A warning and an invitation, to Europeans

On December 6, 2012, the Leader of France’s Left Front addressed a packed audience in the European Institute of University College, London on a progressive alternative to the human crises caused by today’s social relations, banking chicanery, political power and, against the background of another failed Kyoto, the far greater challenge of an adequate response to climate change.

Left Front Leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Demotix/Xavier Malafosse. All rights reserved.Left Front Leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Demotix/Xavier Malafosse. All rights reserved.

My intention this evening to some extent is to ring an alarm bell, and to invite you, particularly the younger members of the audience, to enter into a more fullblown understanding of the moment in history you are living in and the responsibilities which you have - which any person has, if they wish to be more than a passive observer and take their place amongst universal humanity. To achieve this goal of looking at the world around us, I recall the words of Albert Camus, a Frenchman from Algeria like myself, who said, “to misname things is to add to the woes of the world”.

Who profits from debt, crisis, austerity? 

So how do we describe what is all around us? Three words float above all in the media bubble, each one leading to the next: “debt, crisis, austerity - austerity, crisis, debt - crisis, debt, austerity” and so on. But what do these words mean? “Debt” points to public debt, which is where all maladies lie - and yet, the debt is primarily and critically a private one. Until the 2008 crisis exploded, public debt across Europe as a whole was going down, and the countries which are now excoriated, such as Spain and Italy, were amongst the best pupils in the Maastricht classroom. Moreover, debt is the end result of credit, and credit is the essential driver of the particular species of accumulation of capital at play in our time.

“Crisis”. What does this word mean? In general, a crisis means a transitory, paroxysmal state before the necessary steps are taken to return us to a previous state of affairs. But we know all too well that we will never return to the prior state of affairs - that the considerable quantity of paper money amassed and produced on a rolling boil by the USA, drowning the world in paper money without any sort of physical counterpart, can never be wiped out without being destroyed, along with the capital that it is supposed to represent.

Finally, “austerity”, is a word which usually indicates a restriction of distribution by the state. However, this restriction, at this moment in time, only applies to a part of the population: either those who benefit from a salary provided by the state - civil servants, the numbers of whom are reducing everywhere - or public services that rely on state financing. But for others, there is no restriction: in fact it’s the opposite. The charge exacted from their coffers through their taxes is getting smaller, which means that they are filled up with new capital. The weakening of the public sector increases the opportunities for the market to find new opportunities for growth. What we are calling austerity is in fact a fantastic opportunity for a certain group of people.

(As is always the case, what I’ve just said would benefit from nuance and further explanation. But you must believe, that I’m perfectly capable of doing just that.)

However, I am the first to admit that no one precisely wanted this crisis, that of course the potentates and the rich would have preferred the subprime crisis not to develop, for there to have been no problems in Greece, they would have appreciated none in Ireland likewise, they would have hoped that nothing would happen in Spain or Portugal.

Yet all these things did happen. And we’ve seen very quickly that the same group who feel endangered by these events from the point of view of their capital investments, also directly benefit from the development of the crisis. For this crisis, this failure that threatens, is an extraordinary opportunity for the most incredible predations, all sorts of ways for banking systems to create wealth in a way that has never been seen before in history. When a country is taxed 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18% as Greece was, or 7, 8% as Spain was, and so on, this results in billions of euros at the other end enriching the already wealthy. Deregulation, this capitalist mess, constitutes a very specific type of market. Deregulation is in itself a profession: this should not be a surprise for those living in the country that is home to ‘The City’.

This kleptomania of the state, this depredation and cupidity has no self-control mechanism built into the system. This is why every single one of you knows that this is going to end badly. Indeed, it will finish badly, but the question is for whom? And it is this question that we attempt to answer.

The larger canvas: climate change

Nevertheless, another mistake would be to consider the problems in front of us as either simply an economic trend or a localised event, which would mean we lose sight of the structural effects of the much broader framework on which these national crises (for I must use that word for lack of a better one) are taking place. This framework affords us small fleeting glimpses of the connections that make up a much larger canvas, that we will never lose sight of. For this large framework, this larger machinery, will have a big effect on the most subtle things that happen in each and all of our nations.

The first element of this broad framework is that the crisis - the social, economic, political, financial crisis, call it what you will - is a minor thing compared to another enormous disturbance, that of the human ecosystem. We should know, that beside this, this crisis is nothing. Made up of social connections, banking chicanery, political power, whether this particular narrative unfolds slowly or fast, this is fundamentally a human matter that can be dealt with. But climate change is putting into effect developments with a far greater significance, that cannot be dealt with as quickly, which is why all of our efforts should be focused on putting into place adequate measures - something, you know as well as I do, we are not doing. The new conference on climate change taking place this week is heading for a failure just as scandalous in terms of letting down our common human interest as the last one was. As Hugo Chavez says, “if the climate was a bank it would have been saved already”. But it is not a bank.

This crisis in our ecosystem will have enormous repercussions. The World Bank calculates the consequences of a global temperature increase of 4 degrees. But the World Bank has a passive view of the developing stages of a climate crisis. This trajectory, however, is by its nature corrosive, that is to say the process is not proportionate from one stage to the next. The melting of the glaciers and an increase in sea levels puts pressure on the seabed where there exists in a frozen form metals which as gases have a massive greenhouse effect. The crisis that would result from the liberation of these would engender climate changes of the highest magnitude, not some sort of gradually increasing problem. In a similar vein, the periods of drought that hit different places around the world unleash political crises, due to the population movements they cause, movements which have nothing to do with passports, treaties or any sort of regulations. Huge groups of individuals cross borders and consume the local resources to the detriment of the local population and in competition with them. And from this point all sorts of political conflicts will appear, the roots of which lie in climate change.

This is the first important backdrop  to the situation. For now, it should be said, for we Europeans, living in the west, who benefit from a climate that is still temperate and for whom any such episodes are for the most part still far from catastrophic in the sense we have been seeing with increasing frequency in events around other parts of the world - its impact on our day to day lives is only minor.

Accelerating crises

The second backdrop has its bearing on our national events, and can directly affect them is the very nature of the systemic crisis we are in. Firstly let us note that, contrary to what is believed by certain superficial souls, capitalism is an instrinsically unstable system. In a century between 1816 and 1923 there were 14 crises. But since 1973, that is to say, in less than 40 years, there have been 12, and in the last 20 years, there have been 8, which shows not only that crises are the almost cyclical symbols of capitalist accumulation and development, but that their rhythm is one of acceleration.

Secondly, each crisis creates the conditions necessary for the next crisis, and each more drastic than the last. Need we be reminded that in the period extending to 1940, we will find two world wars which came out of crises? It is striking to see the same phenomena repeat themselves each time: capitalism asphyxiates the market, the market contracts again, and if at first it benefits from being able to draw breath, sooner rather than later the size of the destruction can’t be denied, and it is then compressed into an even smaller cage. So, after the First World War and the glorious revolution of 1917 a part of Europe found itself shielded from market forces (Aside: you liked the ‘glorious’ didn’t you? I had to choose an adjective, and I chose that one), the market shrank, so that after WWII the market was reduced by a third of the world’s producer and consumer population. At each stage, we can see it trying to overrun its physical limits, the real world where needs and the ability to fulfil those needs are in conflict, in the contradictory fashion of which you are only too aware. This is linked to the system itself, in that it reduces its consumer base while increasing its capacity for production.

Since 1970 there has been a sort of miracle taking place in the system - it has considered itself to be liberated from all physical and material concerns by renouncing the dollar’s material value against gold. The system, it was thought, would now see no end to accumulation, with on the one hand limitless liquidity being pumped into an economy that could never be checked against any real value, and on the other hand artificial forms of expansion: weapons manufacturing that corresponded to no particular need, a tiny economy concentrating very large means on countries in the Middle East, and finally a huge credit economy which was bolstered at each catastrophic event by a massive injection of paper money being put into the system.

The usual characteristics of a crisis and the increasing violence of their effects now combine with a financialisation process with which many of you will be familiar. Its first feature is the extraordinary comparison it is possible to make between the level of currency exchange - (an indication of what is happening in a market), which reached 4000 billion dollars - compared with the exchange of real goods taking place which was only just reaching 40 billion dollars. There is 23 times more money in circulation than there are real goods produced.

What we are constantly threatened with, whether it is tomorrow, the day after, next January or a bit later, is the explosion, due to some unexpected event, of this enormous financial bubble. An explosion that would immediately result in an unravelling of the system - 85% of global transactions are done in dollars, and the devaluation that would result, and the depreciation of assets, is quite simply unimaginable, because no one has ever seen a depreciation take place on such a scale.

This is what we must never lose sight of when we examine the consequences of our own European problems: the link between the producers of instability and catastrophe and the contradictions that result from it. The United States cannot accept another currency being substituted for theirs as the reserve currency, as the danger for them is the collapse I’ve just described. This is why they’re organising themselves politically to combat it and sometimes through various types of plotting. Despite the efforts of those who won’t see any of these plots for what they are, coupled with the effects of those who want to see nothing but plots everywhere, they manage to strike at any Achilles heel that they can find. In Europe this was Greece. It wasn’t very difficult, for those already in place - namely Goldman Sachs - to double as the players driving speculation forward. What was far less predictable was that the Prime Minister of the country, then President of the Socialist International , should immediately capitulate. By opening the floodgates, speculation was able to ravage the whole of the Eurozone.

But for now all I want to show in relating this is that while it’s not good for the United States for the Euro to challenge its dominance as a currency, at the same time it’s not good for them if it collapses. Taking these points together, this is all the general information we need about the Damocles sword hanging over our future prospects.

The European Union represents 25% of the wealth created in the world. We need to remind ourselves of this figure when we talk about China’s economic power and that of the emerging economies. The core of the world’s wealth continues to be produced right here. The European Union is the number one exporter, number one importer, number one supplier of money in the world.

So everything that we do not only harms us but unsettles the whole system with which it is intimately linked, a link which is worked on and strengthened every day by the important and powerful. You may never have heard discussed in public the construction of the Transatlantic Pact which is scheduled for 2015. Every six months there are meetings to check on the progress that this project is making, which is designed to bind the links between the USA and the EU very tightly on fiscal, monetary, regulatory, judicial and other levels. This explains a good deal of our experience today.

A self-defeating system?

Let’s look at what’s already happened. I will not now position myself as a militant, something that in fact I am – that is one who believes in the necessity of a radical transformation of the social, political and ecological organisation of our societies.

For now I’m trying to analyse things from the point of view of how rational the system is in its own terms. What sense is there in this political idea called ‘austerity’, since without any exceptions, and as we have said from the very beginning, every time one decreases public spending, private spending does not pick up the slack as private spending essentially circulates investment on the inside of the bubble.

Therefore, all contraction of public spending has the primary result of an increase in the public deficit, since activity slows as it runs out of steam, as civil service salaries are reduced, and because of lack of investment in state and local government. From here on in, homelessness increases and therefore social security spending, which generates a new state of depression, which in turn engenders new austerity measures, which has the same results and so it continues.

What I’m in the process of explaining is the current reality. The vague, empty, garbage-filled speeches are those crafted by our adversaries, the very people who pretend to be the incarnation of an inescapable logic and sound thinking, off the back of formulas that you all know: a state budget is similar to a family budget, and of course a family decides its own revenues, so that you can’t spend more than you produce (even if we are producing more than we ever have in the history of all of our countries, piles of wealth unequalled in history!) - and so on.

This supremely ideological discourse in the Marxist sense of the word (that is to say designed to mask the real connections) belongs not to us but to our adversaries. The discourse of truth is the one I have just laid out. And we are right. The facts show that their policies have no traction wherever they are practised in the world, other than those I have just described. Consequently, since there do exist technical proposals for a solution in what they’re saying, there must be a reason why they are not applying them effectively to these conditions.

A strategy of class war? 

So what is the solution, at least in technical terms? The European Central Bank could have immediately extinguished the debt crisis had it lent directly to member states, as this would have put an end to all speculation. The argument seems convincing enough, and recently there has been some pretence that this is indeed what is happening - you hear it said that the Central Bank is buying back the sovereign debt of nations.

But this is yet another lie. Firstly, because they only buy it back under the condition that these nations subscribe to the political conditions chosen by the European Financial Stability Facility - that is to say recessionary politics plus the renunciation of their sovereignty. Secondly, because these purchases are made on what is known as the secondary market - that is to say banks return to the European Central Bank rotten securities that will never be honoured in return for real funds - well inasmuch as a bank’s money can be real (as we all know a bank’s money doesn’t actually exist) - it’s a particular skill of banks to be able to create money…

In these conditions, the crisis will never stop. So we must ask ourselves what social forces are at play here and what are they up to? And we must come to the conclusion that what is called the ‘crisis’ has a macroeconomic framework which functions as a strategy for ever greater plundering - the more the state is destroyed the more the field of the market gets bigger, the more we increase homelessness, the more pressure is put on workers to lower their salaries and these people call it a ‘strategy to be competitive’, they talk about the cost of labour having become too high and the social security contributions, which we call employer contributions, being paid out unjustly, for no good reason.

What is the use of feeding a worker? What is the use of providing them with healthcare? Why transport them? Why educate them? Since by ‘taking proper responsibility’ all of this could be paid for by itself. The implications of this type of vocabulary are immediately clear to everyone. So here we have the main clue - this way of doing things permits increased exploitation.

This can be seen in the results of the big corporate monopolies and international finance. In my country, France, this year, the CAC 40 generated its largest profit in 15 years: companies that we constantly hear speaking of major redundancy plans in order to reestablish productivity, like the pharmaceutical company Sanofi who just spent this year at the head of all the market capitalisations, no doubt thanks to the most ferocious, and foolish, programme of redundancies. The stupidity, the absurdity of a decision to make redundancies in research and development centres is nevertheless a good move in the eyes of a capitalist who wants to pass on a 50% share of the added value as dividends. And those same people who moan every day that the cost of labour is stopping them from making the necessary investments in the future, in my country, give more money towards distributing dividends than they do to investing, more money into dividends than into employer contributions - that is the truth of the social relationships that are under way as a result of what they call ‘the crisis’.

Of course I’m not saying that they want to create this set of circumstances. They do this because the system has no self-regulatory mechanism. But the end goal is always the same, and this situation is as good as any other for encouraging increased exploitation. In some ways the crisis is a power struggle, a strategy for class war.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon at UCL on December 6, 2012.Picture courtesy of Philippe Marlière.

The German model 

As you know, the model we have to follow is the German one - what a joy it is to be German! That is not what Germans say, but it is what is said about them. There are more children living in poverty in Germany than in England or France. Life expectancy has been decreasing in Germany. People are forced to accept any old job in a country where the rates of unionization have historically been the highest. But Germany has provided the excuse, the weapons one might say, that have enabled the current assault on all the other leaders of Europe, an assault which has been launched with their consent.

And Germany follows policies that are in line with its current political majority. The majority is the CDU/CSU (which lost the mid term elections), which is made up of a middle class and upper-middle class which has, due to the politics of Gerhard Schroder, a social democrat, increased the number of funded pension plans in the country from 0% to 15%. Therefore there is a critical mass of people in society who have a personal and direct interest in a) a strong Euro and b) in stability, because that is what will pay for their retirement. The German government is therefore pursuing policies that cater to that section of its population and at the same time, big money gets a treat.

And all of Europe follows down this path, despite the fact that our interests are directly opposed to this. This is the case for my country - France has a contributory pension scheme and therefore needs a high level of activity to pay out its pensions. Further, France is undergoing a demographic expansion and will soon be the most populous nation in Europe, and as you know when you hold that title, it’s rock and roll for everybody. As a result, we need schools, we need teachers, we need medical and scientific research - all of which is the opposite of the restrictions on public spending being mandated by the current liberal framework in Europe.

Increasing tensions

Please don’t think I am exaggerating, but the extreme nature of the political methods put into place to ensure that these policies are implemented is unprecedented. Greece has been subjugated and humiliated, had its most basic rights removed, rights which are linked to the honour of a country, its respectability - all of its ministries stuffed full of political chief superintendents who check every detail of spending. We have seen the Germans demanding a list with the first and last names of civil servants being made redundant - that is the level of arrogance we’re dealing with. Do you think this will be tolerated indefinitely? Because they’re Greeks? Scorned by those who used to dare call our countries ‘the pigs’. You think we don’t understand enough English to know what that means?

As a consequence, this type of politics has the result of increasing tensions inside nations and between nations. And I say, speaking to the younger generation, speaking as someone who has not known war in Europe - wounds are reopening old scars. The continuities of a history, a long history, the history that was taught to us by Braudel - these create intangible effects that can reappear in a moment. It’s not by chance that Spain, under the pressure that you all know about, sees Catalan independence spring into life again. Remember that this country has never been totally completed or unified. What is going on between the Flemish and the Walloons, something that could change frontiers within Europe, has the same cause. The inviolable nature of frontiers is a matter of peace and war for us. And the list goes on, but I don’t want to layer on example after example - I feel that these examples speak for themselves.

Once these tensions have flared, and they have been flaring, it’s important to realize that no one will pay the debt. I’m happy to come back here and eat my hat if the Greeks were to pay their debt - the same goes for the Spanish or the Portuguese. This will not happen. The only realistic solution to look at is how to liquidate this quantity of debt.

I started saying something similar about three or four months ago, with the energy that you know I have on this subject, and I was greeted with complacent smiles because I’m from the political left. And of course because as a philosopher by education I contribute nothing to the economy, they are certainly more intelligent and better educated than I. The fact that the people in the know have got the world into this state, suggests that they could do even worse, so let’s be optimistic.

And now it’s Mrs Merkel who is starting to cause problems regarding the Greek debt default. This is not a purely technical problem: six banks are caught up in the Greek debt, of which three are French. Out of the three French banks, two are systemic. That is to say the impact of the decisions we’re taking do not only affect Greece, or Europe, but the whole world.

This is what should make us look at these events from a different angle. We should begin to read the decline that is taking place and watch out for the explosions, the unexpected events that will occur, as they have done in numerous similar situations. Firstly, we see how an economic and social blockage is created. Secondly, as a consequence of the first blockage, a political blockage occurs, which is to say that the people, seeing that a vote does not achieve anything, are heard like a sort of heartbeat, entering into elections and then withdrawing; they support parties, then pull away quickly. So you will see examples like the French presidential election having a record turnout, followed by the French legislative elections a month later with the highest number of abstentions since 1958. You also see this phenomenon here in by-elections. In fact - you see it throughout Europe - what we may call a double retreat regarding institutions and regarding political representation.

In these circumstances, sooner or later, there is always an unexpected event that suddenly reveals the emptiness and vacuity of institutions which were functioning only through some sort of robotic routine. In Argentina, where the first debt default was declared – it was the reclaim of people’s money from the savings banks by the middle classes that triggered the process. In Venezuela, all of the austerity plan was swallowed, except for one item, the bus fare. And then they made a mistake: instead of sending in the police, they sent in the army. It’s a mistake because the army doesn’t know how to maintain order. It isn’t their job. In Bolivia it was the cost of water. So in every country there is an unexpected event. In Tunisia, it’s the same thing, a dispute between an itinerant salesman and a policewoman and the list goes on.

These unexpected events will happen in Europe. They will reveal the blockage that we are building up to, because everywhere in Europe a civilisational recession is taking place - life expectancy has reduced in eight European countries, including Germany. Child mortality is on the rise in ten countries. And in some places it’s happening faster than others - I’m talking about both France and the Paris region itself. Health, education, all of these indexes are reaching warning points.

However we’re in a process of mithridatism. It’s as if we can’t see it happening to ourselves. We hear about some breakdown here, or there - people from my generation call it a breakdown, but people from your generation call it ‘life’. For us, job insecurity is a terrible thing, something incomprehensible, unacceptable – but the younger generation today simply lives with it and within it - psychologically, culturally, inhabiting an insecurity in a cross-section that covers all of society, from the engineer’s child to that of the senior executive.

So what can we do? One day there is a backlash in which citizens begin to say, ‘since you are incapable of solving concrete problems, not biological problems, but real every day ones, we’re going to deal with them ourselves.’ And then starts a process we can call a ‘revolution of the citizenry’. It’s a revolution because it leads to a change in the judicial structure in a way that supports this expression of popular power, a change in property structure, and finally a change in those who are in power. Naturally I don’t need to tell you that with revolution and counter-revolution, once the process starts we don’t know where it will finish. You can see this well illustrated by the case of Egypt at the moment. We were told that it was all dealt with - but no.

An eco-socialist manifesto

As for us in the Left Front (Front De Gauche), we are proposing a horizon that we have called eco-socialism. That is to say that we think we can solve this very crisis by solving the other crisis, the one that counts the most, that of the human ecosystem.

It’s through the redeployment of resources to allow us to put into place a new direction in the production of energy - that is to say the machines you can see installed in the sea, or, another example, those used to mine the heat from the ground and turn it into energy. Climate planning will affect resources, and a change in the instruments and methods of production, in order to scrupulously follow what we call the ‘Green Rule’. This is not some sort of abstract aim, hypothetical or moral, about modes of consumption, but a simple rule to the effect that, “we cannot take more from it than what the ecosystem is capable of replacing.” That is the green rule.

The biggest debt that humanity must repay is the most urgent one - since every year the capacity for recovery from the ravages has already wreaked retreats. The green rule and ecological planning necessitate an understanding that we have a common human interest and that this is a more powerful force than the individual concerns that take place within the human community. If this common interest exists, we have no way to know it other than through our own deliberations, and for us to be able to truly deliberate, we must be able to do so freely. That is to say free from any religious constraints, but equally free from the domination of one over another, and that in all places and all circumstances, wherever these exchanges take place, a citizen voice must be able to take part.

Citizen voice, that is to say not just the power of the consumer reacting to his own personal needs, but the power of the citizen to speak in the name of the common interest - this is the difference between the flat and dry democracy and the glorious and fecund model which I will be happy to answer questions on later.

This is a model which I call upon you to measure stringently against all its alternatives. Then tell me, can we continue in the same vein? No, everyone knows that. The current state of affairs that can only function through consumption patterns based on the frustration of any sort of consumption, has finally condemned the liberal system. The politics on offer, which socialist liberals of my country have adopted, consists in this absurd set of policies which say - let us produce anything we can, however we can, in huge quantities, in order to sell it to everyone, at the lowest price possible.

For us the politics of demand will start with what is socially necessary and ecologically essential. Demand politics presupposes the mounting of a new cultural revolution, leading to changing methods of consumption. In this setting, no aspect of liberalism works, but also no aspect of social democracy - for reasons of theory as well as their countless capitulations to the other side - the latest example of these capitulations is Greece, but you could just as easily mention Portugal or Spain as the same thing happened there - and now France.

Social democracy is wrong twice over - firstly, by saying that people will be able to share in the fruits of growth. They signal through this that there is no hope for progress without unending growth whereas this growth is incompatible with a limited ecosystem. Second mistake: they suggest they will share the spoils of growth with the enemy, which means that they don’t get any of it. And yet, they refuse to disarm an enemy who will share neither the cake nor the fruits of growth. So that’s how, starting off from this hazy thinking, this abstract ideology without any link to reality - we come to a stage where we’re stroking the serpent’s head and making all sorts of unbearable genuflections in front of a certain Mr Mittal, who then bears down with his full force on the heads of the naive people who pay him court.

He would be wrong to deprive himself of this pleasure, as life is a power struggle and class relationships are power struggles - saying this is not to praise it or to wish for it, but simply to observe it. Adults build their lives through the observation of fact. Power struggles are resolved through democracy. Democracy is not consensus. It is not a Disneyland where everyone agrees on the key points, apart from a few baddies who want to steal the pain au chocolat of the others. Democracy is the confrontation of conflicting interests.

I conclude with this point. In summary, the Front De Gauche has come up with an historic project, a concrete radicalism, not generic abstract declarations. We know how to combat the power of the banks. We know how to turn around our country’s energy systems. We need the revolution of the citizenry and the power of the people, not in a general sense, but in each of its concrete constituent parts, because this is the only way we can achieve the ecological turnaround we require. That will not be decided from top down. And the transformation needed is so drastic that everyone needs to contribute. Not just the blue collar workers and the salaried, but the engineers, executives and highly skilled workers who need, in an extremely tight timeframe, to produce the machines and the manufacturing processes that we need to execute the ecological plan that I’ve put forward.

The Front de Gauche represents a concrete radicalism. I am certain that the great wheel of history has started to turn. I don’t know where the system is going to crack, or when, but I’m sure that it will. Whether it is in Greece, where we saw our Syriza colleagues move from a 5% share of the vote to 18% and now apparently to 30% in less than 18 months. Or maybe in Portugal, where our comrades from Bloco could benefit from cooperating with the Portuguese Communist Party. Or maybe with us in France. At least, we are ready for it. If I had won the Presidential election, I had a concrete plan in place. And now that I see the others in action, I see that we were much better prepared than they are.

I’m addressing myself to a large number of my co-citizens in all of these hypotheses. I’m asking you to be ready as big events are going to take place and you have a complete personal responsibility. You will not be consumers of events: you will be producers.

For those who will be here in England you will remember the lessons of our previous failures, in particular knowing that you are at the heart of a network of the octopus of the global oligarchy. You know my address. It seems to me that you have a duty, and I permit myself to say it to those who feel close to my way of viewing the world, to convince those around you every day, in particular our friends the English (since they seem to be condemned to the absurdity of turning the right cheek for a slap, and turning the left cheek to get the same thing from a social democrat). Sooner or later though, this people, like all the others will find its breaking point - and our task will be not to repeat the mistake we made in the past, perhaps because we were too arrogant. We need to convince people.

At lunchtime today I was speaking with my Parti de Gauche colleagues and I was saying to them (there are a couple of them who like history as I do), that we made a huge mistake in 1789 - because here in England at the time there was a powerful current in favour of enlightenment and revolution - but we did not know how to express the fraternal words and find the actions and expressions  of warmth that would have permitted the construction of international revolution, spread through people, consciences, via our hearts, rather than through institutions. This is your task, I did not come here to indulge your curiosity, but to give you this plan of action. Thank you.

Warm thanks to Tristan Summerscale for translating from the video of the UCL European Institute event into English. 

About the author

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was a cabinet minister in Lionel Jospin's government (2000-02) as well as a member of the French Senate (1986-2009). He was a long-time executive member of the Socialist Party (1977-2008). He left the PS in 2008 and created the Left Party which is part of a wider electoral coalition, the Left Front. This umbrella organisation is similar to Syriza in Greece and works closely with Die Linke in Germany. In May 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon ran for the French presidency. In the first round of the election, he secured 11.1% of the share of the votes nationally (over 4 million votes). Since 2009, Mélenchon has been an MEP. 


Read On

Watch Mélenchon's speech at UCL (in French)

Philippe Marlière's account of Mélenchon's speech (in French, with pictures)