A Future in Common

Jean-Luc Mélenchon told Monday night’s Jacobin rally that the threat to the planet demands new forms of popular mobilization.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Belgium in July 2017. Lux Finch / Flickr

My friends, we face one same neoliberal barbarism. This barbarism is a drain not only on us human beings but on our whole ecosystem and its biodiversity. Today, we have overcome the ruins of state communism and of social democracy, which has been destroyed by its neoliberal ideology. We also face the rise of the far right and of religious and communalist obscurantism across all Europe. The time has come to coordinate our resistance. The time has come to show that we are the global alternative in this century.

The struggle has begun! And we want to win it. We want to gain the trust of our peoples and govern our countries together with them. This is the necessary task today. Our people must enter into a new age of ecological and social reason. Indeed, it’s high time for this. The era of Reagan-Thatcher-Blair — three horrors — led human civilization straight into the planetary crisis that we are now living through. But another future is possible. And our peoples must make it happen. It is our duty, as committed political militants, to devote ourselves to coordinating our efforts. Because without that, internationalism will be an empty word, mere rhetoric.

On the continent we have just formed an alliance of six parties and movements: Podemos in Spain, France Insoumise in France, the Bloco d’Esquerda in Portugal, the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark, the Left Party in Sweden, the Left Alliance in Finland. It is an alliance that you can join as well.

We have also created an alternative European forum. Over the past two years it has brought together representatives from twenty-five countries at regular intervals, at events in in Paris, Madrid, and Lisbon. Here again, you are very welcome to participate. The forum unites parties who are campaigning in their countries against the application of the Lisbon Treaty and the European Union’s budgetary treaties. These parties want to be well-prepared so that they will know exactly what to do if they come to govern their countries — that is, what to do when the European Central Bank and the European Commission declare monetary war on them as they did against Cyprus or Greece, strangling these countries.

For we all know that our programs for government are incompatible with the European treaties. We all saw how Alexis Tsipras was forced into abandoning his program and ended up doing the dirty work on behalf of the European troika and Germany’s right-wing government. We don’t want this kind of shameful surrender anymore. Such surrenders crush our countries and demoralize our peoples: they make them lose confidence in themselves. They destroy all the means of social solidarity.

All human communities, all human beings, have to face global challenges such as climate change and the extinction of biodiversity. Add to that the facts that a fresh explosion of the global financial bubble is ever-imminent, and NATO and the United States threaten to provoke widespread conflict at any moment. In this situation, confidence in ourselves and a culture of mutual aid will be the human community’s most vital assets. It is our role to protect and preserve these assets in all circumstances, and all the more so when we are governing our countries.

This starts by respecting what our citizens have decided, what they have voted for.

The aggression of the European Commission must be neutralized. Our strategy can, then, be summed up in just three points. One: we will apply our program. Two: we will negotiate to ensure that European regulations allow it. This is what we call the “Plan A.” But three: if Europe refuses, we will apply our programme anyway, along with those who think like we do. This is what we call the “Plan B.”

An Authoritarian Liberalism

What I have just said sums up what we think of the current situation. All over the world, people are determined to take control of their existence, of their everyday lives. This is a popular will that shouts “get lost” to the puppets who steal the people’s legitimate power and impose on the people what they do not want.

The neoliberals are falling in the popular regard for concrete reasons and not just ideological ones. They are losing support because things are going less well than they were before. Since the neoliberals have been running things, everything is more expensive, everything is uglier, and everything that matters is in danger. Yet the neoliberals will acknowledge no criticism, and they refuse to recognize the mess that everyone else can see. The famous theory that “There Is No Alternative” is an ineffective, hypocritical dictatorship run for the exclusive benefit of the rich and the ultra-rich; a narrow-minded vision driven by absurd motivations.

So everywhere and on every level, people are demanding sovereignty and control. Control over their personal lives and over their immediate and wider environment. People want the power to decide what they will put on their plates, how to protect their health, and how to transform the outrageous distribution of wealth that we see currently. They want the power, above all, to access the public networks that make their very existence possible, and the power to be sure that their decisions will, indeed, be applied.

The sovereignty of the people, its political sovereignty, is the challenge of our time. For this sovereignty runs against today’s capitalism: a financial and transnational capitalism that can only develop precisely by removing rules and controls. But the source of all regulation is the law, and thus citizens.

Today, liberalism is a clearly authoritarian and antidemocratic current. The European Union’s version of sovereignty is the limited kind formulated by Leonid Brezhnev in his time. Mr. Juncker summed it up when he said that there is “no democracy outside the European treaties.” On the contrary, no democracy is possible within these treaties, as we saw in Greece and in Cyprus.

As we see every six months when each European Union country must submit its national budget for European Commission approval. As we see when free trade agreements like CETA with Canada and JEFTA with Japan are applied without a single vote in Europe’s national parliaments. This is why we been compelled to imagine a Plan B which will allow us to apply our program and respect the democratic decisions of our peoples. Plan B means: our country’s democracy will be respected! We represent political democracy.

I suppose it would be appropriate at this point to say a word about Brexit. Before coming here, I have been asked a lot about this question. I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to give you any advice or tell you what to do. In any case, I wouldn’t accept you doing that for my country.

I have been asked if I am for or against Brexit. This is a very easy question. My answer is: the vote already happened, the decision has been taken. For me to express my own preference would be senseless. But I would warn the powers-that-be in the European Union that they should remember what happened in France and the Netherlands in 2005, when the people rejected the European Constitutional Treaty. The people’s decision was trampled on. Since then, our countries have been living through a permanent crisis of democracy.

I will make just one remark on what is happening here. I think the British people wanted to increase their sovereignty over their situation. I believe that this will remains intact. And the powerful who think they can away with reducing the whole question to what the impact on the City will be are going to be proven cruelly wrong.

For now, I will say that that when we are in power in our country, France, we will make the people of the United Kingdom another offer of European cooperation. We will make an offer that speaks an international language common among all humanity. Better education, better health protection, the respect of nature and of animal rights, the sharing of wealth and the eradication of poverty. The people of the United Kingdom like us are human beings sharing in a collective consciousness — a consciousness which itself forms a whole political program.

The Citizens’ Revolution

Having said all this, I would now like to explain the particular strategic approach of our movement, France Insoumise, an original path that makes a specific contribution to our political family. This is an approach that has so far proven successful. All of you here are politically conscious and educated people. You will understand better than most that ours is a global political outlook based on a theoretical understanding of the specific realities of the human society of our time.

Usually, this type of presentation lasts two hours. Here I’ll simplify things a bit, for time’s sake.

I wrote a book on our approach, entitled L’Ere du Peuple: “The People’s Era”. It explains in ordinary language what we call the theory of the “citizens’ revolution” or “people’s revolution.” It has not yet come out in English, but it has been published four times in France. That, even though it’s a particularly grueling read; indeed, I would advise doctors prescribe it for those with sleeping problems. Anyway, we sold more than a hundred thousand copies in France. I’m currently preparing a new version. It will be filled out with some further theoretical work and informed by the vast practical experience that we have built up since the presidential election campaign, the election of our group of MPs to the French National Assembly, and the spectacular extension of our movement on the ground.

According to our theory of the “citizens’ revolution,” the dynamics of human history are directly related to fluctuations in the size of the human population. This number determines the form of the human groups that develop, and the way in which they occupy their space. But above all, our numbers determine the extent of our predations on nature. Over the past sixty years, the human population, which took two hundred thousand years to reach its first billion, has shot up to seven billion. There will be almost eleven billion people on Earth by the end of this century. Over this period, the population has become predominantly urban. And the biggest cities are located in the countries of the South which are seeing a demographic explosion. This anthropological upheaval leads me to speak of a “homo urbanus,” who gives rise to a new specific actor: the people.

“The people” is an old word, but it has a new content, as a specific collective term. It refers to that mass of citizens who need access to collective networks in order to produce and reproduce their existence: for no existence would be possible without transport, electricity, drinking water, health, or education. The ownership of these vital networks, their quality, their accessibility, and the social organization of the territory itself are all decisive elements in the struggle to claim this urban space in which human civilization currently evolves. This is not to deny the importance or the place of the class struggle over the distribution of wealth. Rather, it suggests that this struggle being expressed in a different way and on other grounds than those that prevailed until the last third of the twentieth century.

The word “people” as we use it therefore refers to another reality: one socially defined by a community of concerns. It is neither the population of the eighteenth century nor an informal, formless multitude. I do not have the time to elaborate on this any further for the moment. But our theory asserts that the individualization of the human person is the result of the particular mass structure in which individuals are inserted. Intuitively, the opposite would appear to be true. But this individualization is a deep process which gives a central place to the will to self-determination and also gives it a political extension.

Of all the elements that come into play in this situation, two are particularly worth mentioning as essential ones defining the historic dynamic of our era.

The first is obviously the possible destruction of the only ecosystem that makes human life possible. If we acknowledge that this is a real threat, then we must admit that there is a general human interest. And if this common interest exists, it must be placed above all other interests that may compromise it. This common interest is profoundly anticapitalist. For capitalism is based on the dynamics of endless predation without repair. It is based on a short-termism which is incompatible with the cycles of nature itself. From this observation we deduce two structural demands.

The first of these is “the green rule“: do not take from nature more than what nature can replenish. We must, with all our strength, delay the date at which we will be in ecological debt to our planet.

The second is ecological planning: the collective organization of processes so that we can transform all the forms of production, trade, and consumption patterns in compliance with the “green rule.”

The second element I would like to present is the form of political organization which corresponds to “the peoples’ era.” We put in place such a form of organization during my presidential campaign in France. And since then it has become what I think we can call by far the largest activist organization in France. We have 420,000 people registered on our online platform and 54,000 active members in 5,000 action groups connected by this platform. Everyone is free to decide the nature and the extent of their commitment to the movement and can change that at any time. We are not a classical political party that leads society, but rather a movement that is itself part of the life of society and totally porous to engagement with society.

The movement is to the people what the party once was to a social class. But it is neither a vanguard or a leadership. Rather, it sheds light on possible paths open to the people and is a detonator that helps people take action on the ground. The movement exists for this objective, and this alone.

Our movement, France Insoumise (often translated as France Unbowed — insoumise literally means “unsubmissive”) is an object in constant evolution. It is a common banner and includes party activists who want to participate, the only condition being that they abide by the movement’s own rules. But the vast majority of participants have no party membership. The movement is inclusive. There are no internal power struggles. Often, we choose decision-makers by lot, by random selection.

The movement nurtures a collective identity in three different ways: by appealing to reason, through its program; by addressing emotion, which is the role of the popular tribune; and in proposing a shared identity, with common figures of reference, a common history, and values frontally opposed to those that the far right offer society. The French are not defined by ethnicity, skin color, religion, or even by a single language. We are defined by our political contract: liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood). One that we propose be shared among all humanity.

The general method of our activity is one of conflict mastered by reason. This means building conflicts that can educate us and be a point of unity and identification. We attach all such conflicts to the common interest in order to establish them as what we call a “new hegemonic reference point.” We must cultivate these conflicts in all areas, and in whatever way possible. By provocation, humor, unconventional methods, by poetry, by the expression of kindness and openness.

This method often brings us a lot of difficulties. For this is a question of bringing together different sectors of society not accustomed to any common way of doing things. Those from gentrified city centers may be shocked by the decibels of more aggressive approaches, whereas more popular circles may find them more appropriate. This experience leads us to various different forms of expression. But in the end, what is most efficient is multiplying and perfecting our popular tribunes. A constant reference to our program allows everyone to choose which forms of expression are most convincing within a shared framework.

A Common Cause

The “citizens’ revolution” is no disguise; it is not a euphemism for “socialist revolution.” The citizens’ revolution includes socialist tasks but also has a far wider horizon. It is intrinsically linked with each person’s objective of taking control of every compartment of their personal lives and of public life. It is a revolution that belongs to citizens, because it must allow each and every one of us to take control within a collective framework. It is revolutionary because it changes the hierarchy of legal norms by subjecting them to the green rule, changing as necessary the rules of property and redefining the political rights of the citizen through the creation of a constituent assembly.

The watchword and the objective of our citizens’ revolution is the “common good of humanity.” It harks back to the French traditions of the Enlightenment and of the humanism which makes the human brain the seat of truth, to the exclusion of anything that might transcend it. The difference with all previous revolutions is that it no longer aims to make humanity the master and owner of nature, as Descartes proclaimed. Rather, its objective is harmony, both within society and between society and nature. This is not a metaphysical harmony but rather seeks to organize the concordance of rhythms and dynamics among humans and between humans and nature, just as in music. This new music is what we call a “new humanism.”

All of us have become political militants for philosophical reasons and not only material ones. For the political struggle is magic. It sets you in league with the common interest of all human beings. It creates a particular link between you, your mind, your spirit, your heart, and the tiniest speck of dust in the infinity of the universe. We must, then, consider the particular situation of the moment that we are living through. We must think of our activity as laying the foundations for a new cycle in human civilization, indeed at a moment of extreme collective danger.

We do so on the basis of an anthropological understanding which breaks with liberal obscurantism. Margaret Thatcher asserted that “society does not exist.” Her vision was that of a group of individuals who must necessarily evolve within networks of dependence that they only benefit from by way of an absolute personal selfishness. Yet this vision is belied by modern science as well as by the lessons of our own feelings.

Mutual aid and social structures’ dependence on their environment are the basic law that determines the behavior of social animals and in all probability of animal and plant biodiversity as a whole. They are not always a matter of “contractual obligations” as Anthony Giddens claimed, but purely spontaneous, and indeed age-old. In this sense, the new humanism of the people’s revolution is, as Karl Marx said of his project, a “completed naturalism.”

Dear friends, I have been very proud to be able to present to you a summary of the ideas that form the basis of our activity. I hope you will excuse the length of this speech — but it’s shorter than it would have been in France. But I think I know each one of you. We are all dogged types. We are all insoumis, unbowed — a lot of us were born like that. We are the people who ruin Sunday lunch with political conversations.

Our task, our political program is the greatest that there is. We are the militants who are fighting to reconcile the human condition with nature. That, today, is our historic responsibility.