Paris, France âe” Buoyed by electoral success (in the most recent regional contests it won majorities in 24 out of 26 regions) the French Socialist Party (Parti socialist or PS) is looking at prospective presidential candidates, and debating the future orientation of the party.

With the release this week of Le monde comme je le vois (The World as I See It) a book by former premier Lionel Jospin setting out his view on the socialist agenda, the battle for the hearts and minds of the French left is officially underway.

Jospin, who said good-bye to the political world in 2002, following his failure in the first round of presidential voting to top the extreme right candidate, is readying himself for a political comeback.And so, in the best tradition of French socialism, he is offering his ideas for how to make life better for the vast majority of his fellow citizens.

Excerpts from his book published last week in the Nouvel Observateur reveal a careful mind at work. He is trying to bridge the gap between the Yes and No campaigners within the party over the French referendum which defeated the proposed European constitutional treaty.

But, in his analysis of French society, he holds nothing back: a new would-be-aristocracy has captured income, influence and power. Conservatives, they use neo-liberal arguments, and have an answer for every economic question, except those that matter: the distribution of income and the control of productive resources.

So far, and it is very early, public opinion polls show little enthusiasm for a return by Jospin to active politics. However, in the coming race for the leadership of the party, French socialists will be debating the issues he raises.

Michel Noblecourt writes in Le monde (October 25) about two groups within the party conducting trench warfare against each other. The first, identified with onetime premier Laurent Fabius, wants to transform French society and the second, led by party secretary François Holland, will accept a more just distribution of the economic and social benefits.

Differences are over means as well as ends. The first group would roll back liberal reforms; the second would begin with its own measures.

France has been the home of many socialist thinkers, and the crucible of much socialist politics. Historically, all socialists are hostile to capitalism. Socialists can emphasize the class struggle and (peaceful) revolutionary politics, or they can talk about policy reforms and incremental change leading to a new society.

Much of postwar Northern European socialism has been about suing for peace with capitalists and negotiating understanding with the state and business around the construction and, recently, preservation of the welfare state.

With German socialists now tied up in coalition with the Christian Democrats, and British Labour under “Blairism” hostile to socialism, the outcome of the French debate assumes great importance.

The world can no longer afford to subsidize capitalism in the hopes that its benefits will finally spread to the majority of the inhabitants of the globe. The crisis of capitalism is world wide, and its victims include the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the earth itself, as well as the billions of poor, the hungry and the sick.

French socialism is an offspring of the enlightenment and its embrace of reason is a virtue with universal application. If it can re-invent itself, it will be of significance for all of humanity.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...