France’s veteran leftwing agitator, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is preparing once again to sally forth against his enemies on the right after announcing that he is standing in the 2022 presidential elections, the third time he has mounted a challenge to lead the country.
The leader of France Unbowed (La France Insoumise, or LFI) promised last week he would put his name forward if 150,000 French citizens signed a petition supporting him. Within days, he had comfortably hit his target, and the signatures are still pouring in.
Mélenchon is aiming to disrupt it. “I have said that I do not wish to see this country once again elect a majority based being against something … voting for Monsieur Macron against Madame Le Pen. It’s time that the French are offered a real choice of something they want,” he says.
Mélenchon, who will be 71 in 2022 and admits that every time he pops up in an election someone says, “You again?”, said his petition was a way of getting talked about.
Marianne magazine pointed out the petition was hardly a barometer of popular support, claiming to have signed it three times under false names including Maximilien Robespierre, which prompted LFI to respond angrily that the list would be independently and legally verified.
There is just one problem. How does a self-confessed political rabble-rouser, who admits his modus operandi is to ramp up the rhetoric, find the right tone in the time of the coronavirus crisis?
“The Covid-19 situation makes our job very difficult because we are in opposition and we do oppose the way the health crisis has been handled, but we cannot be the ones organising more disorganisation. We cannot be pushing people to disobey and create chaos. We just can’t do that,” Mélenchon told the Observer.
“This has led us, the Insoumises, to change our tactics. We have moved on from the period of sound and fury, where it’s a question of channeling the collective anger that is the expression of anti-capitalism, stirring it up, amplifying it and giving voice to it.
“Societies in a state of distress have a tendency to close ranks, to unite in mutual aid. So now we are saying first, what can we do to get out of this? Secondly, why are we not doing this, and thirdly who is to blame?
“I’m not saying this excludes taking a conflictual position, but that is not our main aim. We are not engaging in head-on clashes.”
In 2012, his first presidential campaign, Mélenchon polled 11.1% of the vote – fourth behind the then centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy and his successor, Socialist François Hollande, and Le Pen.
In 2017, he polled 19.6% but came fourth once again. Macron went on to win, but with a large anti-Le Pen vote.
Mélenchon said it was wrong to assume that people had “stopped thinking” during the health crisis. Covid-19 was already “changing mentalities”, he said.
“Whenever I said we had to nationalise something, it made everyone afraid. Now people are saying we cannot let certain businesses close, we have to nationalise them. When I spoke of requisitioning the textile industry to make masks, did anyone say the Red Army was behind Mélenchon?
“There’s no revolution in the world that has happened for an ideological reason – they have all happened for practical reasons, without exception, including the revolution of 1789, including the Russian Revolution.”