However the French presidential elections turn out in the coming weeks, the campaign has produced one memorable moment—when François Hollande, the Socialist candidate, delivered a sharp critique of the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Since the Greeks don’t vote in French elections, this was a rare expression of internationalist solidarity. Of course, the policy of the EU and the IMF is largely dictated by the German government, which makes French opposition something less than heroic. It is important, nonetheless. On the German Left, there have been critical voices (see Norman Birnbaum’s report on p. 9), though not from a party leader in the middle of an election campaign. In the United States, Paul Krugman has led an intellectual assault on the austerity doctrine and its ideological underpinnings. But the leader of the Democratic Party, who is already campaigning for re-election, has been silent. In Greece itself, the Socialist Party is part of the government coalition trying desperately to do what the EU and the IMF are demanding. It isn’t leading the protests in the streets, though its militants will certainly welcome Hollande’s critique.
What should socialists and leftists generally (and American liberals, too) be doing at this moment? In countries like Greece, it seems to me, they shouldn’t be serving in the government. Maybe there is no choice, given the balance of power in Europe, but to yield to the austerity demands. But then let the Center-Right and the technocrats make the necessary concessions, while men and women of the Left organize the opposition and work out alternative policies for the future. Long-term changes in Greek society, where tax evasion was a national pastime and civic spirit was in short supply, are indeed necessary. But they should come as part of a broadly conceived left program aimed at redistribution, citizen empowerment, and economic growth, and they should come from a party that both mobilizes and educates its voters. And that party and program should be supported by leftists around the world.
Internationalism is an old left ideology, honored most often in the breach. But it is the effective practice of the Right, whose politicians and bankers have achieved global reach. We need a global response. So what political leaders like Hollande, and like Barack Obama, say in their election campaigns is a matter of critical interest. They should be saying that people in desperate trouble in other countries matter to us; they should be saying that trouble abroad is likely to come home one day; they should be saying that foreign and domestic politics are intricately entangled. And they should be listening to each other—and to movement activists too—and trying to speak with (what has always seemed impossible on the left) one strong and coherent voice.
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