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Technocrats vs. Humanists

Which brings us to “Jacques Mandrin,” a pseudonym for a group of intellectuals affiliated with the C.E.R.E.S. (Centre d’Études, de Recherches et d’Éducation Socialistes). Founded by ex-pupils of the École Nationale d’Administration, where since 1945 the elite of the State bureaucracy has obtained its training, the C.E.R.E.S. is now the brains of the renovated Socialist party. It is also a center of (a) neo-socialist theorizing (b) youthful rebellion against elderly bureaucrats and moth-eaten dogmas. Both go together quite easily—much to the annoyance of a former Communist (and unreconstructed Leninist) like Jean Poperen who is not taken in by spurious “modernizers” masquerading as left-wing rebels. He knows them for what they are: technocrats who want to revise Marxism-Leninism out of existence.

He is right too so far as “Mandrin” is concerned. The pseudonym was obviously adopted in a spirit of self-irony, for what could be more mandarin than the C.E.R.E.S., unless it be the École Nationale itself? “Mandrin” first appeared on the scene with an oeuvre characteristically titled “l’Enarchie ou les Mandarins de la société bourgeoise“: another of those plays on words that only the insider can really savor. Not just “Enarchie” versus the familiar “Anarchy,” but a bit of self-mockery too, for ENA stands for École Nationale d’Administration, and the “Enarchs” are the lucky ones who annually pass an examination so fierce that only 85 out of 1,000 candidates survive to enter the hallowed precincts of ENA. Of these eighty-five only fifteen can hope to enter one of the four elite services: the Inspectorate of Finance, the Council of State (for lawyers), the Diplomatic service, or the Cour des Comptes which audits public expenditure.

But the cream of the jest is this: these men are mostly socialists of one kind or another. The Enarchs, as the school’s graduates are familiarly known, have been running France pretty steadily under both the Fourth and Fifth Republics, ever since de Gaulle and Debré organized the École Nationale in 1945 as a training center for higher civil servants. Saint-Simonians to a man, they have no use for the French bourgeoisie—that wretched class which allowed France to be defeated in 1940 and to fall behind Germany industrially. The General fully shared this viewpoint and gave them all the backing he could. When he abruptly resigned in 1946, they divided their loyalties between the official Socialist party, Mendès-France, and the group of ex-Socialists currently known as “left-wing Gaullists.” Believers in a planned economy and a fast rate of industrial growth, they are suspicious of Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing (“too bourgeois”), bored with the Communists whom they don’t take seriously, and mildly interested in socialism. “Mandrin” represents that section of the Mandarinate which is actually inside the Socialist party: with the aim of reforming it, of course, and making it look “modern.”

As political tracts go, Socialisme ou social-médiocrité? is a distinctly superior specimen: well-informed, intelligent, and occasionally very funny. The authors know all about the workings of the Socialist party machine, from the grass roots to the Paris headquarters at the Cité Malesherbes (or as they prefer to call it, the Cité des Mauvaises Herbes). They are notably good on the Twenty Years War between Mollet and Defferre which has now come to an end: Mollet having assumed the garb of Elder Statesman, while Defferre made only the briefest appearance at last July’s convention which retired the Old Guard and put the reformers in.

The quarrel between the two factions, which for decades absorbed everyone’s time and energy, is described rather amusingly in Taoist terms: the principles at stake in this never-ending contest were the Ying and Yang of a cosmic dualism which could not be terminated by the triumph of one faction over the other, seeing that the duality of sky-earth, spirit-matter, night-day (or what you will) cannot be resolved in this fashion. Moreover, the contestants were evenly matched, Yang-Mollet having behind him the tradition of Jules Guesde (1845-1922) and the bleak factory towns of the North, while Ying-Defferre was sustained by the ghost of Jean Jaurès (1859-1914), his own Marseilles organization, and the merry wine-drinking South. With Ying and Yang canceling each other out for twenty years, the S.F.I.O carried on imperturbably, while its popular following drifted away. No change was ever made in the sacred texts of 1905 and 1920, whereas daily practice could be as flexible as anyone chose. Mollet was a great one for combining doctrinal rigidity with parliamentary opportunism, and he regularly defeated Defferre and his friends whenever they tried to tamper with the Tablets of the Law. Thus secure in his conscience, he could permit himself pretty well anything when it came to practical politics:

C’est que nos doctrinaires, à défaut d’avoir renversé le pouvoir de la bourgeoisie, ont maintenu la doctrine: il faut dire que leur longue marche, depuis 1920, réduit celle de Mao Tsé-toung à la dimension d’une promenade dominicale. (p. 72)

There is a great deal more of this, interlarded with a very shrewd analysis of the French class structure, the Socialist party’s composition, the functioning of its congresses, and the mentality of its militants, for whom it has become a repository of hallowed traditions. Much of this likewise applies to the Communist party, and this is one reason why the CP now has to contend with an ultra-leftist current fed by the generational conflict as much as by Maoist or Trotskyist heresies.

There are some important differences, though: for example, the S.F.I.O. has always had numerous Protestant adherents (including Mollet and Defferre) who feel comfortable in its comparatively relaxed and democratic atmosphere, whereas the CP, with its rigid discipline and its endless heresy-hunts, bears a curious resemblance to the Roman Church. Its current arch-heretic, Roger Garaudy, not accidentally came to Marxism in his youth by way of Kierkegaard and Karl Barth, whereas the rigorously orthodox Louis Althusser stems from a Roman Catholic background. However, these are details. If a general conclusion can be extracted from what “Mandrin” has to say about the S.F.I.O. it also applies to its rival:

Mais on ne détruit que ce qu’on remplace, et aucun de ceux qui s’y essayèrent successivement, le P.C., les Trotskystes, le P.S.U., la Grande Fédération, n’a réussi à remplacer le Parti Socialiste. (p. 50)

Nor (one may add) will the gauchistes replace the CP. The Communist party is deeply entrenched among the manual workers, and nothing short of a technological revolution can loosen its hold over the French working-class electorate. Which is not to say that it has any hope of coming to power. Moreover, if by some chance it did, its fossilized apparatchiki would not know what to do. They are much happier in opposition: witness their recent record, culminating in their mismanagement of a unique opportunity last year. It is true that they did participate in the government in 1944-47, but they did so on Stalin’s orders and because in those days they still hoped that Soviet intervention would permanently shift the balance of power in their favor. Now that these hopes are gone, they have settled down to the role of a permanent opposition. In a sense they have come to share effective power at the local level with the Gaullist majority, but on the tacit understanding that they will content themselves with the role of defending a sectional labor interest within a society run by others.


What then is to be done? “Mandrin” wants to renovate the Socialist party and make it relevant by appealing to the salariat as a whole, not just to the old proletariat. “Mandrin” likewise has no time for electoral politics and explicitly rejects the antiquated Social-Democratic notion that a parliamentary majority can legislate socialism into existence. The tract is duly contemptuous of the CP and sharply critical of romantic ultra-leftist Third Worlders. “Cette fuite, verbale dans la jungle et réelle dans les mots, est l’expression d’une peur profonde de la réalité: on oublie que notre société est une société industrielle.” (p. 145)

In the age of lunar rockets this hardly needs much emphasis, but Parisian ultra-leftism is the vehicle of a literary intelligentsia backed by a student proletariat which dreads unemployment but is not enthralled by the prospect of dreary office jobs and relentless mechanization either. The problem is common to all advanced countries. How does one square the circle? By identifying socialism with the “humanization” of modern society (says “Mandrin”), that is: by affirming humanist values in an age besotted by technology. Very well, but how does one get mass support for such a program? By linking it up with working-class demands for autogestion, i.e., industrial self-government. Moreover, a planned economy is both more efficient and more responsive to human values than an unplanned one, and the bourgeoisie cannot really plan, even if it tries. This is also the view of Rocard and the PSU, yet to “Mandrin” these are “the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Left.” Besides, the PSU has “technocratic” tendencies (p. 148). Coming from the C.E.R.E.S., this isn’t bad!

Poperen has no use for the PSU either. Its leaders, he darkly says, played a double game during the May-June upheaval last year. On the one hand they tried to outflank the Communists by encouraging the students and the younger workers who were holding out for a prolongation of the general strike. At the same time they were really aiming at a government headed by Mendès-France, whom Poperen detests because he represents “la social-technocratie.” Such a government, in his opinion, although publicly advertised as a “regime of transition” toward socialism, would in reality have been a “government of national union,” and the Communists would have been tricked into supporting reformist measures designed to streamline French capitalism.

The argument is unconvincing in that it disregards the CP’s real motive for sabotaging a “regime of transition”: fear of being frozen out while socialism was introduced democratically. But it is certainly the case that there exists a “social-technocratic” ideology which is no more realistic than the tired reformism of the old parliamentary Social-Democrats. What the new ideology affirms is that socialism can be introduced by stealth. What it, overlooks is that there inevitably comes a moment when the issue of political power has to be faced.

So far so good, but Poperen gets entangled in a contradiction he shares with the Communists. On the one hand his book stresses the technocratic aspects of Gaullism; on the other he asserts that the state is becoming more bourgeois rather than less: “L’État de la bourgeoisie ne fut pas toujours dirigé par la haute bourgeoisie: il l’est aujourdhui.” (p. 114.) This does not make sense. The only time when what Poperen calls “L’État de la bourgeoisie” was genuinely run along bourgeois lines was between 1870 and 1940, when the parliamentary Republic left the market economy to its own devices. One cannot describe Gaullism as “une phase d’accélération du processus de la technocratisation de la vie sociale et politique” (p. 113) and simultaneously denounce it as “bourgeois.” The fact is that if the regime had been bourgeois it would have collapsed in May-June 1968. What kept it going was a combination of factors, but the central fact was the decisive role of the “political superstructure,” i.e. Gaullist control of a state apparatus which, so far from being merely retrogressive, had itself become the central energizing force in promoting the modernization of French society. Moreover, in a contest between the government and the strikers, the latter were at a disadvantage unless their leaders could make plausible the existence of a political alternative. Short of that, they appeared as troublemakers who were ruining the economy by prolonging the strike after their purely economic grievances had been satisfied.

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