Thursday, 3 January 2013
Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Saul Alinsky. The necessity of conflict
I have belatedly come across a New Statesman interview in December with French Front de Gauche leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. What struck me was how much he sounded like the dead American community organiser, Saul Alinsky. Mélenchon, unmistakably echoing Alinsky, spoke of how conflict was essential to a healthy democracy.
“Democracy is not consensus,” he said. “It's a mode of regulating conflict and difference. And to deny conflict in society is as dangerous as it is to mental health to deny the conflicts that we experience as human beings.”
“Conflict,” said Alinsky in his 1971 book, Rules for Radicals, “is the essential core of a free and open society … Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a non-existent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
Conflict, not to be confused with hatred or violence, is the source of creation and progress to both Alinsky and Mélenchon.
The parlous state of freedom and democracy is Britain is partly due to a neurotic fear of conflict. When Labour party leader Ed Miliband took the inadequate and contradictory step of attacking “predatory capitalism” in 2011 he was immediately criticised by the Blairites, not just for the concept, but for the fact that he didn’t enlist any business leaders in support. His sin was to open a small rivulet of conflict.
Conflict is seen as inimical to economic growth and a harbinger of discord between capital and labour. But you can’t, despite the beliefs of British politicians, eradicate conflict. You can repress it and change its form, but it will reappear. It’s far healthier, as Mélenchon realises, in personal life as in politics, not to deny conflict, but to accept it.
“I don’t agree with you” is one of the most creative sentences you can utter.