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Is Jean-Luc Mélenchon France’s Bernie Sanders?

Notes from the French Presidential Election

Pierre-Selim / Flickr

France will hold the first round of its presidential election on April 23, 2017. With outgoing president François Hollande having declined to run for re-election, some ten candidates are vying to make it to the May 7th run-off round, where only the top two vote-getters will compete for the top post. French author Frédéric-Yves Jeannet introduces us to the two-time candidate who is challenging both the nation’s economic and political party structures: Jean-Luc Mélenchon.


Most people in France — let alone overseas — are not sure how his surname should be spelled, and you can often see it printed with an “a.” In just the same way, people often don’t know exactly who Jean-Luc Mélenchon is, although he has been a part of the French and European political landscape for over three decades. Currently a member of the European Parliament, he was once the youngest senator in France, elected at the age of 35. Thirty years later, he is a candidate for the upcoming presidential election for “Unsubmissive France,” an anti-political party and a people’s movement whose mission is to elect Mélenchon as president and a swathe of other “unsubmissive” members to the National Assembly.

He is a true intellectual. He is also, in a way, our Bernie Sanders. Although, in fact, his platform is even more progressive than Bernie’s: Reducing the work week to 32 hours and the retirement age to 60, raising the minimum wage to a living wage, transitioning to sustainable energy and shutting down France’s extensive nuclear-power system, repealing Hollande’s anti-labor “El Khomri” law, withdrawing from trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and also withdrawing from the NATO military alliance. And, crucially, Unsubmissive France is also calling for a constituent assembly to be held in order to draft a new constitution. Mélenchon studied to become a language and literature professor in the French educational system, and that’s what gives him a pedagogical talent over and above his well-known oratorical skills. Even his worst enemies declare that he is by far the most articulate one among them.

Like Bernie, he is fighting against the Dark Force, the Empire of Evil, the Land of Mordor: Marine Le Pen of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front. In short, France’s Trump. Mélenchon earns a modest salary, doesn’t have a car or bodyguards, takes the train to go to the European Parliament in Brussels, and, when in Paris, travels by subway.

Also, like Bernie, he is also fighting against the international neoliberal establishment embodied by Hollande, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, and the telegenic Barrack Obama. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get through to the second round in May. It is more likely that the Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, The Republican Party’s François Fillon, or the En Marche Party’s (also telegenic) Emmanuel Macron will be there to face off against Marine Le Pen.

And finally, like Bernie, Mélenchon, is the best of them. A second best option, a wild horse? Not quite. If he were to make an alliance with Hamon, who shares his belief in the reconstruction and refounding of the Republic (the Fifth since De Gaulle and they want to found the Sixth), Jean-Luc Mélenchon could very well get through to the second round. Talks are going on, pieces are moving, and still other things may happen before April. We deserve to recover our voice and vote against the Dark Forces that are taking precedence over democratic regimes all over this planet, our last and only one. May the force be with us.

Frédéric-Yves Jeannet is a writer and professor, born in Grenoble, France in 1959. He earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in comparative literature at the University of Grenoble. Jeannet lived and lectured in New York from 1996 to 2004 at Montclair State University and later Cooper Union. He later lived in Wellington, New Zealand, from 2005 to 2008 as a professor of literature at the Victoria University of Wellington. He has published books in both Spanish and French, including Pensar la muerte and La luz del mundo in 1996, Cyclone (1997), Charité (Flammarion, 2000) and Recouvrance (Flammarion, 2007). He lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

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Rachelle Wood
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That’s a great and perhaps unanswerable question. The answer probably depends too on what a person’s view of Bernie Sanders is. Is he a revolutionary like a Mélenchon? Or is he just mildly different from status quo, a bit like a Macron? Is Sanders really comparable to any French candidate? One thing is that he let a lot of people who believed in him down. Will Mélenchon do the same? Sanders’ Revolution under the guise of OurRevolution is also highly flawed in my eyes. I’d say, from the viewpoint of who’s the most progressive, high brow politician in the US,… Read more »
Frédéric-Yves Jeannet
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Frédéric-Yves Jeannet

I think you’re right. Jill Stein was an even better option. But then again, the US has a two-party system, and it might take years to change that. Nader was good, my friends always voted for him. But he had no chance. Once the US can switch to a multi-party system, things will improve. And I’m sure it will happen! France is in no better shape, though.

Karen Freed
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What you’re doing is purposely electing fascist Le Pen in a dangerous communist game of “heightening the contradictions” as with Bernie’s idiots in the US (who helped elect Trump to “bring on the Socialist Revolution”), Martin Schultz in Germany (will split the vote and elect neo-Nazi Frauke Petry): http://www.dw.com/en/schulz-makes-left-turn-in-german-election-race-against-merkel/a-37640421

Same thing is happening in the UK with Corbyn (destroying the Democratic Socialist labor party for the benefit of the far right Brexit crew): http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/how-jeremy-corbyn-destroyed-the-labour-party-in-365-days-a7238801.html

All with Putin in the background: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/opinion/sierakowski-putins-useful-idiots.html

You’re disgusting. You can stop pretending to speak for the working class.

Frédéric-Yves Jeannet
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Frédéric-Yves Jeannet

“Disgusting”, is that so? There is no need to use insults if you disagree. You could use ideas and rhetorics instead, that would be more useful for Progressive Army readers…

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Is Jean-Luc Mélenchon France’s Bernie Sanders?