MENTION the word ‘communist’ to the average Briton or American and they are likely to think of the Cold War, China, a lack of democracy, freedom and concerns for human rights.
However, in France, communism has long been an integral part of the political scene. The Parti Communiste Français (PCF), France's leading communist party (there are smaller, more extremist ones) is the third political force at local level and is the third biggest party by membership.
The party headquarters states there are 724 PCF mayors, 15 MPs (and two who are “close” to the party but not members), 23 senators and three MEPs. PCF leader Marie-George Buffet, a mother-of-two who is MP for Seine-Saint- Denis, has been sécrétaire nationale of the party since 2001. The Connexion’s Oliver Rowland interviews her.
Sarkozy has spoken a lot about the need for more economic growth and for France to work harder and be more competitive - to be more economically “liberal.” There are also concerns for France's social security deficit
and the high taxes and charges, which some people say mean the rich leave and take their money elsewhere. How can we be competitive but also promote the values of solidarity and equality that you focus on?
For years people have been saying the same thing - they have been trying to get our people, our workers, to compete with each other. Europe, which could have been a beautiful dea, was built on this dogma of competitivity - that you've got to lower taxes for the big companies and big fortunes, the ordinary people must work harder and lose rights - what has the result been?
We've got the worst growth ever in these last few years, the least job security - their recipe isn't working. Europe isn't doing well either economically or socially. We need to put other recipes in place - a more generous attitude. Take energy - we need sustainable development, to get more control over our energy use and not just be dependent on oil, with its rising prices.
We need energy services at a European level that work in the general interest. Take social security; if we did not allow so many companies to benefit from exonerations from social charge and tax payments - 50 billion euros a year of exonerations, which even M. Seguin, president of the Cour des Comptes [the government body which conducts audits of public institutions] is worried about - we would be able to finance the right to healthcare easily, no problem. Let's get back to looking at the common good.
If, in Europe there was a harmonisation of social security rights and taxes, if the European Central Bank no longer promoted the strong euro, that would all help economic and industrial development. It's time for real change.
Do you need to be united with other communist parties and left-wing interest groups to make that change?
At a European level we must work with all progressive and democratic forces. With 36 other parties we have created a partyof the European Left. We also work with parties that are not part of this, such as Sinn Féin.
The unions have founded a European Confederation. We must all work together. In France also we need the left-wing parties to present a united front so as to have political majority. I don't just want to campaign, I also want to make concrete changes in people's lives. Power means having a political majority and I don't think that any force of the left can have a majority on its own today.
Between you and the other French communist parties - do you have similar goals, or do you have quite different ideologies? I'm talking about parties like the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire or Lutte Ouvrière.
We've got fundamental differences and they are not aiming for a political majority. They are not aiming to take responsibility for governing. Extremism gets you nowhere. No real change. No taking of responsibility.
In my opinion Communism doesn't have a very positive image for many English-speakers - we might think of the failure of the old Soviet Union, for example. Would you say your communism is a more moderate kind?
Yes, we are an important part of modern history.We are the party of major social advances - we were part of the Front Populaire in 1936 see right and we were the party of the Resistance against the Nazis. At the Liberation they called us "the party of the fusillés [people shot by Nazi firing squads]" - we took part in the government of Général de Gaulle which rebuilt France after the war. We have always played a role in democracy and social advances. There is an attachment between the French people and our party.
I understand that you support democracy and would not want a one-party state, such as in the USSR?
Yes, we think that freedom and democracy are the motors of change. There is no change where there is no freedom and democracy.We have seen that.