Slump—France hit too

The depression, or slump, is worldwide. That’s official. Capitalism is in deep trouble. Some countries have, as yet, been less affected than others. But it is only a matter of degree. In France the politicians arc despised (there have been many scandals particularly among the so-called socialists), and there is an air of gloom among retailers, despite an apparent affluence among some sectors of the working class. Nevertheless, France has not suffered the appalling political crises that have hit Britain over the last few weeks.

But let no-one be fooled.

Inflation is at just under 2.7 percent, but unemployment, with all its miseries, is officially at 10 percent. That is three million; but it is certainly at least four million. For about a year, unemployment pay is around 70 percent of the person’s previous salary (which, to some extent, makes unemployment almost tolerable in economic terms); after that, it is reduced drastically. And more than one million workers have been officially unemployed for more that two years. Many have had only two or three jobs, often lasting less than one month, during the last 18 months.

For those in a job—the “lucky” wage-slaves—the “good life” is fast receding into the distant past; if it ever really existed anyway. As in the United States and the United Kingdom, most workers are heavily in debt. Less have their houses or apartments mortgaged—unlike the British, many French consider buying a house or flat over a 25-ycar period, a mug’s game. Let the landlord do the decorating or repairs, they say.

France is increasingly becoming divided, not into three classes, but two—the working class majority and the capitalist minority. The peasants are a dying class. Farmers are doomed. For years now, their sons and daughters have flocked into the towns and cities looking for and, until fairly recently, getting jobs. At the end of the last war. there were probably almost three million farms and smallholdings in France; now, there are less than 920,000. Like the majority of workers, the farmers too are heavily in debt. No wonder they get involved in often violent demonstrations—not that that will make any difference in the long run.

Of course, French capitalists are not doing all that well either. But that’s their problem. Few have been seen begging in the Metro, or along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, or outside the posh shops in the Rue du Faubourg. Exports, not unnaturally, are down: about 2 percent this year. And tourism, particularly from crisis-ridden Britain, is certain to decline in the months (and years?) to come. Sales of perfumes, cars, expensive clothes and even scotch whisky (always popular with the bourgeoisie) are all declining.

Capitalism in France, as elsewhere, will not collapse. But it will probably get worse, and deeper, before it gets better. Unemployment in France—as in Britain—is likely to remain high for a long time, particularly as old industries like coal and steel continue to contract and ultimately die. Despite French dirigisme, and a far larger state sector than in post-Thatcher Britain, France is still very much an integral part of world capitalism; and is as much subject to the unplannedness of a production-for- profit economy.

As elsewhere, French workers instead of putting their trust in politicians (the French, it should be said, are less inclined to than the British) will have to organize for the abolition, rather than the reform, of an increasingly insecure capitalism, with its inevitable booms, recessions and slumps.

Peter E. Newell