Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
On the surface at least, the Gaullist régime in France now looks substantially stronger than before the May crisis. The June elections gave General de Gaulle and his then Prime Minister, Georges Pompidou, a massive parliamentary majority that for the next five years seemingly insures M. Pompidou's successor, former Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville, against every normal political hazard-except, perhaps, the eventual loss of his master's confidence. What is probably even more important, the deep national consensus indicated by the scale and circumstances of the Gaullist electoral victory has clearly restored the General's momentarily shaken faith in his own thaumaturgic powers. If a new confrontation between the state and the revolutionary students and workers develops during the next few months, as it may, General de Gaulle can no doubt count this time on a prompt reawakening of the "national instinct" that responded so sluggishly to his leadership last spring. The loyalty of the police, which wavered for a few dangerous days in May after Pompidou's apparent surrender to the students, has been consolidated by appropriate administrative measures during the summer months; the loyalty of the army, which had to be won over at the crucial moment by the amnesty promised General Raoul Salan and other former rebels or conspirators against de Gaulle's Algerian policies, is thought to be fully dependable today. The split between the orthodox Communists and the revolutionaries of the New Left, which probably helped more than either General de Gaulle's charisma or General Massu's armored force-in-being to save the bourgeois republic in its hour of peril, seems to have become even more bitter and unbridgeable since the elections. There is no direct and overt threat to the General's authority from the Right. The personal rivalries and ideological tensions that unquestionably exist within the majority do not seem incoercible. The economic and financial problems that confront the Government are serious, but not, as far as one can judge, unmanageable.
Favorable as the situation thus appears from General de Gaulle's viewpoint- and even, perhaps, from that of the nation at large-certain elements in it worry a number of his political allies and some of his own followers. Frenchmen who are less interested in the survival of Gaullism as a power system than in that of French democracy (albeit within the framework of an authoritarian republic) feel even more concern. "At bottom, nothing has been settled," Jacques Duhamel, the rising young leader of a waning centrist opposition, warned his antirevolutionary colleagues in the new National Assembly last July. "The apparent security that the Government enjoys from the size of its majority should not lead it to forget the grave warning furnished by the events of last May."
Though there is little likelihood that government or majority will soon forget what Parisians still refer to simply as "the Events," there appears to be some danger that the wrong conclusions may be drawn from them. A number of Gaullists, or neo-Gaullists, have already fallen into error on this score, judging from the overheated calls in the National Assembly for sterner police action against left-wing disturbers of the peace; or judging from the immunity all too frequently enjoyed by rightist hoodlums around the country whose activities are sometimes unpleasantly reminiscent of Mussolini's early squadristi or Hitler's Storm Troopers.1
The disarray of the opposition (especially the Left), the Gaullist landslide at the polls, the somewhat exaggerated stress on revolutionary subversion and conspiracy in Gaullist electoral propaganda, the occasional excesses of the Government-sponsored civic action squads during the campaign, and the rehabilitation of former ultra-rightist terrorists have all contributed to the present unhealthy political atmosphere in France. It is not improved by the top-heavy Gaullist majority in the new National Assembly, which, though elected in part by normally leftist voters, seems to include a number of militant right-wingers, or in any case to express at times a militantly rightist mood.
General de Gaulle himself undoubtedly bears some responsibility for the creation of this mood, with its repressive and reactionary undertones. Any less practiced or less supremely self-confident master-sorcerer might well quail at what he has summoned from the deep. But as long as de Gaulle remains in the Elysée he can be counted on to prevent the exploitation of the conservative reaction by crypto-fascist demagogues. As Maurice Duverger, a leading French political scientist, has pointed out in Le Monde, the General coped successfully with a quite similar situation once before. "It has not been sufficiently stressed," Professor Duverger observes, "that General de Gaulle's victory in 1968 has ultimately the same significance as his victory in 1958. Both times he was carried to power by a rightist tidal wave-raised by opposition to the Algerian revolution ten years ago, by hostility to the student revolt last June. In both cases he prevented the wave from totally submerging the nation and destroying democracy."
It would be more prudent to say that General de Gaulle has so far succeeded in saving French democracy from the forces of reaction set in motion by the student revolt. His continued success depends in part on his ability to keep the revolt itself from flaring up again as a serious threat to public order. "The student movements cannot by themselves overthrow the régime," Duverger contends in the article cited. "But they can menace it sufficiently-or give the impression of menacing it-to maintain and aggravate a sense of insecurity in the social body as a whole that might push it toward some form of dictatorship as the only protection against anarchy."
If Duverger's analysis is correct-and there is much evidence to support him- a few nights of street-fighting in the Latin Quarter on the scale of last May might prove enough to turn the Fifth Republic into a neo-Vichyite caricature of itself. In the unlikely event that a new student insurrection actually drove de Gaulle from power, Duverger believes that he might be succeeded by a military junta on the Greek model.
The massive repudiation at the polls of the students' insurrectionary aims and the triumph of what the young rebels consider as "reaction" have not put an end to their agitation. Their apparent ability to catalyze extreme or irrational attitudes among their opponents, which is partly a reflection of the irrationality underlying their own extremism and partly the effect of their special techniques of subversion, therefore represents a continuing danger to the survival of French democracy, if not of Gaullist power. A cool look, however, at the forces and mechanisms of revolutionary violence in France today indicates that the danger should not be overdramatized.
Perhaps the most redoubtable threat to social tranquility in the Fifth Republic is simply the new revolutionary mythology generated by the upheavals of last spring, especially those in the Latin Quarter. In a sense, Raymond Aron was right in characterizing the student insurrection as a kind of "revolutionary psycho-drama" seeking the catharsis of accumulated social and cultural frustrations rather than a bona fide revolution arising from some intolerable injustice or inspired by some explosive new idea. The strong element of make-believe by no means lessened its dynamism, however. Alexis de Tocqueville noted with some scorn the similarly imitative and unauthentic passions which motivated the revolutionary movement of 1848 at its Parisian beginnings, but he was well aware that this "wretched tragedy staged by provincial Thespians," as he termed one of its key episodes, had momentous implications for the future of Europe.
Like the Paris insurrectionaries of February 1848, who were imitating the revolutions of 1830 and 1789, the French students modeled their uprising on the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. They superficially updated the romantic socialism of 1848 with criticisms of the industrial society (plucked, it would seem at random, from the writings of Herbert Marcuse and Kenneth Galbraith), and their revolutionary histrionics, akin to those reported by Tocqueville, resulted in a disheveled but intensely dramatic Happening that has already become part of the world folklore of youth, from Berkeley to Dakar. Grafted onto the heady myth of Youth at the Barricades are delusive misinterpretations of what actually happened. One is that the Revolution of 1968, launched by the paving-stones of the heroic Paris students, was on the point of taking power in France and founding a new, fraternal, libertarian, de-alienated, unrepressed and nonconsuming social order, when it was stabbed in the back by the senile bureaucrats of the Communist Party. The other is a slightly more sophisticated, hence dangerous, theory of revolutionary strategy.
According to this theory, Trotsky, Castro, Ché Guevara and the great Chinese military doctrinaire, Marshal Lin Piao, are all correct up to a point, but they all overestimated the difficulty of carrying out a successful revolution in an advanced industrial society not previously disrupted by war or economic breakdown. Georges Sorel, the theoretician of the revolutionary general strike, was closer to the truth in one respect. It is necessary, according to the new theory, for a social group that is not caught in the toils of "the system" to set off the revolutionary disorder which will paralyze or dislocate the repressive organs of the state and create the right conditions for a successful general strike. In the industrial society, the working class, contrary to the classic Marxist doctrine, can no longer play the role of revolutionary detonator, because it has been "integrated" into the society. Youth, however, is not yet "integrated," and its intellectual vanguard, the students, can launch it into the revolutionary struggle.
In the great industrial centers where students and young "unintegrated" workers are most heavily concentrated, the police forces of bourgeois society are far more vulnerable than they appear to be. The urban form of guerrilla warfare, if waged in accordance with sound tactical principles, can be as effective as any other kind. This was demonstrated by the spectacular success of the Tet offensive in Viet Nam last winter. For some reason the Paris students, as one of their leaders told a French reporter, considered that the Viet Cong exploits during the offensive not only demonstrated the helplessness of the American military machine in the face of dedicated urban guerrillas, but discredited the American school of sociology whose teachings had hitherto held their minds in awe of the industrial society. According to this student speaker, to launch the revolutionary process only one thing is needed: "to will the revolution." Organization is unnecessary; in fact it is a danger and a handicap. Ideology is irrelevant. Get the revolutionaries acting together and they feel together, even if they do not think together; barricades before dialectics. Physical destruction of the enemy is not essential; it is enough to destroy him symbolically, to shatter his morale by spectacular acts of resistance and defiance, "to do something striking and forbidden"- e.g. in a university to occupy the administrative offices as the seat of "institutional repression."2
A number of responsible French intellectuals, including some whose sympathies were with the students last May, have since been trying to warn them against new revolutionary adventures inspired by such oversimplifications, half-truths and plain self-deceptions. The Communists, scandalized by the students' contention that revolution can be "willed" into being without waiting for authorization from Moscow, or even history, have been hammering home the same point. (No doubt they were still more pained by the students' freely expressed view that revolution is something too serious to be entrusted to the leadership of over-age professional revolutionaries.) In his lengthy report to the Party's Central Committee on the May disorders and their electoral epilogue in June, Waldeck Rochet, the leader of the French Communists, repeatedly fulminated against the new leftist deviationists who propose "substituting the juvenile revolution for the proletarian revolution." Such "pseudo-revolutionary theories," he declared, were being spread in France by "the powerfully subsidized propaganda of Mao Tse-tung's group, by the Trotskyites, and by other groups equally alien to true Marxism." Marcuse was singled out for particular attention as a false revolutionary prophet. As for the belief that between May 25 and May 30 the Gaullist régime had practically crumbled away and that power could have been taken over without risk, Rochet charged it was the result of a "veritable campaign of intoxication orchestrated by the Government itself," and aimed at enticing the workers to commit acts of rebellion so that the army could be sent against them.
There is no evidence to support the charge that the Government deliberately exaggerated the appearance of weakness in order to trap the workers, but the Communist contention that the Gaullist régime had pulled itself together by the end of May-after a few days of disarray produced by its earlier blunders-and was supported by most of the nation, is corroborated by everything that has happened since. Jean-Paul Sartre, the aging enfant terrible of the French intellectual Left, was thus helping to keep alive what is a dangerous myth (of the Lost Revolution) when he told the German weekly Der Spiegel in July that the French Communists had "betrayed the May revolution" by ending the strikes and accepting elections they knew they would lose. Such myths, and the nostalgia for the barricades that accompanies them, die hard. Some of the more romantic May revolutionists even appear to have convinced themselves that the revolution, though betrayed, was never really lost and is steadily advancing from triumph to triumph. The repressive excesses that have occurred since May 30, and the occasional disturbing symptoms of fascism in the national mood, are thought to confirm this sanguine thesis. As one brilliant, if slightly bemused, young French sociologist remarked in summing up the positive achievements of the May revolution, "The repressive and absurd nature of the state apparatus and of the social system has been unveiled."3
Though the revolutionary myths and fallacies that sprang up with the barricades in May still have a potentially dangerous currency among students, alienated young factory workers and irresponsible or politically illiterate intellectuals, the organized groups actually committed to revolutionary violence or subversion in France seem relatively feeble. The Communists, who remain a powerful political force in the country despite their losses in the elections, claim to be at the same time intransigently revolutionary in their aims and impeccably legal in their methods. In reality, as far as an observer can judge, the Party maintains its underground conspiratorial apparatus and continues to believe in violence as a legitimate form of political action, but has no present intent to overthrow the capitalist system in France, by force or otherwise. The Communist leaders clearly regard the heretics of the New Left as a greater threat than the traditional class enemy, and while denouncing the "reactionary" Gaullist régime in public, avoid doing anything that might hamper it in repressing the forces of revolutionary extremism. "Objectively," as Sartre put it in his Spiegel interview, the Party can be considered an "accomplice" of the régime, though it might be both politer and more accurate to term it a kind of loyally disloyal opposition.
The new revolutionary Left is composed of the traditional extremist splinter groups-anarchist, Trotskyite, neo-Stalinist and, in the last few years, Maoist-organized by adult workers or intellectuals; of the militant student organizations loosely affiliated with them, that sprang into existence or prominence during the recent disorders; of various decentralized coördinating committees; and of ideological sympathizers in the dissident Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste Unifié, or PSU) and the labor unions, particularly the Catholic-oriented CFTD (French Confederation of Democratic Workers). At different times government spokesmen have hinted darkly at vast international conspiracies underlying the local disorders, and press articles evidently based on declassified police or intelligence reports have focused attention now on one, now on another of the extreme- leftist groups as the primary source of subversive agitation in the country. It is true that the groups named have engaged in revolutionary conspiracy; they do number among their members professional, or at least semiprofessional, revolutionaries and have contacts of some sort with international political organizations or the political warfare services of foreign powers.
Three youth or student groups have gained particular notoriety. The so- called Movement of March 22, which played a considerable part in getting the student agitation started last spring, is an amorphous body dedicated to the cult of revolutionary action rather than to any particular ideology. Like its original leader, the German student, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, many of its members might be classified as neo-anarchists, but some of them are Guevarists or other types of revolutionary romantics. The organization that seems to have played the biggest role in the street demonstrations and on the barricades of the Latin Quarter was the JCR (Communist Revolutionary Youth), a Trotskyite movement affiliated with the French section of the Fourth International, but which also has friendly contacts with the Italian and Cuban Communist parties. The UJCML (Union of Young Marxist-Leninist Communists) is a "Maoist" or at least pro-Chinese political club founded by dissident Communist students in 1966 and dedicated to the principles of the Cultural Revolution as understood on the Left Bank. It is reputed to have the greatest influence among Paris university-and some high-school- students. It likewise seems to have been the main link between the Latin Quarter insurgents and the young factory workers who spearheaded the strike movement throughout the country. Whether the young French "Maoists" have been getting anything more substantial than sympathy and an occasional cup of green tea from the Chinese embassy in Paris, or from other official agencies of Peking in Europe, is not clearly established.
The three groups just named, and a number of minor ones, were dissolved by a government decree on June 12, their publications were banned, and some of their members have since been arrested for illegal underground activity. (For some reason, the French police have been cracking down mainly on the young Trotskyites (JCR), while the "Maoists" have been little disturbed in their summer "long march," wherein they split up and sought jobs in factories or proletarian vacation camps in order to spread the Maoist gospel.) Legally, the Government felt it had ample grounds for suppressing the various extremist groups. Whether the action was expedient remains to be seen. Above all, it seems doubtful that it has eliminated the roots of revolutionary agitation in France. Important though their role as "detonators" was at one point, the suppressed groups, whose total combined membership is estimated to lie somewhere between 5,000 and 16,000, did not necessarily constitute the hard core of the revolutionary movement.
Probably the movement has no real core, which is at once its strength and its weakness. In so far as the source of its dynamism can be localized, two organizational nexuses seem particularly important. One is the recently politicized national leadership of the originally apolitical student federation, UNEF (National Union of French Students), and the closely allied professional union of university-level teaching personnel, SNESup (Syndicat National de l'Enseignement Supérieure). The other is simply the neighborhood committees originally organized to protest against the war in Viet Nam and American "imperialism," the so-called Comités Viet Nam de Base. More and more evidence is accumulating to suggest that the real "Maoist" influence on the French Left is exercised through these decentralized neighborhood committees uniting many shades of leftist opinion around practical objectives accepted by all, rather than through the official Marxist-Leninist organizations. They likewise played a vital role in developing and training the young activists who finally "detonated" the student revolt.
Neither the militant leaders of UNEF and SNESup nor the Maoist and Trotskyite activists in the neighborhood committees can order a renewal of the May insurrection at will, assuming that they want to, and the suppressed revolutionary organizations probably lack the numerical strength to do so. A revolutionary consensus would first have to be built up again. The régime might crystalize such a consensus against itself if it went too far in its pursuit of absolute order in the streets and on the campuses. On the other hand, a combination of limited police action to contain the revolution, and of bold social reforms aimed at isolating the extremists and winning over the moderate or uncommitted elements of the New Left, could almost certainly avert the danger of a serious new outbreak.
General de Gaulle and Prime Minister Couve de Murville probably understand the problem, though the General's authoritarian temperament may lead him to overestimate the importance of eradicating relatively trivial threats to public order. He is less likely to underestimate the need for drastic reform, and some of his more conservative followers may get a bad shock when the long-promised Gaullist program for the "decolonization" of the French worker and for the liberation of the French provinces from the imperialism of the capital is fully unveiled.
Already, General de Gaulle's personally selected new Minister of Education, Edgar Faure, perhaps the deepest as well as the shrewdest political mind in the Cabinet, has furnished an intriguing preview of the Government's plans for a radical transformation of the overly centralized, overly authoritarian, overly mandarinized French educational system created by Napoleon and little changed since his day. While the deputies of the majority stirred unhappily in their seats, M. Faure last July informed the National Assembly, and through it the nation, that his proposed reform of the university system in particular would be based on two principles: democratization and modernization. It would be a grave error, he maintained, to blame the recent disorders in the Latin Quarter solely on a revolutionary conspiracy; nor could the eruption be attributed simply to youthful "nihilism or the love of violence." The students would not have responded as they did to extremist leadership if they had not had real grievances. In outlining how he proposed to go about eliminating these grievances M. Faure sounded at moments as if he had joined the Cultural Revolution himself; the verve with which he manipulated its jargon sometimes raised the hackles of his more conservative listeners.
"To those who want to change the consumer-society," the Minister declared, "we say that this type of society is not our ideal, either. We, too, want to see society changed, and we hope to bring about the desired changes through the principle of participation, which is an essential means for reaffirming the personality of individuals and groups, and for enabling them to escape from the alienations of a one-dimensional world. . . . Far from giving comfort to the capitalist economic system, participation as practiced within the university should lead to transforming a society of consumption into a society of promotion."
Judging from other hints in M. Faure's speech, it seems that beneath the revolutionary rhetoric borrowed from campus critics there is a real intent to carry out significant and perhaps daring social reforms in France. Unless sabotaged by extremists on one side or the other, and assuming that they will not be put into effect so recklessly as to create economic chaos, General de Gaulle's proposed innovations promise to strengthen democracy in France by introducing it into sectors of French national life where in the past it has scarcely existed: in local government and regional administration, in the universities and high schools, and even, it would seem, in the factories. Unless, however, this grass-roots democratization of French life is accompanied by a renovation and rebirth of democracy at the top of the national power structure, it is by no means certain that it will achieve its aim of making the Fifth Republic revolution-proof. The news programs of the government-controlled radio and TV networks need "decolonization" even more urgently than do the assembly-lines of the nation's factories. "Alienation" is a problem not only in the formalized, overcrowded lecture halls of the Sorbonne and in the dehumanized barrack- tenements of the new industrial suburbs, but in the polling-booths of the republic where the citizens vote for one party, or prime minister, and find that they have in effect elected another. "Participation" is nowhere more vital in a democratic society than in its parliament. 1 A minor, but typically ugly, incident occurred during the summer theatrical festival at Avignon. The American Living Theatre troupe, composed in the main of long-haired but serious-minded and strictly nonviolent cultural dissenters-who had earlier been denounced by the newly elected Gaullist deputy as "idle Freudians"-was molested by unidentified defenders of Western tradition; one member or supporter of the group had his head forcibly shaved. 2 Philippe Labro et al, "Ce n'est qu'un début." Paris: Edition Spéciale, 1968. 3 "La Brèche," by Edgar Morin, Claude Lefort and Jean-Marc Coudray, in "La Révolution Anticipée." Paris: Fayard, 1968. Incidentally, the satisfaction that intellectuals of the French New Left derive from seeing the state goaded into proving how repressive it can be, or the bourgeoisie provoked into demonstrating how reactionary it is, reminds some foreign and French observers, among them Raymond Aron, of the suicidal attitudes displayed by many German leftists-including at that time the Communists-in 1930 and 1931. And as Aron pertinently noted in one of his articles on the May crisis in Le Figaro, "Professor Marcuse, the grandfather of today's 'wild men,' had already adopted an attitude of categorical negation toward the existing régime, then the Weimar Republic."