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Not so Lost Causes

This has meant renouncing not just the more eccentric notions of “proletarian revolution,” but the (secret and confidential) doctrine that France (like other West European countries) would one day have to be “liberated” by the Soviet Army. For this and nothing else was the long-term strategy to which the leadership had committed the party. By now these expectations have been quietly buried, and the party of Waldeck Rochet is busy acquiring a social-democratic image. Its most recent pronouncements, if still hostile to the Europe of the Common Market, are couched in the authentic language of patriotism (“We regard the nation as an enduring reality”), and display a positively Jacobin indignation at the idea of signing away France’s sovereignty to the “technocrats” in Brussels. For the rest, Waldeck Rochet, at his first press conference after the March elections, informed his audience that he was against inflation. At this rate, the PCF looks as if it is becoming the conservative wing of whatever left-wing coalition may take over when De Gaulle (who is reputed to be mortal, though this is uncertain) departs the scene one day. As Serge Mallet, of the rival Parti Socialiste Unifié, wrote in the weekly Nouvel Observateur last spring with a trace of irony: “ça sera un excellent parti de governement.”

MENTION OF MALLET (who deserves to be better known outside France, and who should on no account be confused with Guy Mollet, the indestructible secretary-general of the major Socialist party, the SFIO) leads one to consider the agreeable irony which has carried this former Communist of working-class origin into a party of which that grand bourgeois and respectable Keynesian liberal, M. Mendès-France, is the nominal leader. In France more than elsewhere, things are never quite what they seem. It would take pages to explain how and why the Parti Socialiste Unifié (originally a breakaway from the SFIO, once Mollet had committed his own party to the Algerian war which ruined the parliamentary Republic) came to lose the services of a distinguished Socialist economist and ex-Minister like André Philip (still a Socialist, but also a supporter of De Gauile), while acquiring (a) Mendès-France, who had been a liberal until his sudden conversion to socialism ten years ago (b) a membership largely made up of Trotskyists and Syndicalists (c) a weekly such as the Nouvel Observteur which is not the official organ of the party, but rather its link with the intelligentsia (d) a propagandist such as André Gorz, who also writes a column for the Observateur under a pseudonym, and who clearly abominates most of the things this lively weekly stands for. Instead of going into further details, let me say that the PSU should not be judged by M. Gorz’s lively but amateurish and rather doctrinaire effusions. He represents only one of its numerous conflicting factions (originally eight, but by the latest count down to five)—the one closest in spirit to the pro-Maoist group of French Communists recently expelled from the PCF. I am sorry to be so complicated, but French politics are like that.

What is pretty clear, on the evidence of his book, is that if and when Mendès-France ever forms a government sometime in the 1970s, André Gorz is going to be among his sternest critics; especially if, as seems increasingly certain, the PSU formally commits itself to the Europe of the Common Market, with or without Britain. For M. Gorz, like his friends of the breakaway Italian Socialist group of Lelio Basso, and like the larger half (not the whole) of the British New Left, is profoundly suspicious of the Brussels technocracy and the Europe it has created. His final chapter is headed “Europe for the Workers,” and deals in a rather tortuous manner with what may happen if there is “a catastrophic crisis in part or all of the European Economic Community or the capitalist world”: a somewhat question-begging phrase from which no one would guess that the three principal officials of the Brussels Commission, and quite a number of their staff, are members of their countries’ respective Socialist parties. Doubtless this kind of socialism is suspect to M. Gorz, but then so must the socialism of Mendès-France be, since that statesman is a good deal closer to men like Robert Marjolin, the French Socialist Vice-Chairman of the EEC, than to the Maoist-Syndicalist-Trotskyist faction of his own party. It is, I think, fair to say that whereas M. Mendès-France is skeptical of the Europe created by the Rome Treaty, M. Gorz is dead against it.

I don’t want to give the impression that Strategy for Labor is not worth reading, but to be candid it is not so good a book as its French original, Stratégie Ouvrière et Néocapitalisme, whose appearance in 1964 antedated the conversion of the PSU from a lively arena of conflicting factions into a more or less responsible parliamentary party with a “reformist” perspective. In 1964 it was still possible to believe that M. Gorz’s kind of neo-Syndicalism might become the doctrine of all left-wing Socialists in France. In 1967 it is pretty evident that the PSU has a political future only if it comes to terms with the “technical intelligentsia”: the stratum behind all forms of socialist planning (and incidentally the one group in French society which always had a soft spot for Mendès-France). M. Gorz is just enough of a Marxist to understand all this, and just enough of a romantic to go on writing as though he still lived in an age when it was possible to think that one day “the workers” would run up the red flag and take over from the managers. He does not really believe this, just as he does not really believe that “pauperization” is an issue in a country like France, or that the East European countries have anything like a socialist democracy. He merely contrives to give the impression that while all such statements are not, strictly speaking, true, they may nonetheless have a certain limited plausibility, provided they are taken with a helping of salt. This sort of thing has its uses for propagandist purposes, but it makes the reading of M. Gorz’s book needlessly irritating. It is perhaps significant that Serge Mallet, in his writings, does not indulge in such stratagems, but then M. Mallet knows both industry and the working class, whereas M. Gorz, while knowledgeable enough, is in economic matters something of an amateur.

Yet this doctrinaire tract is not without interest. It shows which way the wind is blowing. When M. Gorz says (p. 133): “It is not possible to wait until a ready-made model is furnished by the socialist societies which are barely emerging from decades of forced accumulation” (this is his tactful way of referring to the Stalinist experience), he is telling his readers that they had better come to terms with the real world: that of supra-national integration, economic planning (however half-hearted), and the kind of industrial technology that is making an end of small-scale farming and commodity production. His concern is that the labor movement shall not be made subservient to the new social order, and there we can all applaud. The residual utopianism he projects will probably be shed (by others if not by himself) as the French Left discovers the realities of political power in this age.

M. GORZ and his friends are already halfway to their ultimate destination: that of supplying a critical chorus for a moderately socialist government headed by Mendès-France or someone like him. For this to happen, of course, the French Communist party, which still controls more than 20 percent of the vote and most of the workers in heavy industry, will have to become “reformist.” The last-ditch resistance to this transformation is now represented by the Maoists outside the PCF and the neo-Stalinists inside it. Each of these two groups has its chosen literary and theoretical spokesman: the Maoists Gilbert Mury, whom with the best will one cannot take seriously; the neo-Stalinists, Louis Althusser, who really deserves an essay to himself. Here I will merely say that as between Roger Garaudy—currently the official philosopher of the CP—and M. Althusser, my private sympathies tend to be divided. M. Garaudy clearly represents what used to be known as the “wave of the future.” At the moment he is engaged in assuring the Catholics that the PCF will never harm them and that all Marxists have the deepest respect for John XXIII and Teilhard de Chardin. This sort of thing appeals to one’s sense of humor and is anyhow a welcome change from old-line Zhdanovist abuse. On the other hand, there is no denying that, regarded strictly as a Marxist-Leninist theorist, M. Althusser has the better mind and is more consistent that M. Garaudy (as well as being rather more remote from what ordinary people would call reality). Both men are teachers of philosophy, M. Garaudy a simple university professor, M. Althusser a professor at the Ecole Normale, which puts him in the upper class so far as intellectual prestige goes. Both are members of the party’s Central Committee, M. Garaudy also of the Politburo, which shows that the intellect is still respected in France (to my knowledge no one in authority has suggested that they should be dismissed from their posts in the State educational system). It is my private guess that their well-publicized dissensions will continue to furnish a topic of lively debate in Paris; that most Communist students will side with M. Althusser; and that the Party leaders, while ostensibly staying neutral, will quietly follow the line traced out for them by M. Garaudy and try to become respectable; which, when you come to think of it, is the only sensible thing for them to do, since as professional politicians they must inevitably want to get a share of power, whatever M. Althusser may want.

I recommend M. Althusser’s writings, especially his Pour Marx (Maspero, 1966), to anyone curious to know how a learned and talented scholastic in this decade combines Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy with an intelligent interest in Freud and Lévi-Strauss. For M. Althusser is highly sophisticated—far too much so for the taste of any surviving Russian Stalinists. He simply happens not to believe that the PCF with its present strategy of compromise can establish anything worth being called communism; and in this he is undoubtedly right. His mistake, if so acute a thinker can be supposed to have made one, lies in supposing that the party to which he belongs is willing to forgo power for the sake of the millennium. Plainly it is not, which is among the major reasons why communist doctrine and communist practice no longer have much to do with each other. In the French context this means, among other things, that the PCF must profess something like benevolent neutrality on the subject of religion, since it can hope to gain a share of power only by way of a coalition with the non-communist Left, which latter (a point often overlooked abroad) now includes a substantial number of democratic Catholics. Even the PSU, not to mention organizations further toward the center, has its share of believing Christians (some of them regular contributors to the Nouvel Observateur, even employees of that journal). In short, if the PCF is to get into the government après de Gaulle, it must make peace with the Catholic Left. Hence no doubt M. Garaudy’s recent attendance at those Prague colloquies between Marxists and Christian theologians (mostly Dominicans).

Hence also the measured scorn which his ideological outpourings evoked from M. Althusser at a recent widely publicized Central Committee meeting. For those who follow the Althusser line, communism is still a total view of the world, not a doctrine to be bartered for a mess of pottage. If one likes, one may say that just as French Catholicism has its diehards, the “integrists” whose hearts lie buried beyond the Pyrenees, in the Spain of Franco and the Portugal of Salazar, so French Communism too has its old guard for whom Stalin (with all his faults, which they are far from denying) represents the guardianship of Leninist orthodoxy. By now the fires once lit in the souls of Catholics and Communists by the Spanish Civil War have very nearly burned themselves out all over Europe—except in Paris, home of lost causes.

Letters

State of Mind September 14, 1967

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