France History – The Crisis of the Left

Moreover, whatever the electoral consultation, the number of abstentions increases, as well as of blank ballots and of those not registered on the electoral lists. In France, one in three young people under the age of 25 was not registered on the eve of the presidential election in May 2002; the number of political militants does not exceed 2% of the voters, and only 8% of active employees join a trade union (these last two figures are the lowest in the whole Western world).

On the left, the Communist Party has lost its political identity and, largely, its sociological identity as well. The elections of May and June 2002 practically sanctioned its disappearance from the French political landscape (less than 5% of the votes). As for the Socialist Party, it was abandoned by the ‘little ones’, from the grassroots, in short, by the popular strata. Socialism, one of humanity’s great unifying myths, has also been betrayed by European social democratic leaders. Already on March 12, 1999, the resignation of Oskar Lafontaine, the German finance minister, had spectacularly revealed the difficulties of social democracy and the inability of this political current to propose a replacement solution to the neoliberal hegemony. In his eyes even Keynesianism, which allowed American President Franklin Roosevelt to revive a crisis-hit America in the 1930s, would now be too far to the left. The same socialist comrades reproached Lafontaine for having committed five sacrileges: hoping for a policy to revive Europe, advocating a fairer tax system, criticizing the European Central Bank, calling for a reform of the international monetary system and asking, in the past, for the Bundesbank to lower interest rates to make credit cheaper, in order to stimulate consumption and fight unemployment.

According to PHILOSOPHYNEARBY, another example of the intellectual renunciation of Social Democracy was provided by the Kosovo war, which began on 23 March 1999. It will be recalled that Javier Solana, who announced the decision to end negotiations with the Belgrade regime and begin bombing Serbia, then NATO Secretary General. Solana is himself a historical leader of the PSOE (Partido socialista obrero español), and was able to count, for the war in Kosovo, on the main support of Gerhard Schröder, Lionel Jospin, Massimo D’Alema and Tony Blair, respectively heads of government at the time of Germany, France, Italy and of the United Kingdom, as well as eminent members, all four of them, of European Social Democracy. Everyone accepted the military route proposed by Washington as the ‘only solution’ to get out of the impasse of the peace negotiations in Rambouillet, although everyone knew that the use of NATO and the bombing of Serbia would have resulted in the death of numerous innocent civilians and the destruction of a the whole country without avoiding the extension of the conflicts in the Balkans, as the war in Macedonia in 2001 proved. heirs of Jean Jaurès and a long tradition of international legalism, yield to this point to pressure from Washington and embark on the Kosovo war adventure in 1999 without the slightest international legitimacy? No United Nations resolution concerning this region had explicitly authorized the use of force. And the Security Council, which is supposed to represent the planet’s supreme body in matters of conflict, had not been brought up on the matter before those bombs were dropped, and had not given any endorsement of the use of arms against Serbia.

How can we fail to see in these examples further signs of the ideological collapse of social democracy and its conversion to social liberalism? Sailing on sight, obsessed with urgency and proximity, Social Democracy has been left without a compass and totally devoid of a theoretical foundation (unless we call theory those catalogs of renunciations and denials that are The Third Way of Anthony Giddens, former Blair’s adviser, and The good choice by Bodo Hombach, who was Chancellor Schröder’s inspiration for a long time). For social democracy, which in the early 1990s dominated unchallenged in several European countries, politics is the economy, the economy is finance, and finance is the markets. Therefore it has endeavored to favor privatization, the reduction of the state budget, the dismantling of the public sector, while always encouraging the concentrations and mergers of giant companies. Although here and there it has introduced important social laws (in France the Jospin government has passed some great laws that unquestionably constitute social progress of historical significance: the law for the employment of young people; the 35 hours; the CMU, Couverture maladie universelle, and the APA, Allocation personnalisée d’autonomie, intended for people who are no longer autonomous of the third age) in substance, social democracy has accepted to convert to social-liberalism. It is no longer a question of setting full employment or the eradication of poverty as priority objectives to respond to the desperation of the 18 million unemployed and 50 million poor that the European Union counts.

France History - The Crisis of the Left

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