International Papers

A Red Letter Day for Capitalism

While May Day may have faded from consciousness in the United States, it’s a holiday—and a time for parades and parties—in much of the world. Yesterday, the biggest commemoration was in France, where more than 1 million people—close to 2 percent of the nation’s population—demonstrated against far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen and his supporters also held a march through Paris—attended by 8,000 to 10,000—honoring Joan of Arc (helpfully identified by the Financial Times as “the French national heroine burned to death by the English in the Middle Ages”). Britain’s Independent ran a fabulous dispatch contrasting the dueling demos: To explain the huge crowds gathered against Le Pen, Mark Steel suggested, “Maybe the French reckon that as they were five years late opposing the fascists last time, they’d better make sure and be punctual this time round.”

Before the marches, some French papers criticized President Jacques Chirac, Le Pen’s opponent in Sunday’s election, for condemning street protests. Le Monde said, “In a democracy, holding a demonstration is no less legitimate than voting, signing a petition, or joining a political party.” Le Figaro sided, more or less, with Chirac. An op-ed declared: “The May 1 demonstrations can’t in any way be considered a ‘second first round.’ It’s a parade, nothing more than a parade. Democracy is measured at the voting booth, not in the streets.” An op-ed in Israel’s Ha’aretz warned the French not to confuse the unified front against Le Pen with real political harmony: “Like Israel after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, [France] has turned fear of fragmentation into a fake glue amplifying the social, economic, and cultural gaps.”

Across the Channel in London, relatively peaceful demonstrations provided no repetition of last year’s violent May Day clashes. Instead, according to the tabloid Sun, “[I]t was apathy in the UK.” The paper reported that 5,000 trade unionists gathered at Trafalgar Square “and one woman bared her boobs.” (The Sun, naturally, provided photographic evidence.) The Scotsman characterized the London protests as a “celebration of negativity … against capitalism, globalisation, motor cars, fur, America, and hamburgers, to name but a few things.” The editorial interpreted the protestors’ failure to identify any “positive” demands as a victory for capitalism: “If May Day represents anything, it is the power of liberal capitalist society to evolve successfully over the last 116 years and solve each wave of social and economic problems.”

Capitalism also fared well this year in China. A year after President Jiang Zemin said the Chinese Communist Party should admit capitalists, the Hong Kong iMail reported that for the first time private entrepreneurs were honored as “model workers” and awarded the prestigious May 1 Labor Medal. The editorial concluded, “It is … an attempt by the communist leadership to maintain the relevance of the party after two decades of reform have gradually transformed an economy that was once socialist but now sees more than half of the country’s means of production in private hands.”