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Socialism in France

When François Mitterand of the Parti Socialiste won the Presidency of France in 1981 the Socialists had achieved domination of the politics of France. The municipal elections of 1977 had given Socialists unprecedented local control of cities and the 1981 national elections, in addition to electing Mitterand, gave Socialists a majority in the Assembly, the legislature of France. The Parti Socialiste had been in opposition since 1958.

Despite the Socialists great electoral victories of 1981 it was perhaps a time of ideological retreat because the Socialist platform over time was becoming essentially indistinguishable from that of its electoral opponents. The Parti Socialiste was becoming a centrist party. While gone was the fervor of 1905 when the Declaration of Socialist Unity declared:

The Socialist Party is a class party whose aim is the socialization of the means of production and exchange, that is to say, the transformation of capitalist society into collectivist and communist society. [...] the Socialist Party while pursuing the enactment of immediate reforms demanded by the working class, is not a reformist party, but instead a party of class struggle and revolution.

there was one last attempt at the implementation of the classical socialist program. In his election campaign of 1981 Mitterand enunciated his 110 Propositions, which included a program of nationalization.

Mitterand's Nationalization Program

The nationalizations of 1981-82 involved seven of the largest twenty conglomerate industrial companies in France plus another five industrial companies. Thirty six banks and two finance companies were also nationalized to be sure of the State having capital sources for the nationalized sectors. The twelve industrial conglomerates nationalized (by means of an exchange of National Industrial Fund bonds for shares) were:

Compagnie Générale d'éléctricité (CGE): electrical power construction, electronics, heavy engineering, shipbuilding and telecommunications
Péchiney-Ugine-Kuhlman: aluminum, copper, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals
Rhone-Poulenc: chemicals, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals
Saint-Gobain: glass, building and insulating materials, castings, computers, electronics, and paper
Thomson-Brandt appliances, electronics and telecommunications
Usinor: iron and steel
Sacilor: iron and steel
Dasault: aeronautical construction and electonics
CII-Honeywell: computers
Compagnie Générale du constructions téléphoniques (CGCT): telephone and telecommunications
Roussel-Uclaf: refined chemicals and pharmaceuticals

The above nationalized companies had a workforce of 800,000. In some of these firms, such as the iron and steel companies Usinor and Sacilor, the State already owned majority shares. In others, such as CII-Honeywell and CGCT the State increased its share from a minority interest to a majority control.

The shareholders in the industrial companies received bonds from the National Industrial Fund and the shareholders in the nationalized banks and finance companies received bonds from the National Banking Fund. The bonds were to be amortized over a fifteen-year period. The annual cost to the State over the fifteen years was to be about 50 billion francs per year.

Even without the Parti Socialiste's nationalization program the French State held a substantial share of industry. In the area of public utilities there were the sectors of electricity, gas, coal, railways and Paris transport. In addition the two French airlines, Air France and Air Inter were state-owned. The Postal and Telecommunications Service was also a state-owned monopoly. As a result of circumstance of World War II the French State owned the automobile company Renault. It also owned several other companies, in whole or in part, that ordinarily would be expected to be part of the private economy, including the state tobacco company SEITA. Altogether the state sector accounts for about one fourth of the industrial output of France. In industrial exports the state sector accounts for about thirty percent.

The finance sector was also substantially state-owned before Mitterand's nationalizations. The pre-1981 state-owned financial sector included the commercial banks Crédit Lyonnais, Sociét Généle and the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP). The state-owned financial sector also included special financial institutions such as Crédit National and major insurance companies.

Most of the state sector is in the larger scale enterprises. Of the employment in enterprises having two thousand or more employees one half is in state enterprises.

The motivation for Mitterand's nationalization program was the long term stagnation of the French economy. Between 1974 and 1981 there had been the loss of 700,000 industrial jobs. It was perceived that the achievement of new economic growth would require the restructuring of the French economy. Some explain the nationalization program as been the natural course of the Parti Socialiste trying to achieve that restructuring. Other maintain that the real reason that Mitterand went ahead with the program was that the Socialists would have lost face and perhaps electoral support to the Communists if they had not gone ahead with nationalization.

During the period of nationalization the French economy was suffering difficulties resulting from the increase in the value of the dollar relative to the franc that effectively increased the cost of energy for France because international petroleum prices were pegged to the dollar. The net result was that the Socialistes had to institute an austerity program. Ideologically the Socialiste politicians from President Mitterand on down had to retrench. President Mitterand began to speak of the importance of the enterprise as the creator of employment and wealth and the key to France's place in globalization.


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