Interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon
In our Al Jazeera editorial , we called for a ‘grand alliance of the commons’, a new broad alliance between the Pirate Parties, as expressions of digital cultural forces, the Greens, as the natural defenders of the ecological and natural commons but also with the newly re-emerging ‘transformative’ left. While there is no hope, ‘as parties’ regarding conservative, liberal, and social-democratic forces, who are all defenders of the status quo, the new parties like Syriza in Greece, and the forces around Melenchon in France, do have a transformative agenda that would put institutions in place that would be conducive to a further growth of p2p and commons practices and institutions.
This does not mean that we necessarily have to agree with these different potentially pro-commons forces (which include social liberals to the degree they support progressive social entrepreneurship), only that we can find common ground.
The interview was conducted on December 7, 2012, by ROSEMARY BECHLER , in London.
Q. At last night’s lecture, you were talking about the importance of discipline to organizations. At the same time you joked that if your own Left Party members asked you during the campaign - what should we do next? - the answer was, ‘You are instructed not to wait for orders.’ How important is discipline to your organization, and how does it relate to a political pluralism which reflects the individualism and diversity of our societies?
J.-L.M. What I said about discipline has a great importance for us. Individualism is naturally not a bad thing. People have their own ideas about what it is to be emancipated. But life teaches us that we can only realise our individuality through the collective, we have no other choice. Social life, family life, it's all done through rules. And the absence of rules screws us. You can't play football without rules. You can't eat together without following certain rules - you don't lick the plate, you wish each other 'bon appetit'.
Certain rules impose themselves on us: others are mutually agreed. It's the same for the life of a party or any political organisation. These rules aren't there to build hierarchies. But they are there to make action effective. I won't stand there in the cold waiting for someone who is late bringing their pamphlets.
They have to be on time with the right number of pamphlets, targeted at the right people. When you write a pamphlet, you don’t just think about what you want to say, but you think also about the impact on the people who read it. That's my idea of party discipline. Nothing else. It's the refusal to introduce into politics, the practices of a political type of consumerism - joining a party not to realise an idea or fight for something, but to flatter my ego, or hear the sound of my own voice, or to be elected because I'm very interesting, or because I'm 50, my hair is greying and I'm getting old.
I am exasperated, especially in our left movement, by egotistical behaviour disguised as demands for liberty, democracy. For us the key word in political organisation, it's not democracy - because democracy belongs to the social organism as a whole. But in a political organization, the key word is ‘collective’. That's what I want to say about discipline. It's very important for me to make this idea clear. If I want to work with you as an individual, it must be in the spirit of fraternity, and is not just about authority.
But one must be professional and serious, keep your word and this means having a personal sense of discipline in the way you work – that is respect for others. Any idea that becomes a system in itself commits violence sooner or later. Discipline too can become a tyranny if it is not approached in the right way.
Q. The Left Front is not just a political party, and Syriza is not just a party. Both organizations have a more complicated pluralist approach to social movements – is that important for the renewal of the left?
J.-L.M. First of all, I think that at this moment in history, politics is constituting itself in ways that belong to an ante-politics, that is a stage prior to the process of representation. All the political superstructures are shattering in this massive explosion of the representative system. The explosion of the interior of parties in France is most visibly happening to the right wing at the moment, but the left is doing badly as well. The diversity of our political movements, each small group with its own very precise identity, with reasons for waging polemical conflict that could easily remain unresolved until the end of time – this is what is collapsing. But collective intelligence has inspired us 40 seconds before death. Which did not happen to the Italians. And the result for the left there? Meltdown.
As well as this survival instinct that has recued us, there is a reality that we have faced up to. Our left is above all cultural. It's a very extensive cultural continent, with many different landscapes, hills, valleys. But it is a solid, cultural continent. Lots of people have crossed it. Lots of people would like to come and live on it. But we have made it difficult to live in, ourselves. This image allows me to say that political reconstruction will take place on the ‘broadest cultural field’ and not on strictly political themes. And we try to traverse this broader cultural field looking for where there are overlaps.
We take our bearings from the great cultural hegemonies, identities, reference points in France.
For example, you're for laicité. You support secularism and are not interested in anything else. You couldn’t care less about right or left. Now, there is a second person who is for sharing. You can't be happy when there are unhappy people. Then, the next person is for equality, and in particular cannot bear inequality between men and women. So there are three landscapes and one place in which all three overlap. If you are here [in the overlap], you are Front de Gauche - if you are here [outside the overlap], it’s something else - I don't have contempt for you, but this is different. The ideological strategy of the Front de Gauche is to reconstruct French cultural hegemony in the Gramscian sense, and to rebuild it together.
And to rebuild these landscapes together it is necessary to explain things, to offer a popular education – and not to turn away like old people who have seen everything, known everything, understood everything, and who take it for granted that everybody else is in the same place that we are in.
Speaking to my English comrades and supporters, they keep saying thank you. In the end you ask, For what? “Because you are working hard. It’s a good job done.” And the second reason, is, “Because with you I understand everything.” And that is no accident. I spend hours and hours preparing my speeches. I do not just write them out to read out. I write them down, then learn them, then speak with my assistants. I am full of empathy for and fraternity with the person who gives up their time for relaxation or rest to come and listen to me. And I want them to understand what I have to say.
Because the system, its method, is to muddle everything up and render it incomprehensible. The system doesn't tell you what to do. Never. On the contrary it confuses everything. It makes it impossible to behave in an honourable manner, to take good decisions. A child comes home and says Maman, Papa! - one day it's 'the euro is a disaster', the next it's 'the euro is saved'. And why? They don't understand anything. Unemployment is up - it's a disaster! But the stock market is also up! Eh? So, the father or the mother says, 'don't talk politics at home'. That’s the easier option. And the system has won. The people step down. They demote themselves.
So we have above all a task of popular education. We cannot have the petit-bourgeois mentality, which assumes that everybody has automatically understood, because everybody has been educated. Accept that differences also exist in our levels of knowledge. Another way of putting it is to say that we are equal in our sentiments and the quality of our personal investment. The petit-bourgeois says that the difference between us is in our diplomas. That's why it is shocking to speak as if the other didn't know. Just like in the places where people have money, it is always rather shocking to speak about money. But we must face up to this necessity of communication.
Q. And finally, what does Melenchon’s Europe look like?
J.-L.M. First and foremost it is a democratic Europe. I understand completely the necessary transfer of sovereignty involved. And I have no difficulty with the concept of submitting this sovereignty of the people to the control of Europe on certain matters if it is done in the right way. But today, this is not the case. France is constituted in that way. In 1792, the people who founded the Republic, who were on the hill at Valmy, did not share the same language, they did not share the same measurements, they didn't share the same laws. But they were all shouting, 'vive la nation'. And this was not a nationalist demand. People are always assuming that I am more interested in a grand project for France than in building a new Europe. But for me, French nationality is not ethnic. It is a political programme: liberty, equality, fraternity. So to finish what I am going to say now I may appear even more arrogant. We are the second power on the continent. We are going to be the largest in population terms. Europe can't be built without us, which means it can't be built against us. Germany cannot seriously believe that all Europe will accept a politics destined for old people who want their retirement funded by capitalism. We are a young people, we need schools, we need health care, we need work.
So if you ask me what does Melenchon’s Europe look like? First of all, France is back. Not that we are only speaking on behalf of the French. You have the same interests, no? You want young adults to go to university without having to pay back their debts for ten years. It's simple things that are the same for so many of us. Evidently the European central bank would have to change its statute. And it would buy sovereign debt so that we could finance not only the elementary needs we have just discussed, but to change the whole production of energy in the direction of ecological needs. Because otherwise it's a catastrophe, and so we have to start thinking about that now. ” (http://www.opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler/jean-luc-melenchon-interview)