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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
After Jospin
Lionel Jospin
Jospin: Now the soul-searching begins

The biggest surprise of the French presidential election is probably not the moderate rise in support for the National Front, but the huge drop in support for the governing Socialists.

Francois Hollande
Hollande: Temporary leader

This is only the second time since 1958 - the year France's strong presidency was born - that the left has been knocked out of the second round in a presidential election.

Following the announced resignation of the defeated Lionel Jospin, a new Socialist leadership under party chairman Francois Hollande will try to pick up the pieces as it steers the party into the legislative elections in June.

When a house collapses, there are those who cry and those who reconstruct

Dominque Strauss-Kahn

Beyond that, some serious soul-searching is inevitable - about what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.

"When a house collapses, there are those who cry and those who reconstruct," said former Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Monday. "I'm one who reconstructs."

There are two main groups within the party: the traditionalists who feel that, in order to win, Socialists must return to their left-wing roots and reformists who think the party needs to move towards the centre.

Proud history

Socialists not only represent a major political tradition in France: they feel they have been at the forefront of political and social progress for more than two centuries.

Other candidates:
  • Francois Bayrou 6.87%
  • Arlette Laguiller 5.85%
  • Jean-Pierre Chevenement 5.29%
  • Noel Mamere 5.21%
  • Jean Saint-Josse 4.51%
  • Olivier Besancenot 4.34%
  • Alain Madelin 3.88%
  • Robert Hue 3.39%
  • Bruno Megret 2.39%
  • Christiane Taubira 1.98%
  • Corinne Lepage 1.88%
  • Christine Boutin 1.19%
  • Daniel Gluckstein 0.48%
  • The very split between left and right, which frames political debate all over the world, was invented during the French Revolution.

    Moderate liberals, not socialists, were the dominant force on the left in 19th Century France.

    But socialists played a big symbolic role by spearheading revolutionary uprisings - in 1830, 1848 and 1871.

    To this day, many French people consider these to be among the most glorious episodes in their history.

    The 19th Century socialists' core doctrine can be summarised in two key points: a belief in individual rights and opposition to private property.

    Workers, they felt, could not be free in an economic system ruled by markets and profits.

    In the early 20th Century the man who united French socialists and brought their ideas towards the centre of French politics was Jean Jaurès.

    Key dates
    1914: Jean Jaures assassinated
    1936: Socialists gain power under Leon Blum
    1981: Victory under Mitterrand
    1983: European model adopted

    He seemed destined to rise to the top, but was assassinated in 1914.

    It fell to another charismatic leader, Léon Blum, to get the socialists into power, in alliance with Communists and others, in 1936.

    Blum's "Popular Front" cut the working week, guaranteed annual holidays for all, and nationalised the defence industries, the railways and the Bank of France.

    European watershed

    Socialists were relegated to the political wilderness after General de Gaulle was swept to power in 1958.

    Francois Mitterrand
    Francois Mitterrand: Chose Europe

    But under François Mitterrand, the French Socialists became a major force again in the 1970s.

    In 1981 Mitterrand took his party to victory and brought the Communists into government as partners.

    However, in hindsight, the real watershed for the French Socialists may not have been 1981, but 1983.

    That is when the government realised that a Socialist economy was incompatible with a European community based on liberalising markets.

    Faced with a choice between old -style socialism and Europe, François Mitterrand chose the latter.

    Nationalisations were halted and Socialists stopped calling for a "break with capitalism".

    From the late 1980s they ran France, apart from a conservative interlude in 1993-1997, as social democrats.

    Closet free-marketeers

    However, French Socialists remain to this day different from their European counterparts in one key respect.

    Unlike Germany's SPD in 1959, Spanish Socialists under Felipe Gonzales in the 1980s or Britain's "New Labour" in 1994, they never openly converted to a market-driven economy.

    The French Socialist Party remains marked by contradiction between the old rhetoric of Jaurès and a reluctant, unstated acceptance of capitalism.

    Some feel it is time for French Socialists to modernise not just in practice but also in principle.

    Politicians such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Laurent Fabius would like to form a German or British-style market-friendly party on the centre-Left.

    In the past, French Socialists have inspired the European left.

    In the future they may take their cue from it.

    Key stories





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