[Marxism] Socialist in name only

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 11 07:49:05 MDT 2014

NY Times, April 11 2014
In French Premier’s Blend of Socialism, Conservative and Centrist Notes

PARIS — France’s new prime minister introduced the country this week to 
his particular brand of Socialist Party politics: more centrist on 
social issues, more conservative economically and more combative than 
the man who appointed him, President François Hollande.

Mr. Hollande chose Manuel Valls, 51 — until days ago the tough-talking 
interior minister — in the hope that his very different style could help 
reverse the political fortunes of the left. The Socialist Party is 
reeling after losing at least 150 towns and cities to the mainstream 
right in local elections in March and has been weighed down by the 
unpopularity of Mr. Hollande, whose approval ratings are lower than 
those of any modern French president.

Mr. Valls will appear day in and day out before a nation struggling with 
an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent and concerns about its 
capacity to maintain its role on the world stage. And his first act was 
to deliver bad news — asking the left wing of his fractious party, and 
the public, to accept cuts to cherished services in the name of reducing 
the budget deficit.

“Too much suffering, not enough hope: Such is France’s situation,” Mr. 
Valls said on Tuesday in his first speech to the National Assembly.

“The reality is there, and we must look at it without trembling,” he 
said in a speech interrupted far more frequently by boos than by cheers. 
He promised that he would “tell the truth to the French” and added: 
“Truth about the critical state of our country. Truth about the 
solutions that are needed. France is at a moment in its history when we 
must concentrate on the essential, and the essential is giving 
confidence back to the French in their future.”

Despite the mixed reception, he easily won a vote of confidence after 
the speech for the Hollande government’s new slate of ministers.

Mr. Valls — who, according to some reports, once tried unsuccessfully to 
persuade the Socialist Party to take the word socialist out of its name 
— has long endorsed a more centrist, free-market economic policy than 
many on the left who espouse a more centrally planned economy. Public 
spending accounts for 57 percent of France’s gross domestic product, the 
second-highest level in Europe.

His relative conservatism was clear from the approving editorials and 
columns published in right-leaning magazines and newspapers after he was 
named. Franz-Olivier Giesbert, editor of the weekly magazine Le Point, 
wrote, “By imposing Mr. Valls against a large part of his camp, the 
president is completing the transformation of the left.”

Le Figaro, a daily newspaper that often expresses the views of the 
French right, used its front-page editorial on Tuesday to urge Mr. Valls 
to “stay himself” in his new position and not “suddenly dilute his 

The choice of Mr. Valls suggested a calculation by Mr. Hollande, among 
others, that the country needed someone who could reassure the European 
Union that France is serious about meeting its financial obligations as 
a member of the bloc, while also projecting a dynamism at home that will 
appeal to voters.

On Tuesday, Mr. Valls offered the most detailed summary yet of how the 
government intends to meet its promise to enact $69 billion in spending 
cuts by 2017. He called for $26 billion in cuts to the central 
government bureaucracy, $13.8 billion to the national health care system 
and $13.8 billion to local governments — an element at which many 
legislators on the right booed loudly, having just won control of a 
number of local governments. He did not specify how the remaining $15.4 
billion in cuts would be made.

But in deference to the left and to anxious workers, Mr. Valls also 
announced $7 billion in tax cuts for low-wage employees and renamed Mr. 
Hollande’s “responsibility pact,” aimed at encouraging businesses to 
create jobs by cutting employment costs, a “responsibility and 
solidarity pact,” signaling that the government had not forgotten 
laborers in its effort to help business.

At once an outsider and an insider, Mr. Valls, who emigrated from Spain 
and became a French citizen at 20, is an experienced politician. He 
started as a parliamentary aide and later became a spokesman for Lionel 
Jospin, who was prime minister at the time. Most recently, he was Mr. 
Hollande’s communications director during the 2012 presidential 
campaign, and he has a well-tuned ear for how to handle difficult subjects.

As interior minister, his voice and face became familiar to radio and 
television audiences, not least last fall, when problems involving the 
Roma made headlines. He gained infamy in some circles, and approbation 
in others, for saying: “The Roma should eventually return to Romania and 
Bulgaria. They have a way of life that is extremely different from ours.”

His blunt language about the Roma, and to a lesser extent other 
immigrants, was less harsh than that of Mr. Hollande’s predecessor, 
Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative who also served as interior minister. 
But Mr. Valls’s stance put him at odds with his party’s orthodoxy on the 
issue, one of the most emotional in French politics today.

Mr. Valls has his own presidential ambitions: He ran in the Socialist 
primaries in 2011 in the hope of challenging Mr. Sarkozy, but lost to 
Mr. Hollande. He does not hesitate to use his outsider status as a way 
to show the depth of his allegiance to France and to remind voters that 
he is not quite the same as other French leaders, many of whom attended 
the country’s most elite schools.

Mr. Valls’s father was an artist in Barcelona, his mother’s family 
originally came from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and he 
attended a public university in Paris. His wife, Anne Gravoin, is a 
violinist. He was married previously and had four children with his 
first wife.

Toward the end of his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Valls gave an impassioned 
description of his feeling for his adopted country that also suggested 
long-held ambition. “France has the same greatness it had when I saw it 
as a child,” he said, listing the French luminaries who had inspired 
him, including Charles de Gaulle, the wartime leader who went on to 
establish the Fifth Republic and become its first president. “And this 
is why I wanted to become a citizen and be prime minister of the 
government of France.”

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