The EconomistOctober 12, 1968
That's France's left, that was
One man seems to be working for the French left these days: President de Gaulle, whose reduction last month of "participation," once "the third way between communism and capitalism," to some tired phrases about being informed and sharing in the profits, should at least convince Frenchmen looking for a radical change that there is not much for them in the politics of grandpapa.
Everywhere else there is confusion. The Federation of the Left, grouping M. Mollet's socialists with the radicals and with M. François Mitterrand's convention of republican clubs, has broken up. The new Social Democrat party which is supposed to replace it on November 7th may be dead before it is born. The radicals are standing aloof; and the conventionnels' idea of the new party has no great appeal for M. Mollet.
M. Mitterrand on Sunday expectedly announced that he would be no more than a rank-and-file member of the new party. General de Gaulle's opponent in the 1965 presidential election, he has been severely criticised all summer for this or that alleged tactical error during the May upheaval. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was the last straw, blowing up his, and M. Mollet's, policy of tactical alliance with the communist party, and driving the radicals, and some socialists, to look hopefully for a grouping not on the left but in the centre.
But in standing down--and he did not even try to convince everyone that this humility was intended to be permanent--M. Mitterrand was challenging M. Mollet to do the same. A new party needed new leaders, he said, and must start from the bottom; there could be no question of the existing party organisations simply enrolling their members in it en bloc.
The conventionnels therefore insist that enrolment in the new party must be individual, and that the groups forming it must wind themselves up first. The structure would be a loose one, with considerable local autonomy. This is not at all what the Mollet socialists, a party devoted to the rule of the apparatus, have in mind; least of all, some people suspect, M. Mollet, an apparatchik to the bone.
Yet even M. Mollet, whose career has rested on this quality, has his local difficulties. A few of his colleagues, after Prague, went to head off rapidly to the centre. Some more important ones, among them M. Gaston Defferre, are ready to demand that France's communists change their ground on Czechoslovakia, and to blame them for the rupture if they refuse. M. Mollet, still hoping to work together with the communists, finds himself in the minority.
On the real left, the ill-named unified socialist party, which took a revolutionary part in the May troubles, parted with its leader M. Mendès-France in mid-summer. It is now asking hopefully for joint action with the rest of the left on specific battle-fronts, without meeting much response.
Farther left still, if that is the word, the communist party has troubles of its own. M. Waldeck Rochet is trying to manoeuvre delicately between those who accuse the party leadership of being too mealy-mouthed about Czechoslovakia and the surprisingly large number--at least M. Waldeck Rochet was surprised--whom even the spectacle of Soviet militarism and revanchism could not shake from their traditional loyalty to Moscow. There are a significant fraction of the party rank and file, less notable at the top, where the only evident critic of the official line has been Mme Jeannette Vermeersch, widow of Maurice Thorez, who ran the party loyally for the Russians for 30 years until his death in 1964.
Trouble on the other side is far more open. M. Roger Garaudy, director of the centre for Marxist studies, in August spoke to the Czech news agency about "a return to stalinism," and was promptly disavowed by the party's political bureau, of which he is a member. Now he is under fire again for writing the preface to a collection of Czech communist writings. Unabashed, M. Garaudy has defended his views--on Radio Luxemburg.