Academic journal article Capital & Class

David S. Bell and Byron Criddle: Exceptional Socialists: The Case of the French Socialist Party

Academic journal article Capital & Class

David S. Bell and Byron Criddle: Exceptional Socialists: The Case of the French Socialist Party

Article excerpt

David S. Bell and Byron Criddle

Exceptional Socialists: The Case of the French Socialist Party, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2014; 235 pp: 9780230282278, 68 [pounds sterling] (hbk)

Two decades after their 1984 work chronicling the rise of France's Parti Socialiste (hereinafter PS, or Socialists) as a party of government, Bell and Criddle's latest work provides an excellent, and much-needed, up-to-date account of the party, with a particular focus on the post-Mitterrand era. Exceptional Socialists: The Case of the French Socialist Party (2014) is a crisply written work that offers both a well-informed history of the party's evolution and a rich discussion of the influence of the French political institutional context on the party's ideology and policy programmes. The book's density of information on the party and the surrounding institutional environment mean that it will be of interest to scholars of French politics, whilst its accessible style and relatively short length also mean that students or those with a keen interest in the Parti Socialiste would benefit from the book.

The introduction sets out a neat, if brief, case for 'French exceptionalism' and its relationship to French socialism. This helps to form the basis of the book's central claim, that the PS remains 'exceptional' amongst its European counterparts due to its historical resistance to 'social democratisation' and poor electoral record. It is this theme that the authors weave through the rest of the book as they explore what has shaped the party's ideology, policy programmes, discourse and electoral strategies. Of the books subsequent eight central chapters, the first six are organised thematically around the most salient institutional factors that have shaped the PS since its founding in 1969.

This begins with a look at the competitive context of the French electoral system, before an account of the internal institutional structures and workings of the PS as a party is set out. It is, however, Chapter 4's discussion of the party's competing internal factions, or courants, that have characterised the party since its inception, which helps to put flesh on the bones of this institutional account of the party. Although, as they note, the ideological strength of these factions has been replaced by a more superficial, personality-focused battle between leading individuals (p. 58), the chapter's concise biographies of key 'faction personalities' in the post-Mitterrand party aptly demonstrates to the reader the fractious and elite organisation of the central party.

Following this, Bell and Criddle cover the party's historically tense relationship with presidentialism, which, though contrary to the party's republican values, helped to establish an institutional environment wherein the PS could supersede the Parti Communiste Francais (PCF) as the major party on the Left. Yet despite the decline of the PCF, the historic influence of the Communists, and indeed the wider 'minoritarian left', in shaping PS ideology is not underestimated. This account captures the awkward ideological position in which the PS finds itself on French political terrain; caught between influential Marxist parties to its left, which has led to a resistance of 'social democratisation' and in particular the social liberalism of the Third Way (p. 111), and its inability to even establish a reputation as the 'party of welfare' due to support for the welfare state on the right (p. 121). The latter two chapters then go on to plot the historical trajectory of the party from 1988 to 2014, and work effectively to tie together the assorted themes already covered, before the concluding chapter presents a highly critical analysis of Hollande and the PS governments since 2012. …

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