Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
In Germany as in France, 1969 will be remembered as the year of the break in continuity. The principal break is in each case obvious: the departure of General de Gaulle after eleven years in power and the relegation of the Christian Democrats to the opposition after twenty years in power. But the nature and import of these breaks call for interpretation.
Both resulted, in large measure, from a fairly continuous evolution of the electorate. In the Federal Republic, the figures are quite clear. Although it is true that their participation in the government since December 1966 made the Socialists "respectable," even to petits bourgeois previously frightened by the "Reds," the rise in their share of the vote in 1969 did not represent a big leap forward in comparison to previous advances: they received 28.8 percent of the ballots cast in 1953, 31.8 percent in 1957, 36.2 percent in 1961, 39.3 percent in 1965, and now 42.7 percent. Further advances are possible, too, thanks to the gradual transformation of society: the cities are continuing to grow, as in other industrial countries, and the big cities are inclined to vote Socialist; the generations in which women greatly outnumbered men because of war losses are gradually being superseded by age groups in which men are in a slight majority; and the feminine electorate itself-because social constraints are waning and because the Church's grip on it is weakening-is less bound to the CDU. Moreover, the Catholic Church itself is intervening less and less to procure a "Christian" vote.
In France, the continuous evolution has been of another order. A kind of junction occurred between two curves: the descending curve of General de Gaulle's personal prestige and the ascending curve of organized Gaullism. In the consultative referendum on the Fifth Republic in September 1958, 79.2 percent of those who cast ballots voted yes, while two months later the candidates espousing Gaullism garnered only 20.4 percent of the ballots. In December 1965, the General gained reflection only with difficulty, while in the parliamentary elections that followed, in March 1967, the Gaullist candidates received 37.7 percent of the vote. They were to obtain 43.6 percent in June 1968.
In April 1969, only 46.8 percent of the voters responded affirmatively to the question of personal confidence that was put to them in the form of a referendum on regionalization and reform of the Senate. On the first of June, Georges Pompidou harvested 44 percent of the vote. Although he won in the runoff on June 15 (57.6 percent against Poher, whereas the General had only received 54.5 percent against Mitterrand), it was less because he had made progress in the interval than because the number of abstentions and blank ballots was considerable. If the votes are calculated in terms of the totals of registered voters, it turns out that the Gaullist candidates obtained 34.3 percent on June 23, 1968, General de Gaulle 36.7 percent in April 1969, and Georges Pompidou 33.9 percent and 37.2 percent in the successive elections of last June. Charismatic Gaullism and Gaullism as a political grouping had truly become close neighbors.
In both France and Germany, the break with the past was marked by a stabilization of the political system. In the Federal Republic, the defeat of the extreme right-wing NPD (despite its advance from 2 to 4.3 percent of the vote) and the crushing of the extreme Left, which fell from 1.3 to 0.6 percent, confirmed the wish of the German voters to make their votes count and to vote for the parties that are fully committed to parliamentary democracy. Between them, the two big ones (the CDU/ CSU and the SPD) have successively collected, since 1949, 60.2 percent of the vote, 74, 82, 81.6 (in 1961, the year of a Liberal upsurge), 86.9 and now 88.8 percent It may be wondered where the votes went of the 2.5 million young voters who had not yet reached voting age in 1965, particularly since the rebels of the universities were among them. In the event, they voted as reasonably as their elders.
Nevertheless, stabilization that permits the political forces to set up long-term strategies renders absurd, or at least somewhat hollow, a large part of their formulations on the one national problem. Stability will be complete only when its implications are fully recognized and fully accepted. It excludes any calling in question of the frontiers, and it excludes reunification. The régime of the Federal Republic is durable because the division of Germany is durable.
In France, the victory of Georges Pompidou was also that of an institutional system. Disputes over the legitimacy of the régime had been steadily subsiding prior to 1969. The presidential election of 1965 had-by the very fact that it was hard-fought and that the opposition participated in it with respectable results-contributed to damping down the conflict. This process was accentuated by the crushing of the revolutionaries through general elections, which were organized after the dissolution of the Assembly and accepted as legitimate by all the parliamentary factions, most particularly the Communists. The circumstances of the General's departure and of the election of his successor, as well as the fact that that successor was Georges Pompidou, affirmed and defined the nature of the régime. In 1964, Pompidou had put it as follows:
France has now chosen an intermediate system [between the American Presidential and the British Parliamentary systems] in which the Chief of State, who inspires general policy, finds the basis of his authority in universal suffrage, but can only exercise his functions with a government which, to be sure, he selects and appoints, but which, to last, constantly needs the confidence of the Assembly.
The president can dissolve the Assembly, but he can also be censured by the people, either if the response to a referendum tied to a question of confidence is negative, or if the Assembly elected after the dissolution is again hostile to his policies. The president, Pompidou repeated in the course of his first presidential press conference, is the "supreme chief of the executive . . . charged with providing fundamental impulsions and defining essential directions." The régime is surviving its founder.
Yet it contains weaknesses which its German neighbor does not have. In Germany, we now know that the parliamentary opposition can accede to power. As in the United States and Britain, the two big parties are truly rivals and compete for the votes of the same electoral mass, located in the political center. In France, the Union of Democrats for the Republic, the "Gaullists," certainly occupy a position comparable to that of the GOP or the British Conservatives. But though the UDR still has to round out its structure, deepen its roots and achieve greater homogeneity, there is presently no real alternative to the existing majority-because of the existence of the Communist Party.
Short of a sudden alteration in its evolution, the latter will remain what it is: an imposing mass which can block the political game, but cannot animate it or give it direction. The Party is neither revolutionary nor "social-democratized," In May 1968, its aversion to all insurrectional action was marked. At the same time it remains wholly the prisoner of Its mythology. At bottom, its leaders like tranquility and intellectual comfort, and detest risk and imagination; they will consequently keep on playing the game of the Right-Center, which is assured of staying in power since the non-communist Left is doomed to impotence. Such a situation carries a considerable risk: the legal opposition having little hope of acceding to power, governmental mistakes could give rise to violent opposition outside the parliament, outside the parties and outside the limits of legality.
The Federal Republic, on the other hand, is failing to surmount a difficulty that is much more basic than that of the harmonious functioning of institutions. To be sure, the passing of the CDU into opposition will doubtless check the rise of the extreme Right, whose progress has been largely due to the votes of victims of economic development (peasants, craftsmen, shopkeepers, etc.). But the German political system is, at the same time, more fragile than the French: the French state cannot be threatened by a conflict over its definition as a nation, whereas democracy in the Federal Republic is not secure from a crisis arising out of the German problem.
These differences should not conceal the multiplicity and growing extent of the resemblances. The comparative analyses that could be made only a short time ago are partly out of date. France has become "Germanized" (or "Americanized") in her economic philosophy: she is now, in her turn, thinking in terms of industrial expansion and development rather than in terms of permanence and safekeeping. Germany has been "Frenchified" by a transformation of social and religious thought: social change is emerging as a necessity, whereas it had been only stability that was sought after; and politics have been very largely declericalized as a result of the internal evolution of the churches.
Between the two countries, too, there is a community of certainty and a community of anxiety: certainty, despite the extremist minorities, that pluralistic democracy is better than any other system; anxiety, despite increasing prosperity, about unresolved problems of society and the individual, and about the new necessity imposed by lightning technical progress-the necessity for permanent adaptation, for permanent change, which in turn implies the impossibility of rest or of uncomplicated administration of collective and individual affairs.
On the domestic scene we thus find both a surprising calm (surprising in relation to the predictions about the German political future twenty years ago, and surprising in relation to so many somber forecasts of the political situation after de Gaulle) and an uneasiness that lies beyond political life. On the international level the similarities are no less great-greater, in fact, than they were at the time of the great friendship between de Gaulle and Adenauer.
The most Important phenomenon, the most striking discontinuity in external policy, does not arise from the change of majority parties in Germany, but from the change that has come about in France in the relative importance of domestic and foreign policy.
During the presidential campaign of 1969, the content of foreign policy was debated by the two candidates, but a sort of agreement existed as to its nature: it was simply one aspect of general policy, and a rather secondary one at that. Not that Pompidou was unfaithful to General de Gaulle; the latter had already provisionally given up defending, in part, what he had seemed to hold most dear-namely, the idea that external policy was the only real policy, and that the sole object of internal policy was to assure stability and enhance national power, the better to perform in the outside world.
When General de Gaulle gave up power the first time, in January 1946, Bidault did not immediately alter the direction of policy, but suddenly external policy became secondary in importance to internal preoccupations. When General de Gaulle came back in 1958, he accepted a much greater part of the heritage of the Fourth Republic than had been expected and than he ever cared to admit. But national ambition, ambition directed outward, once again became the motive force of the politics of power.
Until 1968. After that, the internal crisis overtook the external goal, The subject of the referendum was significant The referendum of 1962 had been aimed at assuring the authority of the president-incarnation of the national interest, actor in France's name on the international stage- against those parties and groups which represented division and conflict in economic and social life. In contrast, in April 1969 the "Declaration of General de Gaulle, President of the Republic, Presenting the Reasons for the Projected Law Relating to the Creation of Regions and the Renovation of the Senate," a copy of which every French voter received, was the first text by the General which did not contain a single word on France's external role and mission, and not a single allusion to the international situation or international life. No doubt this was one of the causes of his defeat: without France's international status as the priority objective, the Chief of State no longer possessed his customary stature, and NO longer retained that distance from daily problems which constituted an essential element of his prestige.
May 1968 had revealed the malaise of French society. The financial crisis of November, brought on both by the strikes and by the poor economic analysis of the Couve de Murville government (it granted huge loans to get production started up again, whereas, in reality, the wholesale wage increases were to have performed this function), weakened France dreadfully and made it impossible for her to continue the struggle to transform the international monetary system. Meanwhile, the invasion of Czechoslovakia had ruled out an Eastern policy. The change of climate effected by the arrival of Richard Nixon in the White House and his visit to Paris did the rest. By the time General de Gaulle left office, not only had the nature of external policy been transformed, but its content had caved in. With the United States in particular, tension evaporated without any great number of new facts coming to light: it was a sort of reconciliation at a distance.
Between Bonn and Paris, there is no longer, then, the fundamental divergence which used to bear on relations with the United States. This is all the more the case in that German-American relations have not for a long time been characterized by the tone of the 1950s. The first turning point came with John Kennedy's accession to power: after the tensions between the young President and the old Chancellor, relations were never again to return to the moralizing and sentimental tone of the preceding decade. The second turning point, much more difficult to fix in time, was the decline of what had been the overriding objective of German external policy. This was neither reunification nor Europe, but security. And ever since the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, security had lain in alignment with the American protector; in order to have confidence in American protection, one had to do everything in one's power to give the United States confidence in its German ally. Little by little, fear diminished; it became apparent that there was much more freedom for manœuvre than had been believed and that General de Gaulle was right in much of what he said, if not in what he did.
The priority given to security had not been based solely on fear. There was also the fact that generalized fear-the cold war-was advantageous for the Federal Republic, which thereby obtained sovereignty and substance in the Western world. But when, from Kennedy to de Gaulle, the policy of détente was the order of the day, it became clearer to Bonn how greatly the East- West conflict had deepened the division of Germany. The watchword had been: "No détente without progress on the German problem." Already under Adenauer and still more under Erhard, which is to say under Schröder, it became: "We must press ahead with détente at the same time as we seek progress on the German problem," With the Kiesinger-Brandt government-and this was a decisive step-it had become: "Détente is so fundamental to subsequent progress on the German problem that we are ready to make unilateral concessions so as to make progress toward a détente, and we agree to the resolution of the German problems coming much later." The SPD/FDP government seems prepared to go even further in this direction.
It is a direction which represents a profound change, for the definition of "progress" on the German problem has evolved very considerably. It began at least as far back as the exchange of letters between Chancellor Kiesinger and Willy Stoph, the head of the government of the GDR; and it has been a question since then of reaching a modus vivendi with the other Germany. Since Kiesinger's governmental declaration of December 1966, which did not mention a territorial change and contented itself with affirming the impossibility of fully recognizing the Polish frontier, there has been no question of recovering the territory east of the Oder-Neisse Line. Nor is there any longer a question of obtaining reunification by a sort of extension of the Federal Republic eastward.
In 1968-69 the new policy was blocked for two different reasons, and one may wonder to what extent they will also operate against the new Brandt government. The first reason is domestic. During the electoral campaign, the CDU-and to act even greater extent the Bavarian CSU of F. J. Strauss- hardened their attitudes, partly in order to forestall defections to the NPD and partly to win over right-wing followers of the Liberal Party, which had become favorable to an agreement with the other Germany. Having obtained these two results, what is the CDU going to do in opposition? Fight the coalition in the name of a sort of renovated Aderiauerism? Accept the government's initiatives abroad, reserving the right to fight them at home? Is there some hope of winning back votes from the Social Democrats by denouncing them as traitors to the national cause? Much depends, of course, on public opinion. An important indication of how the CDU interprets it is provided by the lists of candidates in the elections of September 28: neither the Christian Democrats nor the Socialists accorded significant spots to the leaders of the organizations of refugees. The president of their confederation, who had switched from the SPD to the CDU, was defeated in his district. As the CDU had neglected to enter his name on the complementary list of the Land (state), he did not get into the Bundestag.
The second reason is much more serious: the Czechoslovak tragedy. The Kiesinger-Brandt government drew nearer to Paris as a result of the special need to establish a common policy toward Eastern Europe. The objective was not to isolate the GDR but to make it conspicuous-to conduce to its being the only communist state not to adopt liberalizing reforms, and to make sure of its being the only one to pursue a policy of hatred toward the Federal Republic. The first results were encouraging. But then, in August 1968 the GDR stood out as the guardian of orthodoxy in the "Socialist camp."
Now, more than a year later, can the new coalition pursue a policy toward the East that is not doomed to fail? In any case, we are very close here to the French analysis, which requires that efforts toward this end continue as if positive results could be obtained. In October 1969, Maurice Schumann, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, went to Moscow and there announced a future visit by President Pompidou. A few days before, Brezhnev, in his Berlin speech marking the twentieth anniversary of the GDR, had made clear overtures to the German government then in the process of formation. One of the Soviet intentions is clear: the more contacts they have with Paris and Bonn, the more they can demonstrate to Eastern Europe that the Westerners care little about the tragic situation in Czechoslovakia. Apart from this self-justifying objective, is there a real desire on their part to make progress toward solving the German problem? Or do they simply want to take possible concessions from the Brandt government without yielding anything at all in exchange?
Whatever the answer, the Soviet attitude may have the paradoxical consequence of disturbing relations between France and Germany just when Bonn is prepared to pursue the policy advocated by Paris. Indeed, if the U.S.S.R. talks directly with a Federal Republic fully disposed to conversation, Franco-Soviet relations will become less important to the Russian leaders, in as much as they had previously had to count OE Paris to put pressure on Bonn. Moreover, the old French fears of a German-Russian entente could come to life again. It is, however, more likely that the community of shared analysis and intentions will win out, and that similar policies will not be directed against one another.
The situation is somewhat the same as regards European policy. The two parties are relatively closer to one another when there isn't a great deal to be done, when it's a question, at most, of unfreezing a difficult financial situation. The French devaluation and then the floating mark shook the structure of the agricultural Common Market. On both sides, however, the desire to get out of the monetary difficulties in Europe on a reasonable basis is certain. And the Social Democrats are closer to the French views concerning common economic policy than the "Erhardians," while President Pompidou is less obsessed than his predecessor by the question of national freedom of decision.
But a new obstacle has arisen since the fall of 1968: Is a common Franco- German policy possible if the Federal Republic's power superiority frightens France? The new coalition in Bonn will help calm these fears. Whereas Strauss continues to Insist that the "economic giant" stop being a "political dwarf," Brandt and Schiller understand better the sad reality which the American, British and French reactions revealed at the monetary conference in Bonn in November 1968: because of the weight of the past, which balances that of the billions of dollars in reserves and the millions of tons of steel produced, German strength entails not prestige and influence but solitude. By reason and by conviction, Brandt will not speak the language of power.
Relations between Paris and Bonn will, of course, be disturbed by the rigidities of French policy in continuing the attitudes of General de Gaulle, and by the Infidelities of the Social Democrats-oriented as they are toward Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries-to the Franco- German priority observed for twenty years by the Christian Democrats. But these are peripheral phenomena.
In actual fact, the political realities and objectives of France and of the Federal Republic are much closer now than they were four years ago.[i] By ill luck, however, this lessening of differences comes at a time when the international financial situation is bleak, when the chances of obtaining results in the East are very poor, and when the European building site resembles a pile of debris more than a house that merely needs to have a roof put on it.
An additional piece of bad luck is that the new leaders in Bonn and in Paris are too reasonable to have much imagination-either the creative imagination that discovers new paths or the sentimental imagination that creates public enthusiasm. While the two societies draw closer together, and while their political divergences diminish, their governments will doubtless content themselves with working together to resolve the daily international difficulties, or, at most, with finding durable remedies for them, instead of searching together for transnational solutions that might be applied to those basic problems existing today in all European societies, particularly in France and the Federal Republic.
[i] See Alfred Grosser, "France and Germany: Divergent Outlooks," Foreign Affairs, October 1965.