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Judt, The Social Question Redivivus

Judt, The Social Question Redivivus

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Published by: Benjamin Alexander on Dec 04, 2012
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The Social Question RedivivusAuthor(s): Tony JudtSource:
Foreign Affairs,
Vol. 76, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1997), pp. 95-117Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 24/10/2011 17:49
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The SocialQuestionRedivivusTonyJudt
IIIfarestheland,tohasteningillsaprey,
Wherewealthaccumulates,andmendecay.OLIVER GOLDSMITH
Thelittle townofLongwyhasaghostlyair.Formany yearsitwasanimportantcenterofironandsteelmanufacturingin theindustrial basinofthenorthernLorraineandaproudstrongholdofsocialistandcommunistunions. Since1975,however,the localindustry,likesteelworking everywhereinWesternEurope,has beenintrouble.Todaythesteelworksaregone,andso,atfirstsight,aretheirworkers.Atnoononaworkingdaythetownisquiet,withemptyshops,afewsad-lookingbars,andadesertedrailwaystationoccupiedbyagaggleof drunks.The erstwhilesteelworkers,grownold,waitouttheir livesinbars andcaf?s,orelsestayathomewith the television.Theirwivesanddaughtershavepart-time,nonunionworkeitherinnewfactoriesand officesdistributedinthe fields outsidethetownorelseatcommercialcentersdepositedoptimisticallyatcrossroadssome20milesaway.Theirsonshavenoworkatallandmillaroundatthesesamecommercialcenterslookingatoncemenacingandpitiful.TherearetownslikeLongwyalloverEurope,fromLancashiretoSilesia,fromtheAsturian mountainstothecentral Slovakianplain.What makesthe shattered industrialheartlandofnortheasternFrance distinctiveisthepoliticalrevolutionthat has occurred there.
TonyJudtisDirector of theRemarqueInstituteatNew York Universityand author o?A Grand Illusion: AnEssayonEurope.
[95]
 
Tonyjudt
Inthelegislativeelections of1978,whentheleftwasdefeated nationwide,thevotersofLongwyreturnedacommunistdeputytoParis,asusual.Twentyyearslater,inthelegislativeelectionsofMay1997,theright-wingNationalFront?whichdidnotexistin1978?camewithin3,000votesofovertakingthe localcommunistcandidate. Alittlefarthereast,inthesimilarly depressedindustrialtownsandvillagesaroundSarrebourgthat abuttheGermanfrontier,theNational Frontdidevenbetter:movingahead of bothcommunistsandsocialists,itscandidatessecuredmorethan22percentofthevoteinhalfthelocal constituencies.The neo-fascistright,whoseprogramconstitutesonelongscreamofresentment?atimmigrants,atunemployment,atcrimeandinsecurity,at"Europe,"andingeneralat"them" who havebroughtitallabout?didbetterstillinthedecayedindustrialvalleyoftheupperLoirewestofLyons,whereoneinfivevotersfavoredit,andbestofallinthetownsofMediterraneanFrance.InthegreaterMarseillesregionnearlyonevoterinfour chosethe candidates of theNationalFront.IfFrancehadasystemofproportional representation,thefront would havenot1butyydeputiesinthenewFrenchparliament(doubleitsnumber underashort-livedsystemofproportionalrepresentationintroducedforthe1986elections),and the leftwouldnothaveaparliamentarymajority.Alltheseregions,andmanyotherswhere the farrightisnowtheleadinglocalparty,wereuntilveryrecently strongholdsof the left. Thedemographicsofmostsuchplaceshavenotalteredsignificantly?
formercommunists,notnewcomers,are nowvotingforJean-Marie
Le Pen.Thecommunityofthesemenandwomenhasbeen destroyed,andtheyarelookingforsomeonetoblameandsomeonetofollow. ThisisnotWiganPier,the world of British industrialunemploymentchronicledby GeorgeOrwell betweenthewars.Theretheeconomybuckledand thestatewithdrewfrom all butitsmostminimalcommitments,butthecommunityheld fast andwas evenstrengthenedinits shared beliefinitself and thejusticeofitsclaims. Inpostindustrial France(orBritainandelsewhere)theeconomyhas movedonwhile thestate,sofar,hasstayedbehindtopickupthetab,but thecommunityhascollapsed,andwithitacentury-long politicalculturethat combinedprideinwork,local socialinterdependence,andintergenerationalcontinuity.
[96]FOREIGNAFFAIRS -Volume76No.5

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