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Cast your mind back, if you can, to the summer of 1983. François Mitterrand was President of France and the French Socialist Party led a government containing four Communist Party ministers. Times were good for the English tourist. One pound bought 12 francs. A good lunch in the Dordogne was yours for a snip.

Times were less bright for the French. The extensive nationalisation of French banking and industry combined with significant increases in public spending on pensions and other social benefits had produced a jump in inflation, an alarming balance of payments crisis and two devaluations in eight months. A third devaluation was soon to follow.

Haunted by the Left's unhappy experience of government in the 1930s, Mitterrand and his supporters had to decide what to do: plough on regardless of the consequences, leave the European Monetary System, and embrace protectionism; or call a halt to their reforms, reign back public expenditure, and adopt a policy of economic "rigour".

The dilemma they faced was a profound and enduring one. In the 1920s Léon Blum, France's first socialist premier, had drawn a distinction between the exercise and the conquest of power. While the first indicated a left-wing majority in parliament, it was the second that began the transition to socialism. In 1981 the provincial and bourgeois Mitterrand had been elected on a mandate to "break with capitalism" but now, after only two years in power, this seemed little more than a pipedream.

In the event, Mitterrand opted for "rigour", the Communists withdrew from government, and the construction of Europe replaced the building of a socialist society as the primary political objective. If Mitterrand survived, he did so only through the deployment of supreme Machiavellian skill and by reducing his colleagues to servile and self-interested courtiers.

What remained — and what arguably still remains for the French socialists — was a glaring contradiction between a radical rhetoric and social-democratic pragmatism, between the language of opposition and the practice of government.

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Magnus Sandvik
June 19th, 2013
9:06 PM
The problem of the french government is the same that has plagues all intellectual socialist since the inception of the ideology, and that is the belief that the population of the country will fit neatly into the mold of their ideas rather than continue to be individuals. Hollande thought everyone would go along with his ideas because in his mind they were clearly to the benefit of french. It turns out he was worng and now he can't adapt to reality because reality doesn't fit with his idea of what reality is.

June 19th, 2013
4:06 PM
Margaret Thatcher famously quipped that the problem with socialism is that soon enough you run out of Other People's Money. But the problem is somewhat bigger when you start at the point when not only Other People's money have been already spent, but money borrowed on the promise that Other People will repay them have been spent as well; and what all that was spent on was welfare waste. The Good Ship Lollipop has sailed the Fantasy Ocean and arrived at a harbor. Welcome to the real world.

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