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Technocrats vs. Humanists

Les désillusions du progrès

by Raymond Aron
Calmann-Lévy, 375 pp., 24 F.

D’une Sainte Famille à l’autre

by Raymond Aron
Gallimard, 307 pp., 18 F.

Liberté et organisation dans le monde actuel

Centre d’Études de la Civilisation contemporaine
Desclée de Brouwer, 286 pp., 19.90 F.

Socialisme ou social-médiocrité?

by Jacques Mandrin (pseudonym)
Éditions du Seuil, 186 pp., 15 F.

Ma part de vérité

by François Mitterand
Fayard, 206 pp., 15 F.

Une stratégie pour la gauche

by Jean Poperen
Fayard, 162 pp., 15 F.

Le PSU et l’avenir socialiste de la France the PSU adopted in March 1969

Interviews with Michel Rocard, critical introduction, and theses of the PSUadopted in March 1969.
Éditions du Seuil, 183 pp., 4.50 F.


An industrial society can only prosper if the workers understand the meaning of their task and are fully associated with the elaboration of all the decisions concerning them…for my own part I think, notably but not exclusively, of the Swedish example.”

Thus M. Chaban-Delmas, France’s new Prime Minister, addressing the National Assembly on June 26, a few days after Georges Pompidou had taken the oath as President of the Republic. The philosophic calm which greeted his declaration of principles testified to the conviction of the conservative majority that this kind of fine talk was unlikely to be translated into legislative action, let alone social reality. No doubt the skeptics had good reason to shrug it off. M. Chaban-Delmas, after all, belongs to the haute bourgeoisie of Bordeaux, where for the past two decades he has functioned as mayor and devoted his considerable talents to industrial development, but hardly to the furtherance of workers’ councils.

As for M. Pompidou, it is true that during the presidential election campaign last May and June he so far forgot himself as to promise the voters to transform their country into a “sunny Sweden.” But it is also true that since his election he has been notably silent on this topic, while exhorting his countrymen to rival their West German neighbors, notably in the domain of foreign trade (now helped along by a remarkably skillful currency operation). On his list of priorities the task of turning France into a “great industrial country” (as he put it during his first presidential press conference on July 10) ranks decidedly ahead of Swedish welfare-stateism, not to mention anarcho-syndicalism. The General may brood in silence at Colombey, and the left-wing Gaullists may pursue the aim of worker-management “participation,” but the France of M. Pompidou is unlikely to pioneer in this direction.

All the more reason, say the cynics, why Chaban-Delmas and his colleagues have to borrow the vocabulary of Defferre and Mendès-France; and of course the cynics are right. But those sociologists who smell a whiff of “technocracy” in the Parisian air are right too. The fact is that the French political elite currently feels the need to cover its ideological nakedness with a new suit of clothing. The original formula was invented by the Saint-Simonians a century and a half ago: production is more important than property, and where property rights get in the way of technical or social progress, they must be sacrificed. This is the “technocratic ideology” that free-enterprisers and Marxists alike have come to detest: the former because it threatens to interfere with the blessings of an uncontrolled free market in property values; the latter because it ignores the class conflict and tries to make people believe that political problems can be reduced to purely technical or administrative ones (cf. John McDermott in The New York Review of July 31).

The interesting thing is that whereas in the United States this kind of talk commonly issues from self-styled “liberals” (who are perhaps better described as Fabians in disguise) their French counterparts are fond of describing themselves as “socialists.” It is partly a difference in national style, Americans being shy of the word “socialism” while the French love to talk about it, on the understanding that talk is not to be followed by action. In part it relates to a genuine difference in the political set-up: no French government can carry on in the teeth of really determined hostility on the part of the unions, and the French unions (including those run by the Catholics) genuinely do believe in socialism and/or syndicalism. So does most of the teaching profession, a sizeable part of the technical intelligentsia, and practically everyone who matters in the country’s literary life. Even the editors of the arch-conservative Figaro, the daily breakfast oracle of the Catholic bourgeoisie, went on strike when the paper’s proprietor, an aged business tycoon, tried to assert control.

In brief, French capitalism lacks moral legitimation. In public life nobody—literally nobody, from de Gaulle and Pompidou downward—even pretends to believe in the sanctity of property. What the ruling stratum does believe in is technical progress, and of course “order”: that is to say, vesting authority in those best able to run the show. In short, the technocratic ethos is employed to legitimize what Marxists call capitalism and what sophisticated neo-liberals like Aron prefer to call “industrial society.” Once this has been grasped, a number of things about contemporary France become less puzzling. One is the ability of the Gaullists to stay in office, and the presence in their ranks of numerous technocrats, who are in fact socialists inasmuch as they favor a planned economy and the steady shrinkage of the private sector. Then there is the sensational publishing success of M. Servan-Schreiber’s glossy magazine L’Express, which has copied the Luce format but preaches Saint-Simonism to its half million affluent buyers (mostly businessmen, managers, or civil servants).

Lastly, there is the current paralysis of the French Left. This is partly a consequence of being weighed down by the Communist incubus and the failure of the French CP to renounce its dog-like devotion to Moscow. But in part it stems from a genuine intellectual dilemma: if French socialism is ever to gain a stable majority, it must not only overcome the rift dividing the democratic Left from the Stalinist rump; it must also define its understanding of what the term “socialism” signifies in the present age. Apart from the Anarcho-Trotskyist-Castroist-Maoist fringe, which inhabits a dream world of its own manufacture, the Left in France is up against a problem not wholly dissimilar from that which confronts the ruling coalition. Let us assume a peaceful democratic takeover and the preservation of the traditional liberties, if the Communists can be induced to beat a strategic retreat from Lenin to Marx. What then is to happen next? Is the economy, whether nationalized or not, to be run in accordance with purely technical criteria, or are the workers to be given a genuine say, even at some cost in efficiency? On the first assumption, how is one to avoid the kind of sullen resentment now observable all over Eastern Europe? On the second, how can one make plausible the claim that socialism will actually deliver the goods? Is there not a danger that the voters (including a large fraction of the industrial working class) will settle for Pompidou’s “sunny Sweden” as the next best thing to Utopia?

It would be agreeable were one able to say that the problem has at any rate found an intellectual solution, but no such claim can seriously be put forward at the present time. It is not even advanced by M. Rocard, whose Parti Socialiste Unifié—perhaps the most faction-ridden and least unified of all the rival formations on the Left—was formed in 1960 for the express purpose of renovating socialist theory and practice. It had 15,000 members then. It has 15,600 now, almost half of them newcomers suddenly activated by the great 1968 upheaval, and out of the total membership it has been reckoned (see Le Monde of 8 August 1969) that one-third are teachers and students, a large proportion of the remainder belonging to the technical “cadres” in industry and the white-collar stratum. So far as an occasional visitor to Paris can see, all that has happened is that the latent tension between intelligentsia technocracy and working-class syndicalism has been institutionalized in the form of an endless battle for control of the PSU: a battle M. Rocard, a former Inspecteur des Finances, hence a technocrat by definition, looks like losing.

If and when he does lose control to the rival gauchistes, led by wealthy Castroites from the silk-stocking district of Paris, with a motley army of students and young workers yapping at their heels, he may (or may not) team up with the recently renovated Socialist party from which some of his own colleagues resigned in despair during the Algerian war. For the Socialist party has acquired a relatively youthful and dynamic new leader in the person of Alain Savary, and a very competent second-in-command, Pierre Mauroy. It has also attracted a small army of genuine left-wing enragés led by M. Jean Poperen, a former Communist who helped to found the PSU before abandoning it to its fate. But here is the snag: MM. Savary and Mauroy may be to the left of the Old Guard, but they also look and sound alarmingly intellectual and technocratic, whereas M. Poperen’s new book, Stratégie pour la gauche, expresses a violent distaste for all technocrats, from Mendès-France downward. For him it is still the proletarian revolution or nothing. (M. Poperen is himself a history professor at the Sorbonne.)

Nor do the complications end here. Savary quarreled with Guy Mollet over Algeria in 1956 and later helped to found the PSU, before abandoning it in 1963. But he had previously been a Minister in the Mollet government (as had Mendès-France before he quit). Middle-class by origin, he personifies a tradition that easily reconciles Socialism with patriotism, in the ancient republican manner: a manner to which the Communists have remained strangers. In 1940 young Savary, then a lieutenant in the Navy, was among the first to rally to de Gaulle, but retained his Socialist convictions and never became a Gaullist in the political sense. By 1945, after a dazzling war record, he embarked upon a political career marked by frequent clashes with his colleagues, resignations on matters of principle, and stormy exits from coalition governments and Socialist party councils. “When you hear a crash, that’s Savary walking out,” became a standard joke. A Socialist in the traditional Jaurèsian sense, he could hardly be called an orthodox Marxist.

All of which makes it the more remarkable that he has now come to the forefront on a platform calling for Socialist-Communist cooperation and banning any approach to the so-called “Center”: the group of Catholic democrats who ran the presidential candidacy of the luckless Alain Poher. By implication Savary’s rise in the Socialist party hierarchy thus spells the end of “Defferrism,” i.e., the attempt to form a Social-Democratic coalition embracing the left wing of the Catholics. But does one ever know? Suppose the Communists stick to their bone-headed Stalinist orthodoxy. Then a future Socialist congress may unseat M. Savary and revert to “Defferrism,” although this is not going to happen if M. Mitterand has any say in the matter. But Mitterand has (for the time being) refused to lead his 15,000 adherents of the Convention des Institutions Républicaines into the Socialist party. Instead, he is busy preaching his own version of the gospel in the four corners of France.

Mitterand got eleven million votes in the 1965 presidential election, and he was very angry when in May 1969 the Socialists hastily nominated Defferre, instead of joining the Communists in a united front behind Mitterand. He is all for working with the Communists, critical of Social Democrats, and not too fond of his former chief, Mendès-France. But is M. Mitterand a Marxist? Not at all: he comes from a bourgeois Catholic milieu, is still a believing (although unorthodox) Christian, preaches what he calls “social justice,” and candidly admits in his recently published autobiographical tract that he has always had difficulty with all that complicated Marxist language. Yet he considers himself to the left of the orthodox Marxist Guy Mollet, whom he still blames for having voted de Gaulle into power in 1958. French politics are the reverse of simple.

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