Talking Socialism: At it Again
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, is trailing his coat through French domestic politics, hoping to be picked up by the Socialist Party as their presidential candidate in next year’s elections. If successful he would become the Left’s candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy.I was charmed by a report that he is saying socialism “is the future.”
Listen Dominique, and listen carefully. Socialism is a nearly 100-year social experiment that has failed. It has failed everywhere it has been tried. It retarded the development of Russia and is responsible for the disaster on display in former Soviet lands It retarded China’s economic growth and in both cases has been responsible for the murder of tens of millions of people. North Korea is a living example of the low-level starvation that is part of life under socialism. Ever visited Cuba and seen the range of groceries in its stores? In my visit there were two brands and two alone on the shelves.
What irritates is when a western politician – and it would only happen in France these days – picks up the old rhetoric and gives it another run. Socialism has a dictionary definition. It is public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. It’s not anything as vague as “the greatest good for the greatest number”, it is public ownership. Public ownership of the commanding heights of industry – to pick up an old phrase favoured by socialists – is a demonstrable failure. British politicians were very fond of talking about socialism with abandon. They didn’t mean it. They knew it was unworkable. But they had to pretend. Deceiving the rank and file like this caused the disillusionment that had the Left take over British Labour in the 1980s.
Here’s the main point. This same Dominique Strauss-Kahn when he was last in government – as Minister for Economics, Finances and Industry – actually privatised industry. He privatised France Telecom. He privatised Aerospatiale. He privatised Credit Lyonnais, Thomson-CSF and GAN. He no more believes in socialism than you or I. But he can’t help dragging the term out again. Lazily. Insincerely. Not remotely intending to revamp the public ownership which in office he had reversed.
Back in 1986 I said:
In the collective mind of Western Europe there is still a vivid recollection of what happened when demagogues offered quack solutions to the economic crisis of the 1930s. Few want to go down that track again. The West Europeans can see Marxist-Leninist solutions on the other side of the border and Eastern Europe is a very bad advertisement…
You can find the full piece in Thoughtlines (Penguin, 2002).