PART ONE: PUTTING THE ‘SOCIAL’ BACK IN SOCIALISM
Politics invites paradox. In last year’s national election the French Socialist PS ran chic, upper-class candidate Segolene Royal against the right-wing UMP’s scrappy, Hungarian-immigrant boss, Nicholas Sarkozy. Since then, despite Sarko’s grating excesses, the opposition Parti Socialiste has been looking more and more like PS, as in post-script.
Why? because unlike other European social democratic parties, the PS voter base remains stuck in a misty, post-WW2 time-warp illusion, where Capital=Fascism and Communist=Freedom Fighter. Steered by a discordant bag of unions which in turn are swung by their more livid Communist factions, the PS claims to defend ‘workers” interests while in fact shoring up the privileges of a spoiled few, mainly government employees with bulging pension plans. (To add to the surreality of the landscape, only 9.6% of French workers are actually union members–a rate closing in on extinction.)
But now comes the World Economic Crisis to spark hope of putting the ‘social’ back in Socialism. As in: See, you stupid thieving market liberals? You brought the whole factory down on all our heads. More government oversight is exactly what this society needs.
After losing the last election and then shucking off her common-law consort and father of her two children, Segolene Royal has risen like a spa-refreshed movie star after a bad box-office. Her goal: a second Presidential candidacy four years from now. Next week she’s expected to take her first giant step–the elevation to Party Chairperson, thanks to a profoundly unrepresentative vote by approximately 100,000 dues-paying, inner-circle militants. After a bloody first round of votes on the 6th November that brought the surprise defeat of popular Paris mayor Delanoe, the only opponent to Royal left in the ring is Martine Aubrey, notorious author of the 35-hour work week. Merci beaucoup, Martine, for crippling the French economy! Talk about your misty-eyed illusions.
By the way, life is dishier than fiction: if Royal wins, she’ll take over the desk of her former consort, Francois Hollande, current boss of the PS.
Even in global meltdown there’s a silver lining–finding it just depends on where you happen to stand.