On Sunday, the French political world was shaken up by a huge demonstration. On the anniversary of the first workers' government, the Paris Commune, 120,000 people packed in to the symbolic Place de La Bastille in Eastern Paris. One of the headlines of the demonstration was 'we are going to take the Bastille again', referring to the storming of the hated royal prison during the French Revolution in 1789.
The demonstration was called to support the Front de Gauche - the Left Front - and its candidate in the upcoming presidential election; Jean Luc Melenchon. Organisers had set themselves the task of mobilising twenty or thirty thousand and were amazed at the turnout. To loud chants of 'resistance, resistance', Melenchon started his speech with the words; "where have we been all this time? We have missed each other. We have been hoping for each other. But now we've found each other again!"
The Front de Gauche is an electoral alliance between the French Communist Party, the Parti de Gauche - a product of Melenchon's split with the Socialist Party in 2008 - and a range of smaller networks of activists and revolutionaries. It has made a big impact in the election campaign, recently passing 10% in the polls. This is partly because it offers the prospect of radical left unity where there had been chronic fragmentation and partly because Melenchon has run an aggressive and confident campaign. The Front de Gauche's manifesto, which has sold more than 300,000 copies, calls for a 'citizens' insurgency' to radically redistribute wealth, take away the power from the banks, end wars and pioneer an ecological economic and social plan.
Melenchon calls for a peoples' revolution', attacks the financial markets and calls for a new, '6th republic' in France. He is proposing to cap executive pay at 20 times the minimum salary, and to create a 100% tax bracket for all those earning more than €360,000. He has broken with another convention of French politics by launching vitriolic attacks on fascist leader Marie Le Pen, calling her "a bat", "half-demented" and a "dark presence" to her face live on TV, to the great joy of anti racists and minorities around the country. Commentators are talking of a battle between far left and far right for a section of the working class vote, a battle in which Melenchon is gaining ground.
Saturday's demonstration may well accelerate that process, as one Front de Gauche activist said, 'The stakes just got a whole lot higher. We could be changing the face of politics in France'.
In the parks, halls and public spaces around Kings Cross
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