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Rise of the "Red Rose" Party
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Philippe Marlière reviews ‘Mitterrand’ by Philip Short · LRB 17 April
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Learn more Check out. Volume 33 , Issue 2 June Pages The popular appeal of the left, however, was set back by the momentous student-worker revolt of the Events of May and de Gaulle's manipulation of the crisis. Then, partially as a result of the disastrous outcome of the June legislative elections for the left, Mitterrand resigned as chairman of the FGDS and decided not to run in the presidential elections. From to he headed a political grouping known as the Convention of Republican Institutions. The PS, symbolized by a clenched first holding a red rose, eventually catapulted Mitterrand and his Socialist colleagues to power in Shortly after assuming the leadership of the PS, Mitterrand and the Socialists agreed to support the Common Program , an electoral alliance and program comprised of the Socialists, the Communists, and the left radicals MRG.
After signing the Common Program, the membership of Mitterrand's new party increased from 75, in to , in These numbers encouraged Mitterrand's hope of constructing a large non-Communist left in France. Several days after signing the Common Program, in fact, he declared at an international Socialist congress in Vienna that he wanted "to reconquer an important part of the communist electorate.
After the founding of the PS, Mitterrand adroitly played one tendency against another to maintain his leadership of the party. In the legislative election the Socialists captured a respectable In the cantonal elections of the PS became the first party of the French left by capturing Fearing that the Socialists would make even further gains in the legislative elections at the expense of the PCF, the Communists sabotaged the Common Program on the eve of the elections.
Consequently, instead of taking a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies as predicted earlier, the leftist parties suffered a setback due to their own disunity. Between and the discord between the Socialists and Communists continued, revolving around both domestic and international issues for example, the crisis in Poland and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, Marchais' poor showing in the first round of the elections convinced the PCF to back Mitterrand in the second round.
France Chooses a New President
Aided by Communist support and disunity now on the right, Mitterrand toppled Giscard by winning Mitterrand was aided, however, by a number of other factors: Giscard's so-called imperial image, the need for economic and social reform, and the twin problems of unemployment and inflation. The elections also proved that alternance, or a change in government, was possible under the institutions of the Fifth Republic—a republic that Mitterrand had rejected earlier. The legislative elections held in June of constituted another historic dimension. In these elections Mitterrand's Socialist Party won an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly.
The year marked the first time since the French Revolution of that the left had captured the executive and the legislative branches of government. In forming his new government Mitterrand took some noteworthy steps. He chose Pierre Mauroy, the Socialist mayor of Lille, as prime minister. To reward the Communists for their backing and to maintain leftist unity, Mitterrand included four Communist ministers in his government.
He also created a Ministry for the Rights of Women and staffed his new ministry with Yvette Roudy, a long-time feminist activist. Now in power, Mitterrand's government launched a series of reforms designed to change France. A nationalization program was carried out that extended state control over nine industrial groups, including electronics, chemical, steel, and arms industries.
Social reforms were also made: the work week was reduced to 39 hours; workers received more rights at their workplace; the retirement age was reduced to 60 years of age; the vacation period was extended to five weeks of paid vacation instead of four; allocations for the elderly, for women that live alone, and for the handicapped were increased; the minimum wage was substantially increased; reimbursement for abortions was provided; a wealth tax was imposed; and approximately , jobs were created in the public sector.
The Mitterrand government also adopted a number of reforms to strengthen justice for its citizens and residents by abolishing the death penalty, striking down the old ad hoc state security court, amending laws against homosexuals, and trying to regularize the status of France's four million immigrant workers. In addition, the government launched a decentralization program designed to transfer some of the power and decision making from Paris to local regions.
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Year One of Mitterrand's Socialist experiment was a year of reforms, but an expensive one. During the first year in power the Mitterrand government pursued a neo-Keynesian reflationary economic policy, believing that "pump priming" would help pull France out of the recession so troubling to the Western world. Yet this policy, coupled with the expensive reforms of the first year, only exacerbated the economic problems in France.
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Consequently, in June of Mitterrand was forced to announce that his government would pursue an austerity program. This program involved a second devaluation of the franc, a four-month-long wage and price freeze, an attempt to hold down the public debt, and a cap placed on state expenses. Such a change in economic policy meant that France was now focusing on reducing inflation instead of unemployment. The June austerity program was followed by even more rigorous austerity measures in March of While Mitterrand and his government enjoyed a "state of grace" during their first year, the austerity programs of and , accompanied by rising unemployment, contributed to growing opposition in France and decline in the popularity of Mitterrand and his government.
The Socialist government also sparked opposition with its educational policy, namely its attempt to gain more control over the 10, private, mainly religious, schools in France. Concerns over educational reform as well as a climate of general discontent led to a massive demonstration on June 24, , by more than one million protesters at the Bastille in Paris, constituting the largest public demonstration in France since liberation. Facing this mounting opposition, plus a setback in the European Parliament elections of June 17, , Mitterrand began to move his government towards the center.
The French president made a major television address on July 12, , announcing that he would renegotiate the proposed reform for private schools and that he wished henceforth to consult the French on questions of public liberties through referendums. Then, only six days later the Mitterrand government announced several key resignations from the cabinet.
Mitterrand picked Laurent Fabius, a young loyal Mitterrandiste, as his new prime minister. Shortly thereafter, Fabius announced that the government would continue the austerity program in an effort to redress the economic crisis and to modernize France. More austerity, coupled with declining popularity at the polls, led the Communists to refuse to participate in Fabius' cabinet.
Mitterrand hoped that these changes would help to defuse the opposition and also prepare the PS for the upcoming legislative elections and the presidential elections. In foreign policy, where the French president exercises enormous power, Mitterrand was both pragmatic and Gaullist in his approach. While Mitterrand tried to promote solidarity with members of the NATO alliance, especially West Germany, he closely guarded French autonomy on foreign policy matters. At the same time, Mitterrand supported the idea of a strong and more independent Europe.
He, too, tried to encourage a North-South dialogue between the rich and the poor nations and attempted to develop and to strengthen French spheres of influence in the Third World.
The legislative elections were a blow to the Socialists.
Related Francois Mitterrand: The Making of a Socialist Prince in Republican France
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