Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

French Socialists Face Dark Night of the Soul

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

French Socialists Face Dark Night of the Soul

Article excerpt

Rather suddenly, the French Socialists appear to be deconstructing. The grand old party of France is in a dark night of the soul - one that goes past the usual internal squabbling.

Leading lights in the party are conducting a soul-searching in public - that is significant enough to include calls to rebrand the socialist name itself.

With large losses in the June European elections, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy slam-dunking their tactics, with a lack of vision about how the left should respond to the economic crisis and globalization, and with concern that socialist ideas have not kept pace with capitalist power in Europe - the current disarray among Socialists is not surprising, political analysts say.

Yet the depth of disagreement and angst between leaders and well- known figures in the century-old party is a surprise. The rhetoric has quickly become so pointed and tough that even hardened politicians wonder if the breaches can be repaired.

"The word 'socialist' is now meaningless," says Manuel Valls, the Socialist mayor of Evry, who played a role in starting what is now an exercise in sackcloth and ashes in the party.

"We can't sustain a party that now exists in formaldehyde," says former left- wing leader Arnaud Montebourg.

Remonstrations have reached a point where Socialist stalwarts have emerged to criticize the Socialist critics, charging them with adopting faddish and shallow solutions: "Let's change the label, that's the trick!" says the mayor of Quimper, Bernard Poignant, with some irony, arguing that problems are in the lack of a "philosophical rethinking," not image.

"Wrecking crews rarely make good architects," chimes in Christian Paul, a Socialist assemblyman from Nievre.

Embarrassing losses

Many of the current salvos began this month in exchanges between Mr. Valls, a voluble thinker critical of the Socialists for overreacting to President Sarkozy's politics (and who has made comments seen as anti-African immigrant) - and Martine Aubry, current head of the Socialist Party. …

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