‘Le Programme Commun’: The General Election this month in France
On 27 June last year a programme commun de gouvernement was signed in France between the “Socialist Party” and the “Communist Party”. These two parties, together with some left Radicals (Liberals) who later endorsed the programme, thus enter the French elections this month with a common policy which they promise to implement if elected.
In 1905 the various self-styled Socialist groups in France came together in a “United Socialist Party” under the leadership of Jean Jaurès. Adopting Marxism as its theory this party was the French equivalent of the German Social Democratic Party. In 1920 a majority of the delegates to its conferences at Tours voted to affiliate to the Third International and to become the Communist Party of France. The anti-Bolshevik minority led by Leon Blum split off calling themselves the “Section Française de l’internationale Ouvrière” (SFIO), by which name they were known until June 1971 when they joined with various left radical clubs led by François Mitterrand to become “the Socialist Party”. Mitterrand, a typical bourgeois politician under the Fourth Republic and later joint candidate of the Left against de Gaulle in the 1965 Presidential election, became the leader of this new party.
Support for Reforms
In the 1930’s the SFIO was the largest party in France calling itself socialist, the French Communist Party (PCF) having lost ground as it came more and more under Moscow’s control. During the second world war (but only after the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 of course) the PCF regained this lost ground, and has been the larger party ever since. In fact at every election since the war the PCF has consistently retained the support of about 20 per cent of the electorate.
The new PS still claims to be Marxist in inspiration and it is still possible to find references in its literature to the abolition of the wages system as an eventual, albeit very eventual, aim. In practice, however, its stands for state capitalism to be achieved gradually by a series of social reform measures. Its main theoretical difference with the PCF has been its insistence on the importance of political democracy both as a means of achieving its state capitalist aim and as an essential feature of that society. In other words, it has stood for what might loosely be called “democratic state capitalism” as opposed to the bureaucratic state capitalism on the Russian model favoured by the PCF.
When the Cold War came, while the PCF — naturally — adopted a pro-Moscow attitude, the SFIO was pro-Washington. It supported NATO and the Common Market, took part in the CIA-sponsored split in the CGT, the main trade union centre in France, and denounced the Communists as agents of Russian imperialism. As one of its leaders once put it, cruelly perhaps but accurately: “the CP is not so much on the Left as in the East”. The PCF replied in kind. The SFIO, they said, were right-wing traitors to the working class and agents of American imperialism. A clear case of the pot and the kettle calling each other black.
Own Image Recognized
Now all this is forgiven, at least on the surface. The two parties have got together and drawn up a joint programme. If they win a parliamentary majority, Mitterrand would become the Prime Minister with Communist Ministers in his Cabinet. This is not the first time the two parties have collaborated on the electoral, and the governmental, fields. In 1934 the two parties made an electoral alliance which marked the end of the Comintern’s “social fascist” policy and paved the way for the Popular Front government of 1936 under the SFIO leader Léon Blum. For a couple of years after 1945 there were Communist Ministers, first under de Gaulle and then in coalition with the SFIO and the Christian Democrats. Then in 1947 came the outbreak of the Cold War and the unceremonious dismissal of the Communist Ministers. More recently the two parties agreed to field Mitterrand as the joint candidate of the Left against de Gaulle in 1965. Then in June last year came this agreement on a common government programme. What has really made this possible, it should be noted, has been the thaw during the past decade in relations between American and Russian imperialism. This has allowed the two parties to forget their foreign-policy differences and come together with a joint programme of reforms both of them had long been independently advocating.
For the much-vaunted Common Programme is merely this: a list of promised reforms of capitalism. There is nothing in it that would not be endorsed by the Labour Party in this country, except perhaps that the Labour Party with more recent experience of governing capitalism would be more cautious about promising so much at one time. The list of reforms is familiar: retirement at 60, a 40-hour week, a new Labour Code, a minimum wage, free medical treatment, a tax on increasing land values, 700,000 houses a year, votes at 18, a National Investment Bank, price controls, abolition of capital punishment, re-introduction of proportional representation, no French nuclear weapons or tests, etc, etc, etc. The arms, aerospace, nuclear energy and drugs industries, along with underground resources, are to be nationalised with compensation. So are parts of the computer and chemical industries. And the State will take a share in financing and running certain other industries like steel, petrol, telecommunications and water supply. But, as the programme itself is at pains to point out, “an important private sector” will still survive.
“Does this mean installing communism or even socialism? Evidently not. A socialist society has for its basis the collective ownership of the principal means of production and exchange, and the exercise of power by the working class in alliance with other segments of the toiling population. It suffices to look at the common programme to appreciate that its achievement would not lead to the installation of such a regime in France”. Georges Marchais, speech to the national congress of the French Communist Party on 13 December, reported in The Times, 14 December 1972.
“Obviously by applying this programme we shall not establish communism, or even socialism, in France. But we can introduce democratic and anti-monopolistic reforms of unprecedented scope. And we think that this new democracy will be a step forward, a form of transition towards socialism, which is suited to the conditions of France today”. Georges Marchais, General Secretary of the French Communist Party, in an interview with The Times, 17 November 1972.