Former PM’s political manual

In an introductory passage quoted on the back cover of his book «The World as I See It» (Greek translation of «Le Monde Comme Je Le Vois,» Livanis Publishers), former French prime minister Lionel Jospin attempts to quell rumors of a possible candidacy in next year’s presidential elections. «My aim is not to devise a (government) program. However, I feel sufficiently detached to present the free thoughts of a person who, without having forgotten the responsibilities of power and the difficulties of governing, still hopes that things can change,» Jospin says. In fact, Jospin, still vigorous and youthful-looking at 69, despite his shock of white hair, continues to have presidential aspirations but is coy about advertising them. «The last (French Socialist Party, or PS) Congress decided that we are not going to speak about our candidate until the autumn (2006) and I am a disciplined socialist,» he responded to a direct question about his candidacy on Tuesday night at the French Institute in Athens. Never mind that there are at least five declared, or presumed, candidates already. One feels that the old warrior would love to try again, even though he has become the butt of jokes back home for this attitude. This straight-laced, sensitive man would like to avenge the humiliation of 2002, when, after five years of a moderately successful premiership, he failed to make it to the second round of the presidential election because of the dispersal of votes among too many left-wing candidates, which put him in third place behind Jacques Chirac, the president since 1995, and the far-right demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen. Jospin’s acerbic declaration that night that he was quitting politics for ever earned him much scorn. However, since then, the French political class has been lurching from crisis to crisis, tarnishing everyone’s reputation but Jospin’s. His reputation as someone of high moral principles stands in marked contrast to that of the cynical and corrupt Chirac. And, as the book itself shows, Jospin is a remarkably sober politician in a country where the ruling elite speaks haughtily of «the French exception» and where the public mood is a mixture of somber defeatism, nostalgia for a recent «golden past» and a determined defiance of the economic realities of the era. In short, France has become the «sick man of Europe» and a dose of Jospin’s pragmatism would do it a lot of good. Like almost every top leader in France, Jospin is the product of the famous ENA, the National School of Administration, where, he claimed Tuesday, «I spent a year-and-a-half getting bored.» With an undergraduate degree from another elite school, the National School of Political Sciences, he became a diplomat upon leaving ENA, only to resign from the corps in 1970 and spend the next 11 years teaching economics. His political engagement, he reminded his large Athens audience, preceded his technocratic education. A socialist youth, he joined a splinter socialist party, the PSU, before rejoining the PS in 1971, when Francois Mitterrand took over. Curiously, in both the book and his presentation of it, he failed to mention that in the 1960s he also joined a Trotskyist party. The Trotskyists, communists hostile to the official «Stalinist» communist parties, have long encouraged «entryism,» that is double membership in other parties, notably social democratic ones, in order to take them over from the inside. Jospin’s Trotskyist past was revealed, much to his embarrassment, ahead of the 2002 presidential election. He had, apparently, remained a Trotskyist even after rejoining the PS. Worse, Jospin failed to give a convincing answer as to when, precisely, he ceased to be a Trotskyist. A close aide to Mitterrand, Jospin was chosen by the latter to succeed him as party secretary, in 1981, just before Mitterrand was elected in the first of two terms as French president. Jospin stayed as party secretary throughout Mitterrand’s first term (1981-88). Then he joined the government of socialist reformer Michel Rocard as education minister, staying in the post until 1992. In the socialist electoral debacle of 1993, Jospin lost even his MP’s seat and, in a move seen as a radical break with his former boss, helped the latter’s bogeyman, Rocard, oust his favorite, Laurent Fabius, as PS secretary. Further electoral setbacks forced Rocard to resign the next year and Jospin became the Socialists’ candidate in the 1995 presidential election. Although he topped the first round, he lost the runoff to Chirac, but with a respectable score of about 47 percent. This enabled him to once again become PS secretary (1995-97). Two year’s later, Chirac’s disastrous decision to call a snap election brought the Socialists back to power and Jospin became prime minister until the 2002 presidential election. A reformist’s view The book treats a wide range of philosophical and policy issues from the point of view of a reformist social democrat. Indeed, in his opinions, Jospin is free of the orthodox anti-capitalist, anti-globalization discourse so much in vogue in his country. His main thesis is that the past century has been one that has demonstrated «the bankruptcy of the grand absolutist ideologies,» fascism and communism, and that neo-liberal capitalism (Jospin distinguishes between neo-liberalism, which he sees as a purely economic dogma, from political liberalism, which he mostly approves of) may lead us into a perilous future if it becomes the new absolutist ideology. While he acknowledges the emergence of radical Islam, Jospin’s analysis of it is only sketchy, perhaps the oversight of someone steeped in secular thought. To be fair, Jospin is uncompromising in his intolerance of radical Islam in Europe: he says it must not be allowed to take root. Other issues Jospin touches upon include US hegemony, globalization, the future of Europe and France’s place in it and the issue of security in democracy. Jospin stands on firmer ground when he goes against the long-held beliefs of his fellow socialists, for example, on his insistence on security, his rejection of knee-jerk anti-Americanism – a position also defended on Tuesday by Greek socialist party leader George Papandreou, who made his own comments on the book – and the need for cooperation with Britain, including on counter-terrorism measures. The analysis suffers somewhat when he criticizes what he sees as the unwanted aspects of liberal economics. For example, he attributes the current domination of liberal economics to the emergence of Reagan and Thatcher and some other factors but fails to discuss whether the postwar Keynesian consensus had started failing to produce results. Jospin’s difficulty in coming up with proposals other than a wish list of good intentions reflects a widespread inability among the broader left to engage in establishing a coherent, realistic alternative world view and not simply fighting a rear-guard action against «neoliberalism.»