• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Technocrats vs. Humanists

In a way Poperen recognizes this. He even observes that, in the hypothetical case of a choice between “Union of the Left” and “National Union,” the Communists in May-June 1968 “had no chance of winning and they knew it. The General was bound to win” (p. 77). But he attributes this state of affairs solely to de Gaulle’s control of the armed forces, and to his accidental status as a national hero. Accidental? “The Left paid in May 1968…for the support it had given de Gaulle since the days of the Resistance” (p. 88). But what alternative was there? Whom could “the Left” have put forward during the Liberation? The aged and failing Léon Blum? The Stalinist apparatchik Maurice Thorez, who deserted from the Army in 1939 and sat out the war years in Moscow? De Gaulle stepped into a vacuum. Naturally he made the most of it. But his Provisional Government of 1944-45 included Thorez and it nationalized a large sector of French industry and banking. In fact, the “technocratization” of state and society, which Poperen bewails, was set in train by a coalition between Gaullists and Communists. Poperen—a Communist resistance fighter at the time—has not forgotten that the Communists were driven from office three years later, but in assailing “la social-technocratie,” he forgets to mention that the CP was instrumental in opening this new chapter in French history. In short, he wants it both ways. It is all the fault of the Left for having turned de Gaulle into a national monument:

Il n’y a de “héros national” que si le combat de classe se dissout dans la lutte nationale. Et il est plus facile de fabriquer ces “héros” que de s’en défaire. La bourgeoisie exploite à fond le personnage historique dont la gauche lui a fait cadeau. (p. 88)

But the “historic personage” imposed himself precisely because in 1940-44 (and later again during the Algerian struggle) France was confronted with a national problem to which the Left had not found an answer. Anyway the General is now back at Colombey and the bourgeoisie can no longer hide behind him. Pompidou ought to make an easy target, and in some ways he does. He not only was a banker: he looks and talks like one. But lo and behold, he has filled the civil-service ranks of his administration with the sort of people whom Poperen classifies as representatives of “la so-social-technocratie“: ex-Mendèsists converted to Gaullism. Life is hard indeed.

In his memoirs—published a few days after Pompidou’s election to the presidency last June—Mitterand likewise contents himself with half-truths. His record as a Minister in various Fourth Republic governments was fairly good, but not quite so spotless as he tries to make out. There are some things one is not supposed to mention these days in polite Parisian left-wing society: for example, that the Algerian revolt began in November 1954, at a time when Mendès-France was Prime Minister and Mitterand his Minister of the Interior, and that both men reacted in approved Jacobin fashion: by affirming that Algeria was forever part of France and proclaiming their determination to crush the rebellion by force.

What is more, they then had the support of the entire Assembly, from the Gaullists to the Communists. Four years later, when the parliamentary Republic had collapsed and de Gaulle had been called in to head a National Government, Mendès-France and Mitterand voted against his investiture. This took no great courage, but it gave them a legitimation for what they called “republicanism”: meaning loyalty to the defunct parliamentary regime. By 1965 Mitterand was reconciled to presidentialism. That year he ran against de Gaulle and collected eleven million votes. Now in 1969 he poses as the living incarnation of democratic socialism: the only man in France who can unite “the Left” on a common platform. For electoral purposes perhaps, but what happens thereafter?

The collection of essays titled Liberté et organisation dans le monde actuel tries to grapple with this set of problems, and so does Raymond Aron in the new Preface (dated March 1969) to his Désillusions du progrès, originally written in 1964-65 for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and now somewhat hastily revised. If there is a living embodiment of what Poperen calls “la social-technocratie” (other than Mendès-France himself) it is Raymond Aron, with an important qualification: at heart a liberal individualist, he treats both technology and technocracy as necessary evils. At the same time he is enough of a positivist in the Comtean sense to believe that “industrial society,” rather than “bourgeois society,” must be the central category of an up-to-date empirical sociology. It is this, rather than his standing quarrel with the Parisian literary leftists, that separates him from the Marxists. They are, he thinks, imprisoned in nineteenth-century concepts.

This criticism, however, applies neither to Rocard nor to “Mandrin,” both of whom are fully aware that-to put it crudely—science and technology have become the central driving force of the industrial production process. In sociological terms this means that the technical intelligentsia, and the white-collar stratum generally, has become crucial to any kind of socialist strategy. Does it form part of the “working class”? This is more than a terminological quarrel, for if the salaried employees are treated as an exploited class, someone will have to bring the labor theory of value up to date, if we assume that Marxism is to have a future. One cannot forever equate “labor” with “manual labor,” and at the same time make a bid for the support of white-collar employees. At bottom this is what the whole quarrel over “revisionism” is about, and has been for the past forty years, when some German Marxists first discovered what in those days they called the Produktionsintelligenz. It is also what the Czechoslovak reform movement was about, even though its figurehead was an old working-class Communist.

Does this mean that socialism is now threatened in its very essence? The question is ridiculous. The socialist movement has always consisted of two distinct strata: workers and intellectuals. To talk as though this were a new phenomenon is simply to display one’s ignorance of history. What is at stake is something else: the technological development variously described as “late industrial” or “post-industrial” tends to do away with the rigid distinction between manual and intellectual labor. Technicians and skilled workers cannot be subsumed under the old categories, and their number is growing. One may also say that the upper layer of the old working class is becoming indistinguishable from the technicians properly so described. Here and there it merges with the lower ranks of the managerial stratum. From this circumstance liberals like Aron deduce that there is no longer a class division in the Marxian sense, but this does not follow. One may equally well assert that the white collar stratum is being proletarianized, in the sense that its position no longer differs substantially from that of the old industrial working class. “Brain workers” drafted into the salariat as a consequence of the new technology may still possess a socially privileged status, but they are no more independent than their colleagues on the factory floor. All they have is their jobs, and the first whiff of unemployment is enough to shatter the illusion that ownership of a house and expensive furniture makes them “members of the middle class” in the traditional bourgeois sense.

What distinguished the nineteenthcentury bourgeois was not possession of a car (there were no motor cars in those days), but economic independence: he owned means of production and could thumb his nose at the government. His successor is just a highly paid clerk who can have the rug pulled from under him at a moment’s notice. “Status symbols” become valueless when one’s job is gone. Thus the salariat can be reached by socialist slogans (job security, for example) whereas the old independent middle class could not.

Now there is a catch in all this. In the first place, it applies equally to capitalism and collectivism, which is why the various Communist parties in advanced industrial countries are having trouble keeping their membership in line (elsewhere they still work with the Leninist or Maoist apparatus, which is fine for backward societies, but makes no sense in an industrial environment). Secondly, the “brain workers,” or some of them, may get it into their collective heads that they ought to be running the show. At this point there emerges the phenomenon of Mendèsism, also known as “la social-technocratie.” What this signifies is an attempt to introduce a planned economy and call it “socialism” while the traditional aims of the labor movement are ignored: above all, effective democracy in the workshop, at the point of production.

At the other pole, Anarchism and Third World romanticism combine to reject industrial society as such. The upshot is not revolution, but the kind of spontaneous revolt one witnessed in France last year: a revolt with a builtin mechanism that guaranteed its failure at the critical moment when the conquest of political power came within sight but could not be attempted because “the Left” was unprepared intellectually. Neither the Social Democrats nor the Communists had ever dreamed of a general strike actually occurring under their eyes, and the PSU was too weak and faction-torn to give effective leadership to the mass movement. The upshot, grotesquely enough, was to give French capitalism a shot in the arm by obliging it to modernize itself.

Yet the problem of social stratification remains, and the enforced modernization of society in France (and not only in France) under the impact of American-Soviet competition can only reinforce the pressures which caused the 1968 explosion. For this new society—and this is where Aron and his fellow-thinkers seem to me to have gone wrong—lacks legitimation. Its official ideology (liberalism in the West, communism in the East) is quite unrelated to what is really going on. The technocratic, or “social-technocratic,” ethos does not help matters. A moonbeam from the larger lunacy of “progress,” it translates into utopian language the illusions of a stratum that imagines itself to be in control of the new technological apparatus, whereas in fact it does the bidding of its political masters. The latter may be captivated by the jargon of technocracy, to the point of investing not only money but faith in moon landings. But however splendid the actual scientific achievement, there is no visible, tangible feedback into the life of the social organism. Or if there is, it is more likely to encourage authoritarian tendencies than to promote authentic self-government.

Revolution et technocratie” (an essay in the collection mentioned earlier) takes a pessimistic view of the matter. The author (Lapierre) believes that a genuine “technocratic class” is in process of formation, in East and West alike. He takes issue with Marxists like Charles Bettelheim and liberals such as Raymond Aron who, for different reasons, dispute this thesis. Technocracy, in his opinion, represents “une classe en formation,” just like the old bourgeoisie before it had achieved political control. The new stratum already has an ideology, a number of more or less learned spokesmen (e.g., Louis Armand and Jean Fourastié), and a host of journalistic sympathizers, with M. Servan-Schreiber in the lead. “Cette idéologie a ses sources dans le saint-simonisme, le positivisme, la sociolgie de Thorstein Veblen, les idées de Rathenau et d’Howard Scott.” (p.45.) He might have added the Fabians and that indefatigable popularizer, John Kenneth Galbraith. The term “ideology” here naturally signifies what it did for Marx and his followers: not just any body of ideas, but the unconscious presentation of a new world-view issuing from the slow growth of a new social stratum which spontaneously generates collective illusions about the world, at the same time that it makes genuine discoveries. In this sense, the new technical intelligentsia does seem to be casting about for a social legitimation.

It is also beginning to sprout a philosophy: “C’est ce que manifeste la grande mode du ‘structuralisme’. Henri Lefebvre n’a pas tort de voir dans cette doctrine, qui transforme en dogmes les principes d’une méthode incontestablement scientifique, le support et la légitimation théoriques de la technocratie. L’idolâtrie du langage—système des systèmes—en est un trait caractéristique…. Le logos est coupé de la praxis.” (p. 47)

In his own fashion Aron makes a similar point in his recent diatribe against Althusser and his school. D’une Sainte Famille à l’autre: Essais sur les marxismes imaginaires tilts at a number of opponents, but it really centers upon Althusser’s attempt to transform Marxism into a rigorously “scientific” doctrine cut off from its author’s own philosophical postulates. For reasons which Aron develops at some length, this enterprise runs up against an unsurmountable obstacle: the unpublished draft of Capital—the famous Grundrisse of 1857-58 which saw the light only in 1939-41—makes it perfectly obvious that Marx never renounced his humanist starting point. That is to say, he analyzed bourgeois production-relations in terms of what they did to man as such, not just in terms of how they caused the economy to function. Rationality was not enough for him: he held that socialism would signify the emancipation of the producer from the machinery to which he had become enslaved. Nor is this simply a biographical circumstance which can be treated as irrelevant. The concept of “exploitation” hinges upon an understanding of the labor theory of value which links an anthropological critique of society to a scientific analysis of capitalism. If this link is severed, Marxism becomes a “valuefree” theory, just like structuralism (of which the Althusser school, not surprisingly, is greatly enamored). If there can be a scientific theory of language, why not a scientific theory of society? Indeed, why not? Althusser is the Talcott Parsons of Marxism.

It is often said—at least I have said it often enough—that liberalism and Marxism currently face a similar problem: that of coming to terms with a state of affairs to which part of their conceptual apparatus is no longer applicable. But while this applies to sociology and politics, it has no bearing upon philosophy. The notion that modern technology—or lunar rocketry for that matter—obliges us all to rethink human problems is itself an aspect of the technocratic ideology. Scientism is an ersatz philosophy born from the decay of traditional metaphysics. The only practice to which it relates is of a kind that perpetuates a state of affairs which both liberalism and socialism originally set out to alter: a radical disjunction between an authoritarian social structure and a privatized individual. Unless praxis is joined to critique, no amount of scientific rationality is ever going to change this.

One may of course assert with Michel Foucault that the entire historical enterprise associated with the names of Marx and Mill was no more than a tempest in a teapot (Les mots et les choses, p. 274) by comparison with the invariants discovered by the structuralists; but such modish affirmations are notoriously shortlived. “Laissons ces préciosités du Nietzschéisme parisien,” to cite Aron (an old humanist, hence in the last resort no friend of the new scientism). The fight will go on, if necessary “against the current” if it should turn out that technocracy is indeed “the wave of the future.” People who want at all cost to be in the van of what they are pleased to call “progress” will just have to put up with the presence of unreconstructed humanists who draw no satisfaction from the ever-growing number of cars on the road, or the ever-growing size of death-dealing weapons. In the end the technocrats themselves may discover to their surprise that they cannot function unless someone tells them what the whole expenditure of energy is supposed to be for. And that someone won’t be another technocrat.

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print