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Essay Samples > Political > The Socialist Party of France
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The Socialist Party of France

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The political scene of France did not change much until in 1958 when a new constitutional dispensation brought many changes that led to the birth of the Fifth Republic.  The people were not convinced about the new order but according to Caspianweekly-Adminen, (2010) “the country has stabilized, and it appears as if the current framework has cured at least some of the political problems that plagued France during all the previous republics.” This is because constitution brought a hybrid system of governance in a presidential-parliamentary platform with two centers of power: the prime minister and the president. The system is multifaceted in the sense that, regardless of the many challenges, the system survives to date. On the other hand, political parties in France have the freedom of association under the Act of July 1901. The organizations follow long-term contractual models that this act has been perfected in the parties’ establishment in the entire France territory. The aim of establishing the act was to allow for political pluralism as a foundation of real democracy and avenue for allowing competence in all parties.

French Socialist Movement

The Radical Socialists of the year 1901 did not represent their true political will because of anticlericalism. Despite their claim of fighting for the low class and peasant farmers, they had no ambition of changing the lives of their subjects. Most Socialist groups wanted the adoption of Marxist, Blanquist, or Prouhonist doctrines or a hybrid of the three. The Marxist ideology holds that “there exists an alternative to capitalism as a form of socioeconomic organization that has been sustained through Marxism,” (Gamble et al., 1999, p. 89) and supported by Nelson and Grossberg, (1988). Jean Jaures became the leader of these varying factions and in 1901, the Section Francaise de I’International Ouvriere, (SFIO) was formed to unite the masses. The SFIO faced a number of setbacks but emerged as the most popular party in 1936 to become the biggest party in Assembly. The party ruled until the late 1950s when Socialist Unity Party, PSU was formed to restructure the SFIO. The SFIO later became Parti Socialiste, (PS).  

The Socialist Party Organization and Development

There are general organizational structures that are embedded in the political parties of France. A number of political parties have come and died away back the right and left wing establishment define the parties role in governance. The Socialist party is a left wing party and the party under Mitterrand, revived its alliance with the Communist party. Just like the three predominant parties, the socialist party has its unique ideological spectrum. The parties have a national level of representation and national party headquarters (council) run by secretaries and chairpersons. 

Reasons for its Existence

Economy in France; Strong Recovery

The socialist party was formed on Marxist ideals, which means that its main agenda in the French politics is the economy. A strong economic recovery after the WWI strengthened the party. End of WWI set the stage for economic recovery in the succeeding twenty years and the SFIO used their foundation on economic grounds to ride on this fame and gain popularity.    

Political unity of French Unity Political Organization and formation of SFIO

(1905-1958)

Political unity of the French mainstream political parties played a significant role in strengthening the organization of the Socialist party. Jean Jaures realized the strength of working by collaborating with the other existing state organizations. This unity of various groups led to the formation of the SFIO under Jules Guesde as a figure in the groups’ leadership. But at of 1914 nearly a third of Socialist party deputies were still independent. All members of the party wanted a transformation of capitalist economy to a socialistic one.

The party broke into publicizing the internationalism ideals that were opposed at that moment. This led to the assassination of Jaures. Despite this setback, socialists supported the ongoing international war (World War 1) and Guesde joined the socialist party. The party experienced tension at those times but as Pilbeam, (2007), “when at congress in Tours, the majority of the SFIO voted to support the revolutionary invocations of Lenin’s Third International and formed the PCF (Parti Communiste Francaise).” The PCF popularized their revolutionary agenda and it formed alliance with Confederatio Generale du Travail, (CGT) that was at that moment, the biggest and largest trade union. Another faction who constituted majority of the Socialist members remained with SFIO in the National Assembly. In 1936, the SFIO was the largest party as Leon became prime minister under the changes brought forth the Third Republic. The political organization ensured that Socialist party remained politically strong since the formation of SFIO.        

Post War Phase

The War in Algeria a Turning Point for Socialist Party

1960: Socialist Unity Party (PSU) is formed to offer an alternative to SFIO

Mollet was involved in the politics of SFIO after defeating Daniel Mayer but his first challenge was the indecision of the party with regard to European Defense Community. The SFIO faction voted against the idea. Later, Mollet rebuilt the center-left coalition by involving the SFIO and the Republican Front. Mollet was the prime minister of the minorities. SFIO declined in its political strength at the same time when Radicals were also growing weaker. Mollet adopted a repressive policy against the war in Algeria and supported the Charles de Gaulle’s regime. He also advocated for a yes vote for the new constitution and the birth of the Fifth Republic. Because of the split in the SFIO, it was inevitable to resist formation of a new political faction, the formation of United Socialist Party, (PSU).  

1969: SFIO becomes the PS

The party organized the infamous Issy-les-Moulineaux congressional meeting in which the SFIO was changed to Parti Socialiste.

The Important Figures for the Development of the Socialist Party

Jean Longuet

In the 1920, Longuet and Faure sponsored the second Third International third favored affiliation but were cautious on reservations that would lead to high-level autonomy and democratic levels within the Socialist party. In addition, he proposed separation of the party from trade unions. Longuet called for the restoration of Socialists international relations and a speedy mechanism to withdraw from the war. It was at this same time that that the international community embraced a revolutionary kind of opposition to the war as demonstrated in the Switzerland conference of international Socialists.

Leon Blum

Leon Blum made his political debut in the Socialist party following Marcel Sembat’s endorsement after monitoring his abilities. He was exempted from his military duties following his conception of the republic “as inextricably linked to the cause of socialism overcame all other scruples about war,” (Colton, 1987, p. 37). However, he still followed the debates on wartime legislation from the corridor of parliament. The Socialist party faced a disagreement under Blum following the party’s decision to collaborate in the First World War. Blum acted as a conciliator and mended the rifts.  Hubert Bourgin in his memoir recognizes Blum to have had stirrings of his political ambitions in the balancing of the three levels of political power: governance, party politics, and the parliamentary system. Sembat quit the cabinet following a ministerial crisis and immediately, Blum stopped his association with the cabinet. He instead wrote an essay poking holes in the then parliamentary system out of which, he came with a number of recommendations for reforms. Blum also rejected the Marxism tradition of the Russians as he advocated for French socialism beyond anything else.

He remained optimistic that the parliamentary system was still effective if the weaknesses were remedied. At the end of the First World War, Blum was caught in the midst of internal party matters. According to Colton, (1987), “By the summer of 1915, as we have seen, the unanimity with which the party had agreed to share in the defense of the nation and to participate in the sacred union cabinet had disappeared,” (p. 40). Jean Longuet together with Paul Faure at that time led a growing minority faction to revive the initial doctrines of the Socialist like antimilitarism, internationalism, among other traditions in the proclamation that it was wrong for the party to support war.

Francois Mitterrand

Francois Mitterrand legacy with the Socialist party can be explained in two parameters. To begin with, Mitterrand made sure that the party was committed to republican democracy and this was done in accordance with the Fifth Republic. His second main legacy is that Mitterrand rejuvenated the party from near extinction in the late 1960s. The party’s newfound position placed it in critical position in forming coalitions with like-minded parties in for nearly two decades, 1981 to 2002.

Mitterrand was not a member of the SFIO but after the rebranding of the party, he was elected the secretary after Mauroy and Chevement’s approval. It later turned that the same people served under Mitterrand’s rule. Mitterrand was an experienced figure in the governance of the Fourth Republic and his ruthless opportunism earned him the stance of a public figure. PS discontinued its alliance with the center-left due to its newfound alliance with Partie Communiste Francaise, PCF. PS or the Socialist party of France under Mitterrand came to terms once again after the two parties broke ranks in 1947. The new alliance was motivated by urge of capitalist economy in the wake of nationalization ideals and support by French student organization in 1968. The students were behind the socialist party with the belief that the nation needed socio-economic reforms to battle a series of oil crises of the 1970s.

The alliance with PCF begun when PS had no numerical advantage and it was meaningless for Mitterrand to lure the Communist voters. However, the 1978 parliamentary elections witnessed change of command as the PS garnered more seats than PCF, an achievement that was last witnessed in 1936. This win is attributed to Mitterrand due to his visionary leadership, determination and relentless effort in the wake of new political, economic, and social change in the nation. Pilbeam notes that, “From 1974 mounting criticism by French intellectuals of Soviet authoritarianism after the publication of works like Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago reduced PCF appeal. In the 1970s de-industrialization cut the traditional PCF worker vote.” Some of these workers become PS converts after the party promised an effective workers’ management program. PS then dominated the left-alliance governance until the year 1995.

Organization

Top-Down Leadership of Democratic Structure

Today the PS recaps its leadership prowess that cannot be compared with right-wing parties. They have new approach to the modern wave of cultural complexity that is different from the traditional homogeneous society in the past regimes. The party’s leadership is a representation of professionally trained second-class citizens, which is above the level of the right-wing party leaders. The electorates on the other hand are mainly teachers, public servants, and middle class managers, who come from the lower class. Despite enjoying a big following from the young voters, the PS is shifting its allegiance to the National Front. Registered party ‘militants’ nominate their leasers through party primaries and the elected candidate takes the national leadership of the party. The election process is done in a democratic manner that embraces IT to conduct such elections.

The Socialist Party of France set another record in the political arena of the nation by nominating the first female presidential candidate, Segolène Royal. She rose from being a junior minister in the Jospin administration in the Ministry of Environment between 1992 and 1993. Her other elective posts include Deputy-Education Minister and later worked as the Deputy Minister for Family and Childhood. In her nomination, 220,000 party members were asked to vote. Of these voters, a hooping 68,000 new members joined the party via the online platform and participated in the nominations.

Other than the national leader, the party also elects secretary and other office bearers. Mitterrand began his leadership role in the party by first becoming the party’s secretary. The militants are vital to the party because they make crucial decision involving the party’s management in the left-wing alliances and party’s politics. Because the party believes in democratic governance, all crucial party matters are made after seeking the opinions of party members. This is demonstrated in the preliminaries where members elect national leaders prior general elections. The winner becomes the presidential candidate. For instance, in the first Ms. Royal’s win witnessed participation of 220,000 party members.

The Recent Primaries

In the recent primaries for the 2012 elections, Ms Martine Aubry was declared the winner of the runoff stage after beating Royal to clinch the leadership of Socialist Party by a very narrow margin. Ms. Aubry is the mayor of Lille and was a former Minister for Labor. According to Bennold, (2008) Ms. Aubry “defeated Segolène Royal by 42 votes out of more than 130,000 cast. Some in Ms. Royal’s camp immediately demanded a new vote.” Ms. Royal had proposed a shift of allegiance to the centralist Democratic Movement but Ms. Aubry, the new party leader opines that they party should stick to their anchoring to the left wing. The leader has pledged to give Sarkozy stiff opposition by creating a shadow cabinet to confront the ideals of Mr. Sarkozy.

However, given that Ms. Royal refuse to concede that Ms. Aubry won in the runoff, the Socialist party seems to be embedded in rivalry like ever. Ms. Royal also applied for court intervention in her quest for a rerun of the elections through lawyer Jean-Pierre Mignard, whereas “Manuel Valls, said another ballot should be organized next week,” (Bennold, 2008). On the other hand, Ms. Aubry comfortably resisted the need to hold fresh elections. Other than the leadership, the party still faces a standoff on which ideological root to perfect. Reelections were called and Ms. Royal did not feature. Instead, Mr. Francois Hollande who is a centralist emerged winner followed by Ms. Aubry, the party leader. He is however viewed with suspicion given his centralist position and lack of adequate vigor to hold Socialists’ traditions. Mr. Hollande is the former Ms. Royal’s husband, (Clark, 2011).

Dynamics of the Socialist Party

Elections Won and Lost and Governments Headed by the Socialist Party

1981-1995 elections won under Mitterrand

Under Mitterrand, the PS ruled for the longest period in history of the party and the leader later introduced the presidential system of governance. He became the longest serving head of state in the Fifth Republic after his successful election in 1981 and a re-election 7 years later.

1995 elections, lost both parliamentary majority and presidency

After Mitterrand quit politics in 1995 and his death few years later, the PS had succession problems. Unresolved succession reduced the party’s chances of winning the presidential elections while at the same time retain a majority backing. However, Lionel Jospin became the party leader and after second round of elections, he lost to Chirac in the third France presidential elections.  Lionel had initially worked as the party’s secretary. Restoration of the leadership structure in the PS was a sign of party’s recovery from the debacles of the early 1990s.

1997 Socialists head government

Jospin approached leadership in the PS as a politician who did not tolerate unsustainable political rhetoric and extravagance. Through his cautious leadership style, Jospin was swift in promoting his party members who had not been tainted by the scandals of the earlier regime. He brought a new political dispensation to the party where promoted a number of female party members like Segolène Royal. Jospin faced similar challenge as Mitterrand in restructuring the PS by building a fragmented system of alliance through consensus building with Gauche socialiste, Greens, and Communists. The Greens is an unpopular left wing Radicals. Following Chirac’s unexpected elections in 1997, the PS secured a narrow win in the parliament with the number of Socialists surging from 56 to 245 to head the government and according to Pilbeam, (2007), “Many of these PS deputies were inevitably new to national politics and 30% were women.”

The 2002 elections, Socialists lost both presidency and government

The 2002 election was a representation of the height of disenchantment and fragmentation of the PS and the plural left in general. In an election that attracted 15 candidates, the left-wing produced 7 candidates and this shows the level of disenchantment in the left-wing. This means that Jospin’s votes split and he scored a meager 16% of the total votes. Chirac was far ahead with a 20% lead while the unpopular Jean-Marie Le Pen had a 17% of the total votes that pushed him to the next round of elections. Le Pen was a far-right candidate but Chirac emerged the winner in round two after a massive 82% lead. Following this loss, Jospin retired from the PS politics. The party’s weaknesses were further shown in the legislative elections where the PS lost 106 seats while the new right alliance garnered 355 seats out of the possible 577, (Pilbeam, 2007).

The 2007 elections, Socialist party loses but head the government

Segolène retained some socialist ideals following her declaration, ‘Hundred Promises’ that is similar to Mitterrand’s 1981 declaration. The party leader embraced democratization in the politics of France through her public speeches and mastery of eloquence. Her major setback; however, was the failure to make specific pledges to the electorates. On the other hand, right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy made specific promises to the electorates. Her leadership opted for a strengthened presidential structure and use of referenda to address issues on national importance. In addition, Segolène promised to strengthen the national Assembly as a check against decisions of the executive. In essence, Segolène just like Mitterrand preferred a presidential system of governance instead of a parliamentary one. This is a representation of the party’s doctrines in the recent times.

Policies it Embraced

The Socialist party was formed in 1905 but remained dormant due to slow pace of industrialization. The economy of France was agrarian-based. The Socialist party just like other socialist parties in the world is based on the economic platform as its main ideology. This explains the party preference of Marxist economic principles that holds the economic platform as a drive to political dispensation. The party could not develop a solid base that could appeal to the majority. However, strong leadership of Mitterrand boosted it in the 1970s. Caspianweekly-Adminen, (2010) observes that, “Before taking the leadership of the newly created Socialist Party, he had opposed the rightist ‘strong man’, Charles De Gaulle and his constitution of 1958.”

“The Socialist party’s leadership is the most pro-European Union, (EU) as it was intended in the Maastricht Treaty—of all France’s parties’ leadership,” (Menendez-Alrcon, 1999,  p. 4). This was a vital selling point of the party to the electorate as well and as earlier been mentioned that parties in France have their own philosophy, this is one of the party’s core values. However, the party leaders were cautious to relinquish considerable sovereignty of the EU.

In 1997, PS was again the most dominant party and took over governance. This new success is attributed to high level of internal unity within the party and the fact that the party secured new allies; the Greens and Gauche Socialiste. As a prime minister, Jospin instituted state-led policies and a moderate governance system that was quite different from the conventional socialist rhetoric. The Communists were getting weaker and PS used its strength to formalize its preference for a capitalist economy and improve the relationship between the government and the market. “Their most distinctive solution to persistent unemployment was a statutory 35-hour working week which was quite unpopular with most workers. However, despite some modest economic recovery, Jospin lacked the fire and drive to make substantial inroads into the jobless figures,” (Pilbeam, 2007).       

Segolène emerged the members’ favorite following a landslide win that pit her against IMF icon, Strauss Kahn. According to Pilbeam, (2007), “Royal secured 60.6% as against 20.8 % for Strauss-Kahn (Finance Minister under Jospin and avowedly Social-Democrat) and 18.5% for Fabius (a prime minister under Mitterand).” In the history of the PS, no other presidential hopeful had received such a strong endorsement. 

There are many challenges that the modern Socialist party brings in politics of France. Ms. Royal tackled ecological issues by borrowing from the theories Radicals and Socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Through her leadership, the PS brought about economic reforms like giving autonomy to non-governmental organizations to make their own decisions on issues affecting them. In addition, the PS withdrew imposition of centralized directive for the organizations. Another change in the leadership structure of the party is that she brought certain level of party independence to avoid disillusionment from other parties in the left wing. In the recent time, the PS through their leader Segolène came with a proposal for a Sixth Republic that would relinquish power to the National Assembly as a check against molding a monarchial presidency. 

The party did not want to repeat the weakness of the Mitterrand’s presidency. There was an anticipated run to the Socialist party nominations given the opposition of Segolène’s leadership from the men in grey suit; Strauss Kahn and Fabius within the ranks of the Socialist party. The diversity of their ideals played a major role in the PS preliminaries. Following the parties primaries, Mr. Francois Hollande is the recent party leader although his leadership skills are yet to undergo significant test.

The Socialist party has high chances of winning the election given that latest opinion poll shows that were elections held today, either Ms. Aubry or Mr. Hollande would beat Mr. Sarkozy, Clark, 2011). Another chance of a Socialist win is Mr. Sarkozy’s undedicated focus to the budget of France and the souring administrative deficits in the government coffers at a time of serious economic challenges in the Western nations. 

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