International meeting of communist and workers’ parties
Lisbon, 8-10 November 2013
Gilles Garnier, Member of the national executive board of the PCF, European Affairs
It is a great pleasure for me to speak to you today on behalf of the French Communist Party. As we meet here in Lisbon, where the winds of the April Revolution blow anew, I bring you all our heartfelt, fraternal greetings, and especially wish to thank our comrades from the Portuguese Communist Party who have extended such a warm welcome.
The Portuguese people, through their massive mobilisation, are standing up to shake off the deadly politics of austerity, of social and democratic regression, that capitalist forces in Europe – now more discredited than ever – seek to impose on Portugal and indeed on all the peoples of Europe.
France is not spared, and it was in the same spirit of struggle that we ejected Nicolas Sarkozy from office in in 2012, rejecting the most vindictive right wing our country has seen since 1945; a right wing that attacked our hard-won social and democratic progress. These forces, joined with the German right under Angela Merkel, have sought to subject all of the people of Europe to the iron rule of financial capitalism.
In the spring of 2012, the PCF and our allies in the Left Front made a major contribution to the resounding defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy. We joined forces with other parties of the left to beat Nicolas Sarkozy, although we had no illusions about the choices that François Hollande was likely to implement.
Some Europeans harboured illusions about the consequences of the election of François Hollande: not us. We refused to take part in an administration that did not clearly strive to halt the politics of austerity nor to defend workers against the forces of capital. We decided that we would pass judgement on this administration’s work, and take action in Parliament and in the street based on our unqualified criteria: the interests of the workers and the interests of the country as opposed to those of the banks, the multinationals and big business.
In fact, the first measure taken by the new president was the ratification of the European Budget Pact without changing a single line; he accommodated demands for reduced public spending and increased competitiveness and flexibility.
We fought against the budget pact, the French “inter-professional labour agreement”, and a new pension reform – in fact the French Senate rejected that reform three days ago.
Each of our battles included the demonstration that alternative solutions are possible. And we are continuing the battle of ideas and actions, undertaking a major national campaign to show just what capital costs us.
So-called “austerity” policies in the European Union, led by the Commission and the European Central Bank, along with the idolisation of the principle of free and undistorted competition, are cracking the foundations of the social state in our countries; these foundations were laid following World War II or after the fall of fascist regimes in Portugal, Spain and Greece.
The crisis of capitalism, “their” crisis, not ours, has enabled the dismantlement of social and democratic advances. In France, as in many European countries, the social movement has not yielded. We resist in the difficult context of collective, organised despair that is fostered and nurtured by governments in place, forces on the right, the far right, and actively kept up by big business, supported by compliant media.
This is why we believe the position of the European Trade Unions Confederation is extremely positive and significant: for the first time it rejected the proposed European treaty. Another positive sign is the opening of dialogue and joint actions in many countries among citizens’ movements and our parties and organisations. This new development brings us hope.
Mobilisation against the transatlantic agreement is underway in our country and we are actively participating in an information and awareness campaign that needs to be amplified in order to cut this agreement at the quick. A first success was setting culture outside the scope of the negotiation; now a broad association of citizens, trade unionists and political forces is growing. It encompasses the same progressive forces that enabled us to defeat the 2005 Constitutional Treaty.
The socio-liberal choices that the French president and his administration have chosen to follow also determine a three-pillar foreign policy: conquering market shares for multinational corporations that are French in name only, the “NATO-isation” of national and European defence and foreign policy, and the militarisation of international relations with a goal to establish France as a so-called “middle power”.
Certainly the crisis in Syria, alongside the overall situation in the Middle East and North Africa raises global questions on international security today, and on the need to question the politics of “powers” and the logic of force.
And we are all aware of the extent to which neo-imperialist strategies at work in this region and elsewhere in the world have had devastating and destabilising effects that bring great danger to bear on all people.
But while we must develop our solidarity with popular democratic uprisings against despotic, oppressive regimes, we must also stand firm in our rejection of foreign intervention.
Mali is an example of the way in which France views its relations with African countries and its role on the African continent.
Denying the responsibility of France, the EU, the IMF and the United States as regards the breakdown of Malian society and the failure of the Malian state, the French military intervention was a stopgap solution. Other means could have been called into play, over the years, to prevent the penetration of jihadist groups in society. The future of Mali is for Malians to decide and this is the task that France should set for herself, beginning by abandoning practices that belong to the past.
I will pass over the shame and anger we felt when the French government prevented President Morales from flying over French territory. The pretexts advanced to justify this act of aggression and violation of international law speak volumes about the degree of French submission to Atlanticism – a shackle it is high time we throw off.
Events in the Latin America have shown how, over the past 15 years, through the development of struggles and popular movements, left wing and progressive governments have been able to take political power and establish development strategies that have pushed back the hegemony of the United States and neo-liberalism.
Democratic, economic and social advances are unprecedented: re-appropriation of natural resources, human development programmes that have brought millions out of poverty, nationalisations in strategic sectors and important steps forward for democracy and workers’ rights. Until now, such progress had been possible in Cuba alone.
Communists, whatever their position, are not dedicated to protest, although that is necessary, but rather to innovation, to finding solutions, acting and uniting to open the path to liberation.
Our goal is to give workers, employees, working women and youth, and the underemployed confidence and courage.
In 2013, as at the beginning of the 20th century, the problem remains the confiscation of economic and political power by the few. The battle today is to return power to the people everywhere, where the bourgeoisie and big business have seized it from the people, and where the people have never held power, that is in companies and at the workplace.
National and European institutions have reached the end of the road – the Fifth Republic in France, with its emphasis on the person of the president, has become an obstacle to democracy. We want to move beyond this. Our institutions provide no protection from neo-liberalism because they are its defenders.
We work to strengthen the broadest possible coalitions against the Europe of austerity. This is the meaning we give to re-foundation, based on a clear break from the current EU treaties; it bears the demand for a completely new regional concept grounded in solidarity among peoples and social, economic, environmental and democratic progress for all.
Indeed it is because the very logic of the system is at the heart of today’s social, economic, political and democratic crises, that the force of capital have no scruples, once again, in allowing the fascist threat to rear its head; fascism feeds on the confusion and disappointment that neo-liberalism has engendered. We are clearheaded. This battle requires a complete about-face in French policy, and an unprecedented union of the left. But we will not stand by while the peoples of Europe are divided and set against each other in hatred.
Local elections will be held a few weeks before European elections in France, and both are key moments, each in its own right. There will be major efforts to weaken capacity for resistance and prevent the people from taking power. Around the country, communists are preparing for the successive elections with three clear objectives: defeat the right, block the far right, win anti-austerity left majorities to put people at the centre of social choices.
Paul Vaillant-Couturier wrote, “Communism is the youth of the world”. Our task is tremendous, and whatever the paths we choose in our countries, whatever the assessments we make of different national choices, it is essential that we maintain forums like this one where we gather today.
We are convinced that these gatherings will enable progressive forces to act to transform our societies; capitalism is turning back the clock on human civilisation – we say it is time to move forward instead.
Dear friends and comrades,
We need an international movement, indeed the communist identity has always been international, through our contributions to broad assemblies of people who fought and are fighting still to defend communist ideals. Our international engagement may take new forms, but it will always be forged in struggle and union.
We strengthen that bond here today, in Portugal, homeland of Alvaro Cunhal, a great revolutionary at the head of the Portuguese Communist Party. He carried the hopes of Portuguese people and workers, at a time when other countries were also casting off the fascist yoke, hopes to walk freely along to path to liberty, equality, social justice and democracy.