Rocard versus Rocard

Who once wrote:

    “How can we imagine a possible socialist revolution in France? What do we know? We know that a mere electoral victory, limited to the exercise of universal suffrage, is useless to bring it about. We know that we are not in a situation, where it is possible to imagine, even in the long term, an armed insurrection, and this is true of England too. The whole idea is stupid. Therefore, we know that the main battleground is the strike, the social struggle, the class struggle.”

Answer: Michel Rocard, the current Prime Minister of France. The passage is from an interview he gave in 1971 when leader of a small leftwing breakaway party that aimed “to free the workers from capitalist exploitation” and denounced the Communist Party for being too moderate.

The interview in question, incidentally, was given to The Spokesman, organ of the Institute for Workers Control in Britain, who republished it in 1974 as a pamphlet under the title Michel Rocard Speaks, thus illustrating that he was once the darling of the left in Britain as well as in France. Nor can Rocard dismiss the views he then expressed as an error of youth since, being born in 1930, he was in his forties at the time.

Rocard had been a founder member of the Parti Socialist Unifié (PSU) in 1960 and from 1967 to 1974 was its National Secretary. In the 1969 presidential elections he stood as a self-styled “revolutionary” candidate obtaining 3.6 per cent of the vote, but he did win a famous by-election the same year to become the PSU’s lone MP. In fact, to many, the PSU—the rough equivalent in British terms of the ILP in the 1930s—was Rocard and Rocard was the PSU.

Needless to say his views have changed somewhat since he left the PSU to join Mitterand’s PS in 1975, where he soon emerged as the leader of its openly pro-capitalist wing. In 1971 he had proclaimed that the class struggle was the way forward. In 1985 he was complaining:

    “The final project of socialism still remains for too many socialists a vision limited to the class struggle. It is a question of destroying the bourgeoisie, i.e. the class that holds capital. The idea of a compromise made with the holders of capital remains considered a class betrayal” (Libération, 22 May, 1985).

He had changed his views too about the limitations of universal suffrage under capitalism. Whereas in 1971 he had declared:

    “In the electoral field, the bourgeoisie always has the cards stacked in its favour.”


    “Democracy . . . will only become possible when we have got rid of the power of capital”

in 1985 he was declaring:

    “You don’t seek to destroy the bourgeoisie in a pluralist society with universal suffrage. Since, fortunately, the machine gun is not the instrument for settling conflicts in civil society and for this reason there is no longer the physical destruction of the other side, the perspective should no longer be economic destruction either.”

Rocard – 1971 proclaimed:

    “We must aim at self-management, that is, the management of factories by the workers themselves . . . Workers’ control can only be imposed in strikes where the balance of forces is overwhelming, that is to say, where the unity of the workers is strongest.”

 For Rocard – 1985, however,

    “An economy only functions well if it is competitive. The enterprise must be recognised as a productive unit and not simply a battlefield.”

Having repudiated his past in this way, Rocard became a suitable candidate for top political office and there us even talk of him becoming Mitterand’s successor as President. Now that he is Prime Minister—under the last Mitterrand PS government he was only given the post of Minister of Agriculture—he will be able to exercise to the full his desire “to make compromises with the holders of capital” since this is precisely what governing within the framework of capitalism means, and has to mean. The last thing the workers in France can expect him to do is to free them from capitalist exploitation, as he promised them when he was in the PSU, and the only class struggle he’ll be waging will be for the bourgeoisie against the workers.

Although the PSU employed language of revolution—talking about ending capitalist exploitation, overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie, waging the class struggle—Rocard never showed any understanding of what socialism is. His vision of “socialism” was always limited to an idealised version of the sort of workers-managed market economy that Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia under Dubček were supposed to be moving towards.

In fact, in a book written in 1972, Questions à l’Etat socialists, he went out of his way to repudiate the idea that money should or even could be abolished, writing of “two tenacious myths” circulating on the subject. The first, he wrote, was that money should be replaced by labour-time vouchers (a silly idea we agree) while “the other tenacious myth concerning money aims at its total disappearance in the framework of a fully distributive economy”.

His attempt to demonstrate the impossibility of replacing buying and selling as a means of distributing consumer goods—a reference to some experiment in Cuba when Che Guevera was still around—was pathetic, but it is interesting to note that a Prime Minister of a leading capitalist country has had to confront this idea. A lot more are going to have to in the future.

Adam Buick

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