Olivier Besancenot, the cherubic postman taking time off from delivering mail to stand for the second time as a presidential candidate for the Revolutionary Communist League, is angry. And guess who makes him screw up his round tanned face with barely contained rage? The capitalists bien sur.
‘We are no more stupid than the capitalists,’ he told a crowd of 4,000 very young supporters at the Salle de la Mutualite in Paris’ chic fifth arondissement last night. With a sarcastic, bitter smile, he continued. ‘If they are capable of stealing from us, then we are capable of stealing from them.’ Is he talking about raising taxes I wondered? When he mentioned Johnny Hallyday, a friend of Sarkozy who fled to Switzerland to avoid taxes, the crowd booed.
Olivier is campaigning on the slogan ‘our lives are worth more than their profits.’ To force the message home, he wore a carton of a smiling granny on his tight black t-shirt. Her wrinkles were red. The blood of the worker.
‘They try to tell us that it is the capitalists who create riches,’ Olivier continued, raising his pasty white arms in the air. ‘It’s us,’ cried the crowd. Olivier told them if he was president, he would outlaw the firing of workers and the shifting of production to cheaper countries.
Most of those who flocked to see Olivier looked just like him. Very, very young. There was barely a streak of grey hair to be seen. Looking in the faces of the teenagers and students as they raised their hands in a clenched fist and sung the revolutionary song of resistance, L’Internationale, I could see why they came. I could just about remember what it felt like to believe in a better world. But why had the old people come?
Jean Michel de Laroche, 53, a psychiatrist from Paris’ fourth arondissment, said he supports Olivier because he embodies justice and equality. I admired his expensive-looking watch and beautifully coiffed grey hair, and enquired whether he’d be willing to share his money with some of the poor students around. ‘I’d be happy to pay more taxes, much more.’ Still, he must be in a minority. Most people rushed past the volunteers collecting campaign funds at the door without reaching into their pockets.
I understood barely a word of what Michel Lopes, 63, was saying as he thrust a leaflet heralding the workers’ occupation of a printing factory where he used to work into my hands. I made out that he belonged to the generation of ’68, when students marched for a change in society, and that he despised the ‘liberalisme’ of Blair’s Britain.
Some people had come as part of their civic duty, touring rallies as they try to make up their mind who to vote for. Documentary maker Antoine Dauer, 30, said he likes Olivier’s candour, but questioned whether his economic discourse is realistic. Hedi Taleb, 28, agreed. ‘It’s total demagogy, but then so are the people who say everything will be solved if we cut taxes.’ I asked them what they thought of Tony Blair, and suddenly found myself drawn into a debate about the Anglo-Saxon world. ‘We are not all horrible capitalists,’ I found myself saying as I put my journalist pen into my handbag. Then I recommended they buy my book….