Steven Erlanger: What’s a Socialist?





Steven Erlanger is the Paris bureau chief of The New York Times.

FRANCE has elected its first Socialist president since 1988 and then given the Socialist Party and its closest allies a whopping majority in Parliament. But how Socialist is François Hollande? And what does it mean to be a Socialist these days, anyway?

Not very much. Certainly nothing radical. In a sense, socialism was an ideology of the industrialized 19th century, a democratic Marxism, and it succeeded, even in (shh!) the United States. Socialism meant the emancipation of the working class and its transformation into the middle class; it championed social justice and a progressive tax system, and in that sense has largely done its job. As the industrialized working class gets smaller and smaller, socialism seems to have less and less to say.

Center-right parties have embraced or absorbed many of the ideas of socialism: trade unions, generous welfare benefits, some form of nationalized health care, even restrictions on carbon emissions. The right argues that it can manage all these programs more efficiently than the left, and some want to shrink them, but only on the fringes is there talk of actually dismantling the welfare state....



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