“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.
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.
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.
October 9, 1969