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  Loïc wacquant

 Jospin pays for the class
 betrayal of the Socialists.

Serge Halimi


Serge Halimi



Serge Halimi (journalist, LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE) and Loïc Wacquant (Sociologist, University of California-Berkeley and Centre de sociologie européenne du Collège de France). THE GUARDIAN, 25 April 2002.




The rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen is nothing new. And it cannot be accounted for by the so-called wedge issues of xenophobia, antisemitism, and the « fear of the other ». Even if those cultural themes are feeding an entire industry of mediocre essayists who dream to see their second-hand analyses on « ethnicity » and « fragmentation » snatched and translated in their second home, the United States (from where they are imported). The problem is, at bottom, the class betrayal of the new socialists in France as in its European neighbours.

In 1988, Jean-Marie Le Pen, drew 4,4 million votes. Seven years later, he received 4,6 million. Last Sunday, it was 4,8 million. What happened is that little happened over the past five (or twenty-five) years liable to draw voters from the lower class, which have seen their life conditions and life chances deteriorate continually, away from Le Pen. The rise of the extreme right, starting in the early 1980’s, coincides with the jettisoning by the French left of its working-class tradition and ambition. As the Socialist Party switched its doctrine and policies to appeal to the educated middle classes and dragged the Communist Party alongside with it (and into government), the National Front became the top vote-getter among workers and the unemployed.

The French socialists have even theorised this betrayal. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jospin’s spokesman and likely prime minister had Jospin become president, has explained that, in spite of 3 million unemployed and four million officially living under the poverty line even as the stock market booms, French « society considers that it has reached its limits in matters of redistribution ». And that « unfortunately one cannot always expect from the most underprivileged group a serene participation to parliamentary democracy ». How true last Sunday ! Lately, the French socialists have even taken New Labour as model. After Blair won his second consecutive term of office, France's minister for European affairs, a Jospin associate, exulted in the Financial Times : « This victory is excellent news for the left and for Europe. Mr Blair is an admirable example to other social democrats. »

We now know for sure that France is not Britain and that this « social democracy » is roundly rejected there by people on the left. The electoral system and the deep thirst for alternatives to submission to neoliberal dogma and the rule of multinational corporations make it possible in France to reject both parties of government along with their obsessive craving for middle-class support and utter disregard for the fate of poor. Left voters can still punish candidates who, smugly, betray their electoral commitments.

Lionel Jospin had promised to defend the public sector from privatisation. He turned into the biggest privatiser in French history and was preparing to put the public railways and postal service on the block in the name of « competition ». Jospin had promised to renegotiate the European pact of stability that committed its members to orthodox fiscal and monetary policies. He signed it unchanged within a week of taking office. Jospin had promised to defend wages and full-time jobs. Instead, the 35-hour week law turned out to be a machine to flexibilize labour, forcing thousands to work at night and on weekends. Jospin even became the first left-wing prime minister in French history to reduce income tax rates for the rich. In September 1999, he explained : « I don’t believe that one can administer the economy any more. One does not regulate the economy through the law, through texts. Everyone admits [the rule] of the market ». But Jospin’s victory in 1997 had been obtained by promising a return to political voluntarism and breaking, precisely, with the dictatorship of « the market ».

Because he professed state impotence on the social and economic front (four years of sturdy economic growth increased the wealth of the rich but did not dent the number of the poor), Jospin had to recoup political legitimacy somewhere : on the crime front. Lamely importing Blair’s asinine slogan, « Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime », he helped canonise the traditional right-wing theme of law and order, thus opening a vast political expanse for both Chirac and LePen. With the help of the media, « insecurity » soon filled the whole public sphere. From tawdry television programs to highbrow newspapers such as Le Monde, the media hammered away at the issue ad nauseam, so much that one could be excused to believe that France is facing a complete breakdown of law and order. In a country where joblessness remains historically high, and is rising again for the past year, there has been ten times more stories on « insecurity » than on unemployment. Le Pen did not need to speak out, the media were running his campaign for him.

There is much despair today in France and beyond because of Le Pen’s sudden resurgence on the political scene. But the despair runs deeper still among those at the bottom of society who have been abandoned by the parties of the left. So long as the Socialists of France, and of the rest of Europe, continue to ignore the growing social insecurity spawned by welfare retrenchment and economic deregulation, they will continue, stone by stone, to pave the road toward fascism.


Loïc wacquantwacquant      

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