Friday, February 27, 2009

Newsweek on Olivier Besancenot and France's New Anti-Capitlalist Party

Surprising to see this in Newsweek. I suppose its a sign of changing times that this sort of thing gets coverage in our domestic media.
"Anywhere but France, the cartoonish spokesman of the Communist Revolutionary League, a Trotskyite political party, would be relegated to the fringe. But in France, Besancenot, a postman in his day job, is a star. And as storm clouds gather, he has become the country's most influential opposition figure. Besancenot has achieved a 60 percent popularity rating, with 45 percent of those polled saying they want to see him have more influence in the future, ahead of mainstream leaders like the centrist François Bayrou (44 percent) and new Socialist leader Martine Aubry (42 percent). Among Socialist sympathizers, 62 percent want him to have more influence in French politics, ahead of many other figures, including the Socialists' own heavyweights. Perhaps even more extraordinarily, in a December poll—for the fourth month in a row—he was deemed the "best opponent" to face center-right French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which is no less than a humiliation for the Socialist Party."
Read the full article here.

Of course, there is some typical aloof American ignorance running through the piece: all of the developments in French politics are mentioned as though the reader would otherwise have no interest or knowledge of what's happened there for the past 50 years, there is the typical American "the French are so far Left of everyone else!" blathering (which, incidentally is not really very accurate: Gaullists had a strangle-hold over almost all of postwar French parliamentary politics and the French electoral Left, at least, has been in consistent decline and disarray since the collapse of main Left party, the PCF, in the 80s... and the persistent inability of the centrist Parti Socialiste to win elections (aside from Mitterrand's brief stint as premier) doesn't support the American stereotype either). Also... "cartoonish"? Besancenot is the most attractive man in French politics!

The article makes plenty of attempts to 'distance' itself and 'leave outs', presumably, in order to forestall right-wing accusations that Newsweek is 'soft on communists' (although Newsweek did recently run a sensationalist headline claiming 'we're all socialists now'). As a consequence of the tone of much of the piece, the reader gets the feeling that Besanceno is being quasi-caricatured in a way that seems to suggest that his relative 'fame' must be yet another reason to think less of the French (e.g. "anywhere BUT France, Besancenot would be relegated to the fringe"... which is spectacularly provincial and manifestly false).

Nonetheless, the coverage is not entirely unflattering for Besancenot or for the French far-Left writ large. The thought that Newsweek would consider giving that sort of air-time to an anti-capitalist political figure would be unfathomable in a purely American context. For all of the vitriol that the US media-industry spews at Hugo Chavez for being so high-profile and flamboyant a leader... these same media outlets virtually require, as a condition for airtime, that a political movement have a confident, 'fresh' TV-friendly leader/spokesperson around whom they can frame the entire movement. I suppose that's what it takes to get pages of Newsweek talking about far-Left politics in France.

Many leftists in the States have been closely watching the newly-founded "Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste" with excitement, and in this respect I am no exception. It will be interesting to see what comes of this development. Similar things are happening in Germany with the rise of Die Linke, and the last I checked, the SPD was only edging out Die Linke by 5-10% of the vote. Political realignments are clearly accompanying some of the structural changes occurring in the way the global economy is functioning.

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