Obituary: Jacques Kergoat

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The Independent Culture
IT IS noticeable that the death of Jacques Kergoat on 29 July should have coincided with a widespread discussion on the subject of "Who rules France?" The most moderate and reserved of commentators are talking about the bankers, company directors and investors who now shape the destiny of France, both nationally and internationally. It was against them that Kergoat fought. And fought all his life.

He was a socialist. But this did not mean that he simply joined the Socialist Party and became active as a militant. Had he done so, then he would have had a successful political career. But Kergoat rejected loyalty to the Socialist Party; he sought loyalty to socialism. He was born in Brest in 1939; the first socialism he encountered was that of the Fourth Republic, that of Guy Mollet. This was, for him, the negation of socialism. Mollet confirmed this in 1958, when he accepted, and indeed assisted, what Kergoat considered to be General de Gaulle's seizure of power.

In 1960 Kergoat joined the independent socialist party, "Parti Socialiste Unifie" (PSU). He worked with Edouard Depreux, who had been Minister for Education in 1948 but who had been badly treated by the Socialists, with the future prime minister Michel Rocard, who was full of ideas for the future, and with the journalist Gilles Martine. Kergoat was Secretary- General of the PSU in the Paris district, and he shared his colleagues' conviction that they were the socialist party of the future.

The events of 1968 changed all this. The established parties in opposition, the Communists and Socialists, rejoiced as they saw de Gaulle's power severely shaken. But they were also fearful of the self-styled revolutionary students and they disapproved of any suggestion that they were supporting them.

The PSU shared this apprehension. But not so Kergoat. He accepted with enthusiasm the idea that socialists should say that their objective was to overthrow capitalism, since that was their belief, and that they should openly discuss the methods to be used. Persisting in this attitude he gained the disapproval of his PSU colleagues. He was outvoted and forced to resign as Secretary-General. He foretold that this was the end of the PSU and he was proved right when many joined the Socialist Party, as re-organised by Francois Mitterrand.

Kergoat could not join the Communists. He did not believe that they were in any way revolutionary; he disapproved of their admiration for the Soviet Union; he hated their internal discipline. Therefore in 1972 he turned to the only possible centre for revolutionary action, the Communist League led by Alain Krivine. With several of his PSU companions, he became associated with the Trotskyist Fourth International.

He distinguished himself in a number of ways. He sought to understand socialism by studying its history and its sociological basis. It was necessary, he believed, to have an intellectual core. He was attracted to the figure of Marceau Pivert, one of the leaders of the 1936 Popular Front, and one who, before the demonstrations of 1968, believed that a socialist government could do everything it wished: "Tout est possible." He wrote articles in newspapers; he founded political reviews.

He understood that one of the lessons of 1968 was that existing organisations had to be used. That meant that the political parties, the Communists included, had a role to play, as had the different trade union organisations, as had intellectuals who were able to play a role in the media. What was necessary was to exploit issues where all these forces could come together. As new political parties became important, so they had to be harnessed to the task of opposing, limiting, and attacking capitalism.

In 1998 he created the Foundation Copernic to denounce the common enemy that was liberalism. He worked for the Electricite de France and in January 1999 he signed on behalf of their workers the agreement for the 35-hour working week, a small step, but one that supported workers' rights and limited capitalist power.

In addition, he wrote jazz criticism for a number of publications.

\Jacques Kergoat, politician and writer: born Brest, France 3 April 1939; married (one daughter); died Poitiers, France 29 July 1999.