LITTLE ROCK The “left” is making a comeback in France. Not just Francois Hollande’s Socialists, but the hard left guys, the French Communist Party (PCF).
More than two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union supposedly signaled the end of Marxism-Leninism as a viable belief system, the Communists are once again attracting huge crowds waving red flags and their candidate, the “charismatic” Jean-Luc Melenchon, is said to hold the key to the outcome of the May run-off between Hollande and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Just as some Catholics can be more Catholic than the Pope, during the Cold War the PCF was often more Stalinist than Stalin (or at least Leonid Brezhnev and Andrei Gromyko). The crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet regime and other Communist despotisms around the world never seemed to make a dent in their moral obtuseness. The PCF even condemned Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika as a betrayal of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
That such a blight on the human experience, one exceeding even Nazism in its body count, could gain electoral traction in an advanced postindustrial democracy tells us something other than that cheese-eating surrender monkeys have a unique capacity for political idiocy. Indeed, the foundation of the Communist comeback has been resistance to the austerity measures that the French government has been reluctantly forced to embrace due to France’s mounting debt problems. The irony comes when considering that Communism represents the most extreme extrapolation of the welfare state mentality that produced such debt levels in the first place.
The European crisis (and the American crisis, too) is essentially a crisis of the welfare state. More precisely, it represents the presentation of the bill for payment that the welfare state has racked up for decades on both sides of the Atlantic. And in both Europe and America, the left, whether Communist, socialist,or “liberal-progressive,” is counting upon voters refusing to accept reality and the austerity measures that it so obviously dictates. More of what caused the disease is now being recommended as treatment.
Just as Communism in its heyday represented an effort to repeal the laws of human nature and the economic realities that flowed from them, today’s French Communists (and American liberals) seek to deny that budget numbers have any real meaning because money grows on trees.
What Charles Krauthammer calls “free lunch egalitarianism” is now firmly, perhaps irreversibly, entrenched in the politics of democratic states. That you can get something for nothing (or at least something that others can be made through political coercion to pay for) increasingly drives the voting behavior of ever-larger chunks of their dependent, dumbed-down electorates.
Momentum in that direction continues even after the money has run out.
The ability of Communism to survive in the electoral politics of France requires both historical amnesia regarding its crimes as well as an encouragement of the human desire to believe that two plus two really can be made to add up to seven or eight if one wishes it hard enough; that if we just close our eyes, plug up our ears, and stamp our feet in unison those nasty budget deficits will magically disappear, there will be no need for painful austerity programs, and we can go on providing free college tuition, health care, housing, and anything else that the political left designates as a fundamental human right without economic repercussion.
In the end, there is apparently something deeply ingrained in human nature that makes Communism and other forms of political leftism alluring. But just as there will always be credulous people living under the imperfections of capitalism who crave what Communism promises, there will always also be people who seek to escape from the ugly practice of Communism wherever it is established. What history has never produced, and likely never will, are a people who, once having arrived at the Communist paradise, are content to remain there. The guard towers atop the Berlin Wall weren’t, after all, designed to prevent people from entering.
Of course, no one with anything resembling a functioning brain really believes that if the French do what Melenchon and the PCF recommends-to confiscate wealth, nationalize banks and industries, and dramatically increase government benefits and the minimum wage-things will go well for France. Rather,
their supporters appear to only be hoping that it will provide them with the ability to continue to live beyond their means for a bit longer, and thereby push the inevitable crash onto the next generation.
The truly sad thing about all of this is that the formula for economic growth in the post-industrial age isn’t all that complicated, consisting as it does of secure property rights, low tax rates, and reasonable constraints upon governmental regulation, spending, and welfare state entitlements.
The left, whether in its French Communist or American liberal permutations, cannot construct sustainable societies because it has never figured out where wealth comes from. There are, in the end, no “shortcuts” to prosperity, and reality can only be temporarily ignored.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.