The Left:

BHL buries socialism, sort of

Presseurop
20 July 2009

When Parti Socialiste general secretary Martine Aubry, shortly after the French Socialists' European election debacle in June, proclaimed she was giving the party “six months to change course", she probably didn’t reckon on Parisian philosopher Bernard Henri Levy butting in over at Journal du Dimanche (JDD) only a month later and declaring that she manages a "house of the dead." “The PS is dead... and must disappear,’ go his musings, splashed over JDD’s front page.

Philosophers teach us to die, as Cicero once said, so you could argue that BHL is doing the decent thing, since even Christ himself might have had second thoughts about resurrecting a body that, completely out of power since 2002, has not just been going gamey like Lazarus, but has lumps of it dropping off all the time, the most opportunistic, like Eric Besson, grafting themselves to President Sarkozy’s still vigorous UMP. As BHL philosophically points out, death has also visited the once mighty French Communist party. Looking further afield, he echoes similar obituaries in the British press. While the Spectator has unsurprisngly dubbed Labour a government of the living dead, no less than Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley fears that Labour will never see power again, ever. Lest we forget, though, Labour is the party that ushered the Whigs, that extraordinary political machine that dominated Britain for two centuries, into oblivion. The lesson being that political parties are mortal too.

Indeed, a quick trawl through Presseurop and you can more and less see that the Socialist spectre that haunted the 19th century is now a shade, feebly protesting while in Berlusconi’s Italy, vigilante groups nostalgic for fascism now patrol its streets in a bid to flush out “illegal" immigrants. Interior minister Marco Bastoni, who campaigns on such lofty sentiments as "sticks for immigrants" assures us that these groups will be psychologically and politically vetted. But you only have to wonder about the mental profile of people who fancy a night out “on patrol” to twig that such controls by necessity are likely to be lenient. Over in Lithuania, the TiT party pushes for prison for those who “promote” homosexual “values”, while in Brussels David Cameron’s Conservatives kowtow to Poland's Law and Justice party, some of whose members go teary when the glory days of the Waffen SS are evoked.

Back in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil, after a street party for immigrant squatters, the French police fire a flash ball into a man’s face, liquefying his eye, shattering his cheekbone and nose, following this up with false declarations not just as to the "riot" they faced down, but on the victim's identity. A spate of flashball incidents, however, and the question as to why men of usually African origin are “committing suicide” regularly in temporary police custody are some of the many subjects, however, that the PS prefers to dodge. Indeed, like Italy’s PD, it has always been at pains to prove that it too can out-tough the right on crime and immigration.

So fine if the PS is dead. The only irony is that BHL, after saying the unsayable, shies away from the obvious conclusion and nominates ex-Mitterand ministers Segolène Royale, Dominique Strauss Kahn et al as part of a left “renewal”, rather than as the problem. Cynics might say that having served as advisor to Royal in her failed campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy, that he knows where his bread is buttered. The truth is that he probably doesn’t know himself, but unlike Socrates, won’t admit of philosophical ignorance. However, for anyone who believes in a progressive politics, there is enough matter to suggest that reaction is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Quite simply because Europe’s reactionaries, whether in Brussels or in each other’s villas, hang together. It follows that any counter movement requires a perspective that takes in the entire European space. This socialization of European leaders, after all, is but a reflection that a majority of Europeans are increasingly socialized too. While Socialism is dead, the International, strangely enough, may have only just begun.

Gerry Feehily