deceased.
The permanence of the myth is fascinating to me.
(You could say: obviously).
I can't find an American equivalent.
I'm wondering whether this could explain the outcry when Sarkozy called Fillon son collaborateur (which did not sound like a big deal to me but was broadly discussed as if it were an insult.)
And I forgot to sign:

brent said...

Surely the closest American equivalents arose from our Civil War. For perhaps 50 years (until the oldest veterans were dying out) the myth was about fighting for human freedom (rather than national power or protective cotton tariffs--perhaps the truer casus belli). The OTHER myth, that the Confederacy was about defending agrarian chivalry, aristocratic honor, and regional autonomy (rather than slave labor--not a pretty cause) remained relatively latent in those years of southern poverty, but has returned with a vengeance since about 1980, when Ronald Reagan deliberately evoked the myths of the Old South, and is with us still. Moral? Such myths have a natural lifespan of an adult's memory, maybe 60 years, but they remain available when later ideologies require them. La Résistance is perhaps just entering that free-floating phase ...

Louis said...

On a lighter note...

This is coming late, but since we talk about Jean-Luc Mélenchon, I am sure you will appreciate this little pic.!/AmmarParis/status/192249727876743168/photo/1

I would give a lot to know what passed through Jean-Luc's head at that moment...