Dead Men Left

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mitterrand and Keynes

I haven't seen The Last Mitterrand, although I very much want to, but it's inspired Will Hutton into making some very silly remarks:

The break-up of the Mitterrand coalition is complete. The No vote in the referendum on the EU constitutional treaty could not have been won otherwise. The only political debate that matters is on the right...

The "Mitterrand coalition" Hutton refers to is that of his later years as President: the French left, rallied in defence of European capital. Hutton blames Mitterrand for failing to bequeath a "modern left of centre ideology" in French politics, and writes that "to blame globalisation for the plight of the French left is wrong". As Hutton knows full well, or as he really ought to know, the "non" vote was won because of the Left's campaign against the "Europe of capital" that the proposed constitution was written for. To suggest the Left "no" campaign was the product only of "fatalism" and disarray is to ignore the central elements that ensured its success: its ideological coherence, in a critique of globalisation as applied by the EU; and its high degree of unity, built around local mobilising committees.

It is disingenous for Hutton to claim that globalisation had nothing to do with Mitterrand's failure, and still more so to write out Europe's role in that collapse. The collapse of Mitterrand's original socialist vision is covered by Hutton in a single sentence, "Then followed a big Keynesian reflation which ended in disaster." This is assumed to follow, in some unstated but vital way, from the presence of an "ideologically intact" Communist movement in France.

This is nonsense on stilts. The "big Keynesian reflation" - a massive expansion of public spending and public control over the economy - "ended in disaster" because, when faced with a choice between fulfilling his manifesto, and bowing to the wishes of European capital, Mitterrand buckled: to reflate the French economy whilst other European countries were set on deflation placed an intolerable strain on the Exchange Rate Mechanism, the system of partially fixed exchange rates that preceded the Euro. The choice was either to break the ERM and break election promises: under significant pressure from other European powers and French business interests, Mitterrand's government entirely reversed its programme of reflation. Globalisation, as applied by Hutton's beloved European institutions, finished "Mitterrandisme".