The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
All Gaul is divided into three parts. Curiously enough, American intellectuals resort to the celebrated quotation from Caesar more often than do their French counterparts. Similarly, the divisions in Europe and in their own homelands are no doubt felt less keenly by the citizens of the Old World than by those of the New. Americans are used to vast expanses without frontiers. It shocks them to see that there still persist in Europe the antiquated particularisms which their grandfathers left behind in favor of the comforts of the melting pot.
A good deal might be said about just how much melting has taken place in that pot up to now. American minorities are reaffirming their separate identities at the very time when, more and more, one can see coming true in Europe Upton Sinclair's famous prophecy: "Thanks to the movies, the world is becoming unified-that is, becoming Americanized." Skyscrapers, supermarkets, and even Intercontinental hotels have appeared beyond the Iron Curtain; nothing is less personalized than the cities of concrete and glass that are rising from one end of the Continent to the other, so much alike that when you arrive in the evening after a long journey you no longer know whether you are in France, Germany, Holland or Sweden. Movie houses show the same films; radios broadcast the same programs; everywhere advertisements cover the walls with the same brands of soap, of brassieres or of cars; skirt lengths obey the same norms from San Francisco to Ankara; and "sex shops," which originated in Copenhagen and New York, are opening simultaneously in Paris and Munich.
Never-even in the way in which its nonconformists make themselves conspicuous-has Europe seemed so bent on similarity. It is as if free societies naturally aspired, by a typically American trait, toward that collective identity which the subjects of totalitarian régimes would somehow like to escape because a conscious effort is made to impose it on them.
But similarity of habits and behavior can be accompanied by profound antagonisms, the stupidity of which individuals discover the moment they have a chance to step back and view them in the proper perspective. This was the case, for instance, with those Belgian students who confided to me that they had become friends because they were living in Paris, whereas if they had stayed at Louvain, their original university, the language conflict would have prevented Flemings and Walloons from so much as speaking to one another. In this connection, the fantastic migration, which successively made the Germans and the French for a number of years first the guardians and then the prisoners of one another, did not so much nurture the mutual hostility they had learned as children as it made each nationality aware of belonging to the same universe. There had never before been so many mixed marriages as there have been since World War II-1,200 for the year 1969 alone. And there are today 43,000 former German prisoners of war settled in France.
The fact that England was not invaded, and thus did not participate in this unprecedented migration, perhaps helps explain why it took her so long to decide to knock at the door of the Common Market, and why, at heart, she still hesitates. On the Continent, on the other hand, antagonisms between nation-states have diminished considerably over a quarter-century. All of the territorial disputes that persisted 20 years ago have since been settled. The problems of the Saar and of Trieste, which for a long time poisoned Franco-German and Italo-Jugoslav relations, were solved peacefully. Austrians and Italians have arrived at a modus vivendi over what the former call the South Tyrol and the latter the Alto Adige. After 20 years of cold war the Federal Republic of Germany and the Soviet Union have just signed a treaty that sanctions the inviolability of the frontiers established by the 1945 victory. In spite of the persistence of certain more or less circumspect disputes with respect to Transylvania, Macedonia and Eastern Moldavia, the Balkans do not appear to be about to return to Balkanization. Even Greece and Albania, officially still in a state of war, are gradually moving toward the normalization of relations.
The reawakening in various European states of regional or national rivalries contrasts with this development. To the example cited above of hostility between Flemings and Walloons, which caused another death last September, could be added a number of others, the most conspicuous of them no doubt being that of Jugoslavia. Despite Tito and the one-party system, the Croats are quick to denounce Serbian imperialism, and Slovenia is leaning to separatism. Bratislava's aversion to Prague, which Hitler used to his own advantage in 1938-39, served the ends of the Soviets 30 years later; the threat of a Slovak secession helped the Russians subdue Czech resistance.
As the Franco dictatorship grows progressively slacker, the demands of the Basques and the Catalans are making themselves heard with ever greater force. In a few years, the number of members of the Scottish nationalist party has increased from 2,000 to 80,000. Only the presence of British soldiers in one case and of blue helmets (U.N. forces) in the other permits the maintenance of relative calm in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. Numerous court trials testify to the vitality of Ukranian nationalism. Even a wise Switzerland is obliged to face, in the canton of Bern, a French-speaking "Jurassian" separatism.
After a 20-year delay, Italy, which had already given autonomy to Sicily, Sardinia, the Val d'Aosta and the Alto Adige, decided, last June, to enforce the provisions of the constitution relating to the setting up of regional parliaments. I happened to be in Milan at the time: people with whom I talked there passed the harshest judgments on the southern Italians, and declared openly that the future of Lombardy lay in a close association with Lyon and South Germany; they were not at all burdened by how this might affect the Southerners: "Our long suit is automation," one said. "What have we to do with that army of sluggards?" And an elderly industrialist quoted Cavour to me. After Cavour had visited Bologna some years before his death, he wrote to a friend: "I had never before gone so far south; if I had, I might well have given up trying to forge Italian unity."
France herself, although her national unity is the end product of an effort pursued obstinately over the course of a thousand years by all the régimes she has ever known, is not escaping these internal dissensions. The competition between Nancy and Metz for the title of metropolis of Lorraine contributed to the defeat of General de Gaulle in the referendum of 1969, which then brought about his departure from power. The election to parliament of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber is basically the fruit of the discontent of the southern Lorrainese, chagrined at seeing the authorities favor the north.
If all these disputes are erupting with greater or less force just about everywhere in Europe, it is largely because of the atmosphere of general détente in which, for the first time in more than a half-century, its people are living. Just before and just after wars, and all the more while they are raging, the sense of a common threat binds populations together. It has often been said, for example, that World War I saved the existence of Belgium, for one of the most celebrated statesmen of its history had, just a few years before, considered it his duty to announce its inevitable dissolution to King Albert. The necessity for union, and even for outside protection, is readily accepted when the enemy is in sight. When danger is no longer felt, it is rejected.
It is important to remember, too, that not so many years ago nationalism had a bad press in many circles. The parties of the Left, faithful to the internationalist ideas of socialism, constantly denounced it, and the Catholic Church had made it a veritable heresy. Hitler and Mussolini had had too much to do with encouraging the nationalisms of the Slovaks, Croats, Ukrainians, Flemings and even the Bretons for these groups to be able to show their colors openly after the war. Einstein expressed a widely held point of view when, contemplating the vast expanse of rubble heaped up by the nationalistic excess of the Nazis, he declared that nationalism was an "infantile disease, the measles of humanity," and put forward the idea of a world government. But with the help of decolonization, nationalism is once again on the rise. Why refuse to the Basques what the inhabitants of Rwanda have obtained?
One can also hardly overlook the democratization of education. In the Belgium of yesteryear or in the Hapsburg Empire, Flemings and Slavs found themselves relegated to a second-rate position compared to people whose mother tongue was in one case French and in the other German or Hungarian and who could therefore pursue studies which would assure their undisputed superiority. Today, the Flemings, the Slovaks, the Croats, the Slovenes or the Macedonians consider themselves-with respect, in the first instance, to the Walloons, and in the other instances to the Czechs and the Serbs-as equals who are treated unequally. The scope of their demands is proportionate to the humiliation that they still feel.
Whatever the relative importance of all these factors, however, the main one is still the inequality of development of different regions within a given country. The most spectacular example is obviously that of the Mezzogiorno, the Italian South, the home of 38 percent of the population of Italy, whose living standard is no more than 68 percent of the national average. But analogous contrasts can be found next door in Jugoslavia: the Slovenes in the northwest live just about as well as the Austrians, while Macedonia, Montenegro and the south of Serbia, to say nothing of Kossovo where the Albanian minority lives, and certain remote regions of Bosnia, are only just now slowly emerging from Balkan squalor. In Spain, the industrial dynamism of Catalonia and the Basque country contrasts with the underdevelopment of Andalusia or old Estremadura.
It has been said that the well-known division of the world into developed nations in the North and underdeveloped ones in the South transcends the national framework while posing virtually the same problems. The rich provinces are occupied more with adding to their wealth than with aiding the poor provinces, and investments flow more naturally toward developed regions where they are assured of quick returns than toward the deprived zones, which lack the skilled labor and the temperate climate propitious to work.
The result is the vast human current that drains off to the industrial metropolises of the North the surplus population of the South. These people are then crammed into those ghastly shantytowns whose very existence, notably in Spain and France, to speak only of Europe, cruelly gives the lie to the optimistic slogans of the "affluent society." That it is a question of a basic phenomenon, typical of the contemporary era, is attested to by the fact that a socialist country like Jugoslavia has been unable, in a quarter of a century and in spite of a centralized economic policy that theoretically protects investments from the anarchy and money lust of capitalism, to prevent its various republics from developing at an extremely uneven rate. When Belgrade tries to prevent Slovenia from collecting its share of a loan, obtained from the International Monetary Fund for constructing a highway, by citing Slovenia's high living standard, indignant cries of protest well up in the parliament of Ljubljana and spark a genuine political crisis.
Federal Germany, thanks to its fantastic prosperity and its exceptional degree of decentralization, has been able, on the whole, to develop harmoniously and to provide in a so far decent manner for the large foreign work force-notably Turks, Jugoslavs and Italians-which it has brought in. But it is also clear that the economic slump of Wallonia, a victim of the decline of coal, has much to do with the acrimony shown by that province's inhabitants toward the Flemings, who were only yesterday looked down upon and relegated to secondary tasks, and are today riding a floodtide of social and psychological revenge. And if Northern Ireland has been on the verge of civil war for more than a year, it is not only because the Orangemen intend to maintain their totally anachronistic political privileges; it is also because the Catholic minority there is the main victim of an underdevelopment that nobody can or does deny.
Switzerland is only managing to keep its balance by practicing a deliberately Malthusian naturalization policy, while the régimes of Portugal and Spain owe their survival solely to the emigration of hundreds of thousands of their sons to other countries of Western Europe. As for France, the Paris region is developing spectacularly while many provincial regions stagnate. The north is tottering under its stocks of textiles, and looks on apprehensively as the coalfields on which its prosperity was founded shut down. Brittany is uncomfortably aware of being, first and foremost, a reserve of manpower. The regions west of a line between Cherbourg and Montpellier are tending to vegetate, and hardly a single kilometer is to be found there of the great highways that are the veins and arteries of development throughout the modern world. Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the prospect of the installation of an American factory became an electoral issue. The people of the Ardennes now feel betrayed by the government because Henry Ford decided to set up in Bordeaux-the electoral fief of the prime minister-the assembly- plants which, on the strength of a few imprudent words, they believed they could count on.
To the extent that the prevailing philosophy has made the pursuit of profit- and the comfort it buys-the principal motivation of human activity, the most squalid greed is destined to win out over national and community interest. From this the century-old class struggle in Europe is taking on entirely new forms.
The traditional Marxist formulation, which has inspired so much of the political thought of the European Left, retained the idea of a binary world, of exploiters against the exploited-"they and us," Lenin said. It postulated the existence of a working class which, if not naturally solidary, was at least called on to recognize its deep solidarity and redeem the world in overcoming its contradictions. The reality of today is complex in a different way. Just as the unthinkableness of destroying one another has brought a relationship into being between the United States and the U.S.S.R. that is no longer simply one of more or less "peaceful coexistence" but one of coöperation, so we have seen grow up in France and Italy a de facto collaboration between "bourgeois" authority and officially revolutionary labor unions that is more and more cordial, indeed practically institutionalized. It is significant that in France a communist labor union, the CGT, is currently devoting tremendous efforts to preventing the state from recognizing a new independent union as a qualified spokesman for labor together with the big established unions of communist, social democratic, or Christian orientation. This coöperation is far-reaching, extending to an actual solidarity in the face of a common danger. Just as Trotskyists and Maoists ceaselessly denounce the collusion between American imperialism and the "social imperialism" of the "new Tsars," so in France, during the great crisis of May 1968, a compact quickly came into being between the government and the Communists-both of whom were threatened by the sudden eruption of "leftism."
In France and Italy, millions of voters continue to give their votes to the Communist Party, but their daily behavior is only affected in a relative way by this political choice. Indeed, belonging to the Party-which is, incidentally, only the case with a minority of the working class, salaried employees or intellectuals-now indicates the need for participation in social activity; the hope of a revolution has been put off too long for anyone to believe it imminent. The Communist Party and the CGT, with their hierarchies, their festivals, their obligations, their schools, their preferments, their newspapers, have become a society that is not so much a rival of capitalist society as complementary to it. At least it is to the extent that it satisfies the need for participation and promotion that its members would be unable to satisfy because of their modest resources and origins, in a world that is very exclusivist and which reserves most of its leadership for its own children.
Such an analysis obviously scandalizes most communists, who are convinced of the correctness of a dogma which has the force of scientific certitude. In any case, it is not called into question by the divergent trends within the leftist credo which is increasingly influencing a part of the intelligentsia in almost all Western countries and even to a certain extent on the other side of the Iron Curtain; most notably the influence is felt by students, backed up by far from negligible contingents of working youth and Christian trade unionists. The Sino-Soviet schism, Moscow's abandonment of the Latin American guerrilla movements, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and, among more recent developments, the German-Soviet treaty, the Kremlin's acceptance of the Rogers Plan and its refusal to recognize Prince Sihanouk's revolutionary government-all these are, to the leftists, evidence of "treason" on the part of the "Brezhnev clique." They find it hardly surprising that the parties which submit to that clique's orders are also betraying their revolutionary vocation by taking the path of the social democrats, i.e. collaboration between classes.
As a matter of fact, this collaboration is not just the result of instructions from the East. It is, above all, the expression of a sociological and economic necessity. French or Italian, the workers have ceased to be the spearhead of revolution, for the time has passed when Marx could write that they had nothing to lose but their chains. Although many of them still live in poverty and in substandard conditions of housing and transport, and although they are excluded from the big economic and political decisions, they are no longer the pariahs whom Engels saw as inexorably bound by his famous iron law of wages.
Nearly a century of desperate and sometimes bloody struggle has enabled them to seize prizes their ancestors wouldn't have dared dream of: social security, family allotments, free education, limited working hours, paid vacations, retirement benefits, unemployment compensation, recognition of unions. The steady trend toward regular monthly salaries and, in France, contracts tied to productivity, are two new steps toward the reduction of "class" conflict. But at the same time a new lumpenproletariat is fast emerging, consisting for the most part either, as in France, of imported laborers, or, as in the Italian Mezzogiorno, of underdeveloped domestic populations. With neither group does the official proletariat, organized and militating within the ranks of the Communist Party or the CGT, feel any instinctive solidarity whatsoever. The Italian Communist deputy Maria Antonietta Macciocchi has described this situation better than anyone else in the course of an electoral campaign in the bassi, the miserable slums of Naples.
In the Paris region, the racist reflexes of many French workers with respect to Arabs, Portuguese or Africans-on whom they are only too happy to shunt off the lowliest and most unpleasant jobs-are notorious. Not long ago a leader of the French Communist Party, Léon Mauvais, devoted an article, marked by great loftiness of thought, to the necessity for communist militants to understand that the foreigners are workers like themselves, to whom they ought to open their arms in brotherhood. But the practice is very often quite different: it is no longer possible to keep track of the number of fights between inhabitants of communist districts and those of the shantytowns.
This situation is the inevitable result of the transformation of society. Yesterday, poverty and often misery were the lot of most people; revolt was inevitable, and its success at least partially assured. Today, in the large developed countries, poverty has become the province of a minority, and it hardly has the means to make itself heard. The foreign workers are often unfamiliar with the language of the country in which they work, are fearful more than anything else of deportation which would cost them their livelihood; they keep very quiet, in spite of the exhortations of the leftists who urge them to rebel. It is much the same with elderly men, widows and the physically handicapped, who constitute the remaining membership of the "silent poor," the scandal of a comfortable, well-fed world. A correspondent of Le Monde, recently analyzing fiscal statistics, revealed that there were some Frenchmen who earned 320 times more than others.
The revolt against this situation is less the work of the tired communist parties, which are the prisoners of their old formulations and which have lost all capacity for renovation, than it is of intellectuals and young people, unwilling to give up the notion, underlying Marxism and its descendants, that it should be possible to make this world both less absurd and less unjust. Their protest takes diverse and sometimes disconcerting forms. It is tempting for the defenders of the established order to reduce the revolt of the young to certain outward signs: drug use and sexual anarchy, slovenliness in matters of hair style and dress. But apart from the fact that these demonstrations of discouragement and protest can also be accounted liabilities of a society incapable of providing its young people with an outlet for their thirst for dedication and adventure, it is useless to hide the fact that the dispute, in Europe as in America, is above all a reflex of disgust, and is often the work of the most outstanding young people. To treat it with contempt, to see in it, as the French Minister of the Interior does, nothing but the effect of the intrigues of Communist China, to think that it can be stamped out by force- these attitudes are due to the moral blindness that has in the past toppled so many élites that believed themselves safely in the saddle for all eternity.
Although it has not reached the dimensions of the divorce now taking place in the United States between part of the intelligentsia and the "silent majority," the alienation of a not-inconsiderable portion of the European élite from the established order constitutes a divisive element that is all but universal. Certainly there has always been a conflict of generations, and it is a law of life that the young refuse to take account of the defeat of the hopes which their parents often nourished before them. All the same, it is the first time that this feeling of alienation, of not belonging to the national community-once the fate of the industrial proletariat, according to Marx's brilliant diagnosis-best characterizes dropouts from the ruling class. They simply refuse to serve its ideals and purposes. The revolt of May 1968 in France, when so many middle-class youths were to be seen fighting beneath the red or black flag, testified to the depth of this crisis. What many people wanted to reduce to a psychodrama did in fact act as a safety valve for accumulated passions and rancors; but the causes of the turmoil did not disappear with its temporary halt. For that matter, a few minutes' conversation with business leaders-government officials are further removed from reality-are all it takes to discover just how aware they are of the vulnerability of the social system.
Regional antagonisms based on economic inequality, the revolt of the young based on morality-these are not the only signs of division in Europe today. Europe still bears the scars of the ideological rivalries which at the time of the Prague coup, the Hungarian revolt, or the Berlin blockade led it to the brink of a new war. And the Warsaw Pact has its own internal contradictions just as the Atlantic world has. The Berlin Wall is still there, and all those who have had occasion to go to East Europe have learned that the Iron Curtain is not just a metaphor. To be sure, the Western tourist obtains a visa easily but the converse is much less true. One must see with one's own eyes that no-man's-land, bristling with observation posts, that separates Hungary from Austria, the trenches filled with water at the frontiers of Rumania or Bulgaria, designed to prevent potential fugitives from hanging onto the undersides of cars, or the electrified fence that surrounds Albania, to measure the distance still to be covered before the freedom of movement which is written into all the constitutions becomes a reality.
In most of the people's democracies the state's grip has relaxed considerably and as long as people don't ask too much they are free to live more or less undisturbed; but it remains none the less true that since the invasion of Czechoslovakia everyone has known what the limits of the "liberalization" in progress are. In the West, too, freedom is far from being total: the communist party is outlawed in several countries; Greece, Spain and Portugal are still dictatorships, indifferent to the rights of man that their governments, on joining the United Nations, vowed to respect.
The rough law of the division of the world between American and Soviet spheres of influence remains almost as tenaciously alive with respect to Europe as it was 20 years ago. The barbed wire is perhaps a bit rusty, and it is easier to get through it, at least in one direction, but it is still there. And behind it are stationed, face to face, immense armies, capable, thanks to their nuclear equipment, of volatilizing the planet. As it was in the past, one camp's truth is the other's error. It is the system, totally indefensible in logic or in equity, of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555: cuius regio, eius religio. Every subject must practice the religion of his prince, and woe to him who speaks out in too dissonant a voice. All this because the hazards of war and diplomacy caused the troops from the East and the troops from the West to meet along a certain line, and because the entry of nuclear arms into the picture destroyed all hope of shifting this line.
On the Western side, we have increasingly come to believe that the only way to lessen the practical effects of this division would be to create-openly making the best of it-conditions which will some day perhaps make it possible to overcome it. De Gaulle was in the lead: by going to Moscow, Warsaw and Bucharest, by recognizing the Oder-Neisse Line, by opposing the participation of the Federal Republic of Germany in the multilateral nuclear force, and by coining the slogan "détenteentente-coopération." President Johnson followed with his October 1966 speech on "bridge- building," where he, too, put détente ahead of reunification. West Germany's Willy Brandt drew the proper conclusion from this evolution by going to meet his East German counterpart, Willy Stoph, on the latter's home ground, and later by making the trip to Moscow.
Only time will tell whether this policy, which has already led the U.S.S.R. to set aside the bogey of German revanchism, so often evoked to keep its allies in line, will lead to a relaxation of tensions between the states of the East and West. All that can be said for the moment is that the policies previously followed never led to such an end, and that they would have little chance, if it were decided to follow them again, of leading to it in the future. The support given by the socialist countries most concerned over their independence-Jugoslavia and Rumania-to the proposal for a conference on European security shows, in any case, that they expect to obtain from the détente the consolidation of their freedom of action; at the same time they fear that a return to the cold war would lead Moscow to meddle more and more in their affairs in the name of the alleged necessities of common defense against imperialism.
In concluding the treaty with Bonn, which obliged them to exert strong pressures on Herr Ulbricht to get him to renounce his demand for the recognition in due form of his republic, the Soviets were certainly aware of the risks implied for the cohesion of their bloc by the disappearance of the bugbear of revanchism. They doubtless thought that the priority given by Bonn to its relations with the U.S.S.R. over those it could enter into with the other members of the Warsaw Pact would offset, at least in part, the effects of this shift in emphasis. It pleased them, moreover, to be able to decrease their military presence in Central Europe at a time when they were stepping up their efforts in the Mediterranean, in the Middle East and along the Chinese frontier. The prospect of being able to absorb German credits and technical know-how into their economy likewise attracted them. But it is probable that they also hoped to loosen somewhat the cohesion of Western Europe by detaching from it the Federal Republic. Bonn in turn saw its efforts to free itself from the orthodox and conservative line of the Atlantic alliance speedily rewarded.
Those who are most suspicious of Germany must, in this matter, give credit to Chancellor Brandt, who had hardly signed the treaty when he spoke out in no uncertain terms about the need for European integration and the Atlantic alliance. In the final analysis it depends on the attitude that the Western leaders, notably Messrs. Heath and Pompidou, will now take. Either the Moscow treaty marks, as the Soviets hope, the beginning of an increase in the divisions of Europe; or it is the start of a dynamic policy which would show by Britain's entry into the Common Market that at least one corner of our universe is managing to resolve the tensions responsible for the wars of yesterday, and to eliminate them today.
I do not claim that the birth of a united Europe would immediately cancel out all the divisive factors reviewed in these pages. But the psychological shock it would provoke would help convince the various disputing parties of the vitality of that part of the world where they were born, and of its capacity for finding new and original solutions common to all developed societies.