When Francois Mitterand was elected President in 1981, bringing the Socialist Party to power for the first time in decades, two hundred thousand voters danced around the Bastille. But their euphoria was short lived, and by 1986 the conservatives--led by Chirac, Barre, and Giscard d'Estaing--had regained control of the Parliament. What led to the collapse of socialism in France? Was the approach taken by Mitterand at fault, or was socialism doomed from the start?
As Daniel Singer points out in his well-informed, perceptive, and often witty analysis, the Mitterand government was compromised even before the election. Preaching moderation during the campaign, once in office Mitterand selected a cabinet of middle-of-the-road socialists--including Jacques Delors, Pierre Mauray, and Michel Rocard--and gave only four of forty-four ministries to Communist Party members. He did nationalize a few conglomerates, but after France was hit by recession and a weak franc, he switched to an austerity program that shifted emphasis from solidarity and social justice to private initiative and personal gain, an economic retreat that, according to Singer, paved the way for ideological surrender. In events such as The Rainbow Warrior scandal, Mitterand's meeting with Poland's General Jaruzelski, and his support of Reagan's proposal to deploy Pershing-2 missiles in Europe, Singer finds clear evidence that, by the 1986 election, the government was socialist in name only.
The French experience does not prove that socialism is doomed, Singer contends, but that it must be reinvented, taking an international approach and providing a coherent, long-range plan that will generate wide-spread popular support, without which it cannot survive.show more