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PARIS, Jun 13 2011 (IPS) - One of the most powerful men in the world, director of the largest financial institution of the planet, sexually assaults one of the world’s most vulnerable people, a humble African immigrant. In its raw concision, this image sums up with the expressive force of an editorial cartoon one of the central characteristics of our age: the violence of inequality.

What makes the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn -ex-managing director of the International Monetary Fund and leader of the right wing of the French Socialist Party- more pathetic is that, if the charges against him prove true, his downfall will also be a metaphor for the current moral unravelling of social democracy. With the aggravating factor that it also reveals, in France, the dangers of complicit media.

The entire situation infuriates many leftist voters in Europe, who are increasingly disposed to three forms of rejection, as we saw in the May 22 municipal and regional elections: radical abstentionism, voting for the extreme right, and animated street protests.

Naturally the ex-head of the IMF and ex-candidate for the French Socialist Party in the 2012 presidential elections, charged with sexual assault and attempted rape of a cleaning woman at a New York hotel on May 14, enjoys the presumption of innocence until his trial is concluded. But what was most shameful was the attitude displayed in France by socialist leaders and many “leftist” intellectuals who are friends of the accused and rushed to make pronouncements and unconditional defences of Strauss-Kahn, portraying him as the real victim, with allusions to “plots” and “machinations”. There was not a word of solidarity or compassion for the alleged victim. Some, like ex-culture minister Jack Lang, in a gesture of machismo, actually discounted the gravity of the situation, because “after all, no one died.[1]” Others, forgetting even the meaning of the word “justice”, went so far as to demand certain privileges and favourable treatment for their powerful friend because, they argued, he wasn’t just “another common criminal [ii]”.

Such brazenness has given the impression that the French political elites simply close rank around any of its members, whatever the accusation, in a move that seems more appropriate for mafia complicity [iii].

In retrospect, now that earlier accusations of sexual assault by Strauss-Kahn are surfacing [iv], many people are asking why the media hid this side of his character [v]. Why did journalists, who did not ignore the charges of other victims of harassment, never launch an investigation into these allegations? Why did the media keep the electorate in the dark and present the IMF chief as “the great hope of the left” when it was clear that his Achilles’ heel could short circuit his ascension at any moment?

For years, in his effort to win the presidency, Strauss-Khan has hired brigades of spin doctors, one of whose missions was to prevent the press from publicising his luxurious life style. The goal was to prevent any inopportune contrast between the way he lives and the lives of the millions of humble citizens thrown into social hell partly because of policies imposed by the institution he headed.

Now the masks are coming off. The cynicism and hypocrisy are appearing in all their crudity. And though the private conduct of one man should not impugn his entire political clan, clearly it has raised serious questions about social democracy. Add to this the innumerable cases of economic corruption that mark the movement, and even its political degeneration, as shown in the ouster of dictators Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt, both members of the Socialist International.

The massive conversion to free market economics and neoliberal globalisation, the renunciation of any defence of the welfare state and the public sector, the new alliance with financial capital and banking have all stripped social democracy of the primary features of its identity. Every day people find it harder to tell the difference between “leftist” and “rightist” policies since both do the bidding of the financial bosses of the world. Perhaps it was a brilliant move on the part of the latter to place a “socialist” at the head of the IMF to impose draconian neoliberal structural adjustment programmes on his “socialist” friends in Greece, Portugal, and Spain [vi].

Thus the explosion of popular disgust and outrage, and the rejection of the false choice between the two main platforms, which were in fact merely twins. Then came the “days of rage” in the public squares, and the awakening of society. This spelled the end of inaction and indifference, and a central demand: “The people want an end to the system.” (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Ignacio Ramonet is editor of “Le Monde diplomatique en espanol”.

[i] From the news show on French state TV station France 2, 17 May 2011.

[ii] Bernard-Henri Levy, “Defense de Dominique Strauss-Kahn” ( www.bernard-henri-levy.com/defense-de-dominique-strauss-kahn-1890 9.html ), and Robert Badinter, ex-socialist justice minister, statements to France Inter public radio, May 17, 2011.

[iii] This collective demonstrated is tremendous effectiveness in media control when it managed to mobilise in 2009 French public opinion and government figures to support the cause of Polish- French director Roman Polanski, accused in the US of drugging and sodomising a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

[iv] Especially that formulated by writer and journalist Tristane Banon. See: “Tristane Banon, DSK et AgoraVox : retour sur une omerta mediatique” , AgoraVox, May 18, 2011.(www.agoravox.fr/actualites/medias/article/tristane-banon-dsk-et-agoravox-94196 )

[v] In the IMF itself, Strauss-Kahn had already been involved in 2008 in a scandal caused by his affair with a subordinate, Hungarian economist Piroska Nagy.

[vi] “His “socialist” credentials allowed him to administer bitter pills to many governments on the right and left and explain to the millions of the victims on international finance that all they had to do was tighten their belts and wait for better times.” Pierre Charasse, “No habra revolucion en el FMI (There Will Be No Revolution in the IMF)”, La Jornada, Mexico, 22 May 2011.

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