Consider this anomaly: The yahoos are giving themselves conniptions because Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are supposedly inflicting socialism on America. This despite the banks and brokerages full of fat cats willing to certify that their Dem buddies remain fully faithful to capitalism as a commandment. Meanwhile, hardly anyone in France worries that their country is heading for socialism. And that despite the fact that a coalition of actual socialists, communists, greens and other assorted leftists just won a solid 54 percent victory in regional elections. Some Americans would say France is already socialist. That would be laughed off by the capitalists who run France, not to mention the global rich who flock there to luxuriate amid its non pareil bourgeois refinements. The difference is that socialism is merely a scare word to the ignorant tea-timers who fling it and/or are freaked by it. They might as well be damning the Dems for delivering us to mopery. In France, on the other hand, socialism remains a popular ideal, if no longer a practical destination. The word conjures up heroic yesterdays and better tomorrows. It’s also a threat of sorts. By voting for leftists, French workers are letting their bosses know that that will not not passively accept job losses, wage cuts and benefit reductions. With no electoral left and only a weak labor movement, ordinary Americans lack that muscle available to the French and are obliged to accept being screwed by any outfit with Inc. at the end of its name. In fact, France had socialist governments back in the 1930s with Blum and again in the 1980s with Mitterand. The former built the foundation of France’s social welfare system, so that for the first time ever ordinary workers took paid vacations. After a brave start, the Mitterand government backed off its most radical reforms, heeding the threat by Wall Street to strangle the French economy. What’s left of “socialism” today are generous (by American standards) social and civic benefits and a sense of solidarity that accepts frequent strikes and demos as necessary to maintain the decent living standards that French capitalists are forever chopping away at. As I’ve noted before, on this side of the Atlantic the workers are afraid of the bosses while over there the bosses are afraid of the workers. It’s been like that for a long time, and, I hope, will remain so. Meanwhile, we can pity the poor Gauls, deprived of paying through the nez for health care and college tuition and forced to accept them as public benefits. If you’re out in Yosemite, the Tetons, Cape Cod or the Smokies this summer, you can feel sorry for them in person as they suffer the slavery of "socialism" on their mandatory month-long vacations. God forbid it should ever happen here. This post originally appeared at The Karman Turn.
Pete Karman began working in journalism in 1957 at the awful New York Daily Mirror, where he wrote the first review of Bob Dylan for a New York paper. He lost that job after illegally traveling to Cuba (the rag failed shortly after he got the boot). Karman has reported and edited for various trade and trade union blats and worked as a copywriter. He was happy being a flack for Air France, but not as happy as being an on-and-off In These Times editor and contributor since 1977.