Timely launch for France's 'red postman'

Timely launch for France's 'red postman'

8th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

Olivier Besancenot is about to launch his New Anti-Capitalist Party and the timing could hardly be better.

The financial storm buffeting the world has put wind in the sails of a communist postman whose eloquent calls for revolution have made him one of the most popular figures on the French left and a darling of the media.

   Olivier Besancenot is about to launch his New Anti-Capitalist Party and the timing could hardly be better.

   "This crisis could be an eye-opener for millions of people," the postman told AFP as he took a break from expressing solidarity with workers outside a Renault car factory near the northern port of Le Havre.

   "It may enable them to see that it's urgent and necessary to change
society," the 34-year-old, who has stood in the last two presidential
elections calling for the overthrow of the French state, said Tuesday.

   The man who defeated him last time round, Nicolas Sarkozy, had
visited the same factory a day earlier, accompanied by dozens of riot police, to assure workers that the site would not close despite hundreds of job losses.

   Sarkozy has reacted to the crisis by calling for the international
financial system to be overhauled, while the US and various European
governments have nationalised ailing banks.

   But such state intervention is radically misguided for Besancenot,
who is winding up his Communist Revolutionary Party to launch the new party in January to include the remains of the once-powerful Communist Party, environmentalists, disaffected Socialists and anti-globalisation

   "They're nationalising private companies which are collapsing but they're continuing to privatise public companies like the post office, which are
profitable," said Besancenot.

   "Instead of nationalising collapsing banks what we propose is to unite
all the banks -- both state and private -- in a single new public banking
service, which would be controlled by its employees and its customers," he said.

   Besancenot took just 4.1 percent of the vote in the first round of last
year's presidential election. But since then he has been a constant presence in France's media, appearing on the front cover of glossy magazines and in countless television, radio and press interviews.

   With the mainstream Socialists riven by infighting and demoralised
after three consecutive defeats in presidential elections, Besancenot has in some opinion polls got more favourable ratings than the likes of Segolene Royal, the Socialist contender in last year's vote.

   "Besancenot is tapping into the traditional myth of revolution of the downtrodden majority of little people who rebel against the predatory
elite," said Michel Gurfunkiel, editor of the rightwing Valeurs Actuelles weekly magazine.

   "It's a myth that goes back to the French Revolution," he said, adding that
"a very large part of French politics is about creating exciting new cocktails
with the country's traditional myths."

   Born in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, Besancenot presents himself as a working class postman despite having bourgeois parents -- a teacher and a psychologist -- and a Masters degree in history.

   With his busy political life, he now delivers letters ony part-time in
Neuilly, the wealthy Paris suburb where Sarkozy made his political career.

   Besancenot said he found nothing unusual about choosing to work in such a humble job given his university qualifications.

   "There are lots of postmen who went to college," he said at the factory
gates, dressed in jeans and a dark blue windcheater. "Postmen are a special milieu. In my office there are people who write poetry, top athletes,

   The media-savvy postman is well aware that the ideology he is peddling has a discredited past, and swears that the revolution he wants would avoid the savagery of the Soviet Union.

   "I belong to a strand (of communism) that was always anti-Stalinist," he
said, adding he wants a society that includes "multi-partyism, a free press
and universal sufffrage" with "production controlled by the majority of the

   Commentators say he is unlikely to make it into the mainstream of French politics. Gurfunkiel and Philippe Braud, of the French political
institute Sciences Po, both said that at best he could hope for around 10 percent of the vote in future elections.

   They also believe that he could become the far-left equivalent of the extreme-right Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

   "(Former Socialist president) Francois Mitterrand was very happy that
Le Pen was taking a large percentage of the rightwing vote and Sarkozy is
obviously happy that Besancenot is around," said Braud.

photos: Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA, Sam Hocevar


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