Wed May 25th, 2011 at 03:39:46 AM EST
Political ecology in France has often been a bitter and fractious affair. The Green Party (Les Verts) has always been its leading representative, but rarely the only party vying for the ecologist vote. The party itself is explicitly organized on factional lines, with frequent power struggles, based not on discernible policy differences, but on tactics and personal power-seeking. There is also a Jacobin (or Leninist) culture of centralized decision-making and control, which is in flat contradiction with the roots and formal structure of the party, which is a federation of regional groups.
Les Verts have a reputation, largely deserved, for squabbles and bust-ups, and there is not the slightest doubt that this has cost us considerable electoral support over the years. The flip side of this is that we are undoubtedly the most democratic party in France; but the exercise of this intra-party democracy absorbs all our energy, leaving us exhausted and ineffectual.
Enter Dany Cohn-Bendit.
DCB, having been expelled from France by De Gaulle in 1968, has spent almost all of his adult life, and political career, in Germany, with die Grünen. Since the late 90s, he has been making guest-star appearances in the French party. Over the past couple of years, he has been involved in a determined effort to shift the political culture of Les Verts, and this is what brought him to Lyon [last Thursday].
promoted by Jerome
"Europe Ecologie" was a catch-phrase, a slogan for the European elections of 2009 - and a hugely successful one, a high-water mark for the ecologist vote in France.
But it was more than that -- it was a genuine attempt to broaden both the appeal and the representativity of the movement, by building a coalition with leading figures from outside the Green party. This process has continued since then, with the creation of a formal structure, "Europe Ecologie", and a gradual convergence culminating in the fusion, a few months ago, into a single entity, "Europe Ecologie Les Verts" (strikingly original name!)
At Dany's instigation, a new organisation has been formed alongside the political party : the Europe Ecologie "co-operative". The role of this entity should be to form an interface between the political process, domain of the party, and the activists and environmental organisations which are sympathisers, but do not wish to carry the party card. This outreach organization should not be instrumentalised by the party, but on the contrary, provide a forum to anchor the party in society at large.
All this is pretty fine on paper, but continues to be marginalized by the party apparatus, which is stuck in the old political culture.
So here we are : the first congress of the "new" party, Europe Ecologie Les Verts, is in 10 days. The traditional factions are determined to hold on to power; so a broad coalition has emerged, composed of newcomers and of "historic" Verts who want to transform the political culture and open up a rather autistic party to the world. A motion has been submitted to the congress, and a list formed to take over the party apparatus... a faction to end all factions.
About 150 party members and/or co-operators turned up to a meeting with Dany in Lyon tonight, and a large part of the meeting was devoted to venting about grievances with the party apparatus and general ethos; myself included. After years of active service, I was disheartened to realize that most of my efforts were devoted to purely intra-party matters, with no effect whatever on the outside world. I had not paid up my membership dues these last couple of years, and only signed up a few months ago to the new organisation, hoping that it would be different this time.
Supported by such non-Party luminaries as José Bové and economist Pierre Larroturou, but also by fair numbers of Party heavyweights, we just need to mobilize party members to turn up and vote... Traditionally, leading motions will negotiate and merge at the congress to form a stable majority, but I feel an outright majority is within reach.
I want to emphasise that this is not a "political" faction : a very wide range of views is represented, which is sort of the whole point (Dany, for example, is to the right of most of us on a number of issues). Diversity and respect of opinions are the key uniting factor.
The factional site
[Update, Sunday 29th May]
I spent the afternoon catching up with comrades, and voting, at the regional gathering, in Givors about 30 km south of Lyon. Easy enough for me, tougher from those who come from 200km away, for example Savoie or southern Ardèche. Here are the results of the factional vote :
Motion A (naïve utopian) 4%
Motion B (current politburo) 51%
Motion C (Dany etc) 26%
Motion D (left) 19%
A disappointment for me. This is seen as a personal victory for current National Secretary, Cécile Duflot, who is thus assured of a third mandate, which must be something of a record. She is certainly dynamic and charismatic, with a good media presence, and I have no problems with her, as long as she becomes better at respecting pluralism within the movement.
According to the party statutes, the head of the majority list is candidate for the post of National Secretary, but requires a majority of 60%. So despite her list's outright majority (I don't recall that ever happening before) there will necessarily be negotiation and compromise. There was no question of Dany being up for the job anyway (it would not be practically compatible with his position in the Green group in the European parliament).
Out of 15000 members of the Party, 6500 voted, either by being physically present at a regional gathering, or by proxy, with the restriction that each member present can carry a maximum of one proxy. Membership, although still pretty feeble, has increased a lot the past couple of years (I've never seen it over 10 000 before), so, understandably, the rate of non-participation is higher than usual. We have been pushing for correspondance or electronic voting, this being part of building a mass movement as opposed to an elitist, activist party. No success on this so far.
I won't be going to next weekend's Congress, I have no stomach for it these days, but will be following it with interest. It rather looks like business as usual to me : a majority of hard-bitten activists, and a scattering of bewildered newcomers, who will either enter into the swing of things or turn away in disgust.
Over the last couple of years, EELV has effectively swept the field of political ecology in France, absorbing various small parties and groups whose existence, though ineffectual on an electoral level, was proof of the sectarian nature of Green politics. If we fail to deliver in terms of effective outreach, then the fallow ground will, over the next couple of years, give rise to a new crop of micro-parties. This would be a major setback in terms of credibility and electoral efficacy.
The Party, I think, will remain much as it ever was. In terms of outreach, I pin my hopes on the Co-Operative, which apparently works well in certain regions. Its existence in its own right, properly resourced and not instrumentalized by the Party, will be the thing to watch, because it's the key to the emergence of a mass movement of political ecology in France.