In an interview published in Le Matin on 28 May, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the French Minister of Research and Technology (since promoted Minister of Industry and Research) declared:
We must not make a mistake as to the period in which we are living or as to the nature of the objectives which are accessible. We are in a country which can and must go further towards a living democracy. The objective in the present historical period is not socialism, which presupposes a level of consciousness, a sense of civic duty, in short a change in attitudes from which we are still far away. (Our emphasis)
Now socialism does indeed presuppose a certain level of consciousness: before it can be established there must be a majority that wants and understands it. Such a socialist consciousness clearly does not exist today and that is why socialism can’t be established straight away. In fact this is the only reason why it can’t, since everything else is there: a world-wide productive system capable of providing abundance for all and trained and qualified workers able to operate it.
It might be thought that in these circumstances people who called themselves ‘socialist’ would devote all their efforts to helping a socialist understanding to develop. But not the French Parti Socialiste. In a later radio interview Chevènement, who drafted the 1972 PS Government Programme and the more recent Projet Socialiste (an article in the Guardian on 16 July even speaks of him as a future Prime Minister),stated:
François Mitterrand was not elected to achieve socialism; he was elected on the basis of 110 proposals which commit us to this perspective, but this is not the objective of the present period (Radio Luxemburg 20 June, our emphasis).
But if Mitterrand wasn’t elected to achieve socialism — which is true — he is clearly obliged to act within the framework of capitalism. Mitterrand, in other words, was elected to run capitalism while trying to make 110 reforms to it. Chevènement implicitly recognised this when he explained to Le Matin journalists what the government’s present aim was:
Well, it is to gradually build the modern Republic. In the present historical period, the French model is that of a mixed economy, largely open to the world market, dominated by capitalism. But it is a society where the weight of the public sector, of the democratic tradition, of left wing political and trade union forces, is such that can be built there a democracy — I don’t know how to qualify it, I would have said ‘advanced’ if the word ‘advanced’ hadn’t been compromised in recent times. So let us say a vanguard democracy (our emphasis).
So in this ‘vanguard democracy’, this ‘modern Republic’, capitalism is going to continue. In fact, as Chevènement admits, this is the pipe-dream which the French Communist Party has been peddling for years under the name of ‘advanced democracy’, of a State capitalism freed from the grip of the monopolies and made to work in the interests of the workers by a Left government. It is a pipe-dream because capitalism cannot work other than as a system where profits must come before human needs. The austerity measures adopted by the PS/PC government in July, which will severely hit the living standards of workers in France, are dramatic confirmation of this. This U-turn was no accident, but something imposed on the government by the logic of capitalism, a logic which any party taking on government responsibility is sooner or later forced to accept and apply.
If, for the French PS, socialism is not the objective in the present historical period it remains so for us. That is why we are doing all we can to help the development of the majority socialist understanding which is indispensable before socialism can be established: the ‘level of consciousness’ which Chevènement talked about but towards the growth of which he himself does nothing to help. On the contrary, the confusion over the word “socialism” created by the PS only makes our task more difficult. As, for example, does the following remark by Michel Rocard, PS Minister for the Plan (and an ex-leader of the small leftist PSU): “As a socialist, I have never reproached employers for making too many profits, but more frequently for not making enough” (Le Monde, 14 July)!