Celebrating French Communism at the Fête de l’Humanité

September 7, 2010By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
fête de l’humanité
A sea of humanity at last year’s Fête de l’Humanité.

Yes, there is still a Communist Party in France. It’s called the PCF, and any one of its members will be happy to explain to you their really, really, really, really, really, really, indisputably good reason why if they came to power the country wouldn’t decline into famine, failure and/or violence like every single other communist regime in the history of humanity. And there’s no better place to hear all about it than the festival of humanity: La Fête de l’Humanité, the PCF’s annual rally and fair, September 10-12 at the Parc Departemental de la Courneuve.

Politics aside, I highly recommend the “Fête de l’Huma,” as it is called, simply because it’s fun and interesting. There are lots of activities, plenty of good cheap food and drink, and a genuinely impressive lineup of 86 concerts at no extra charge (it’s €25 for all three days, €19 if you buy in advance). This year’s headliners include Madness, Simple Minds and French pop legend Jacques Dutronc. Also, every sizable party group in France sets up a stand, offering an exhibition, prize raffle, coffee bar, snack bar, bar bar or some other kind of attraction.

The last time I went was actually 20 years ago. The 1990 F d’H was the first one after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I was with a bunch of other journalists who wanted to hear the keynote address by Georges Marchais, longtime head of the PCF, just to see what he could possibly have to say. The answer turned out to be: a lot. I don’t remember a word of his speech, but I do remember a very telling, and perhaps prophetic, image.

At about noon, while wandering among the stands, I noticed that the Communist Party of Clermont-Ferrand (France’s equivalent of Akron, Ohio) had a huge tent set up with about two hundred folding chairs facing a long table on a dais. A sign outside proclaimed, “At 3:00 PM Today! Crucial Panel Discussion! All the Top Officers of the Clermont-Ferrand Communist Party On Stage! Their Topic: ‘Communism: Which Way Forward?’ Don’t Miss It!” I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, that’ll really pack ’em in.”

Time went by. I had lunch at the Cuban stand and browsed the books on sale at the North Korean booth (there’s a “Village du Monde” international section — don’t miss it), and, by chance, at about 3:10 I happened to walk past the Clermont-Ferrand tent again. As promised, the Crucial Panel Discussion was underway. Up on stage were five or six people, declaiming into microphones and looking exceedingly self-conscious. Here’s why: in the two-hundred-odd folding chairs in front of them was, I swear, one guy. And he was asleep. And I don’t mean nodding off once in a while and then jerking back awake. I mean sprawled in the chair with all four limbs splayed out, head thrust back and mouth gaping open as wide as any sword swallower’s. You could have given him a root canal.

And on they talked, the Top Officers of the Clermont-Ferrand Communist Party.

So I strongly recommend attending the Fête this year. See if that guy’s still there. And for God’s sake, wake him up.

David Jaggard

Fête de l’Humanité: Parc Départemental de la Corneuve. Métro: La Courneuve 8 Mai 1945, then shuttle bus. RER B: Le Bourget, then shuttle bus. T1 tram: La Courneuve 8 Mai 1945, then shuttle bus. September 10-12. Friday, 2pm-12:30am; Saturday, 8am-12:30am, Sunday, 8am-9pm. http://humanite.fr/fete_huma. Village du Monde. Concert program

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