How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
DEFEAT is never so galling as when no battle has been fought. In the critical days of last May, the French left was obliged to retreat without having engaged its adversaries at any point. The fascists were at no time able to rally more than two thousand people in Paris. Observers were surprised at the apparent indifference of the French people. The reason was that events as they unfolded, whether in Algeria or in the higher echelons of power, were beyond their reach. This was a revolution which developed almost mechanically as the various forces involved fenced invisibly until the moment when, with the sole exception of the Communist Party, they came together in support of General de Gaulle.
Despite the intervention of de Gaulle in the rôle of mediator, it cannot be denied that we of the non-Communist left have suffered a defeat in a major strategic battle. That defeat, however, is abstract and incomplete, for the victor does not belong to any camp. It was not a policy that triumphed but a man. And, although this itself is extremely serious from the standpoint of democrats, the man in this case is the only one who can possibly avoid becoming the prisoner of the now dominant forces. Paradoxically, the effect of this anti-democratic coup has been to give French politics a freedom which had been lost, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this freedom, however limited, will benefit the cause of democracy. At this juncture much must be left to the "ruses of history."
As I write, the situation itself is characterized by ambiguity at all levels: in Algeria, in the body of opinion rallied round de Gaulle and in the purposes of the General himself. The battle will again be joined but it is not yet clear what positions the various camps will take and what forces they will be able to enlist.
To give a clear picture of the way in which we succumbed to paralysis, I shall recall certain basic facts, the first of which is this: the French left was not the victim of militarists and fascists; it had already committed suicide.
The demise of the French left occurred not on May 30, 1958, but on February 6, 1956. On that date Premier Guy Mollet, who as head of a leftist-oriented government had gone to North Africa to seek a liberal solution of the Algerian problem, capitulated to pressure in the form of a riot organized by the colonialists. From that moment on the colonialists knew that they could control French politics; from that moment on the Mollet government and its successors were at the mercy of the ceaseless campaign of blackmail waged by the right. Their hands tied by the logic of the war in Algeria, these governments naturally preferred to give the impression that they were in command of a movement which in fact they could no longer control. Guy Mollet, Bourgès-Maunoury, Robert Lacoste all played on the latent chauvinism of the French; they insulted and mocked the liberal intellectuals; they attacked the independent press.
They did worse: not daring to shoulder their own responsibilities, they entrusted administrative and police powers to the army in Algeria. Parliament voted full powers to Robert Lacoste, Minister for Algeria, and he in turn instructed General Massu of the paratroopers to restore order in Algiers by whatever means he saw fit, including torture--without, however, giving him a written order. Thus the army found itself engaged in politics and police action without any guarantee that it might not suddenly be disavowed by a new government, a turn of events which would have constituted a further setback for it and a further humiliation. It took advantage of the month-long absence of normal authority resulting from the cabinet crisis last May to try to obtain that guarantee. In its own eyes its course was entirely understandable.
We were in an impossible position, then, when the Europeans and the army in Algeria refused to obey the government in Paris. The men whom we were calling on to defend democracy against the insurgents were precisely those who had capitulated to the colonialists, exalted the army and given it full powers. The revolt was the consequence of their policy, and now they were proposing that we should fight the rebels by strengthening that policy. Finally, when the distracted leftist parties sought a new head of government, the name proposed was none other than that of Robert Lacoste!
Nevertheless, we decided to support the legal government of Pflimlin, even though we knew that its resistance to the insurrection was not sincere and was bound to be ineffective. Intellectuals, trade-union leaders, left-wing Socialist leaders, followers of Mendès-France and liberal Catholics, all of us wanted to remain loyal to the end. Our behavior was worthy of Kant and, although I think that we were right, it counted for little from the political standpoint. To wage political warfare, conviction is needed; everyone must know whom he is against and why. Yet the men we were supporting were the same ones we had been denouncing for years. How were we to fight alongside men who had already capitulated, men who had authorized the use of torture and demoralized French public opinion? Our hearts were not in it. I am re-reading now the notes which I jotted down on the night of the great republican demonstration--the only gesture made by the left--which on May 28 brought almost 300,000 people together behind the Socialist and Communist parliamentary leaders. I quote from them to convey some idea of the feelings shared by many of us on that occasion:
"March this afternoon from the Place de la Nation to the Place de la Republique. I shall go. The demonstration will have no effect politically now that Pflimlin has resigned. Yet we must go forth, we must cry out . . . . We cannot simply collapse like this. . . . Without any illusions, I shall march behind the leaders of the party of Budapest and the leaders of the party of Suez and Algiers . . . . They will have brought me out, along with thousands of others, to participate in this dismal parody."
Intellectuals can distinguish between principles and political reality. That process is far more difficult for the masses, who are swayed by simple ideas and the prestige of individual leaders. But anti-parliamentarianism had engulfed all shades of French political opinion in a common attitude of disgust. I heard a worker say, "The Communists are fine; I vote for them, but it's too bad they have to play politics." Democracy had become faceless and meaningless. In our era of mass media even more than in the past the people need faces, symbols, with which to identify themselves; in the multiplicity of parties, the endless merry-go-round of governments, the French people could no longer discern the image of a community or the manifestation of their permanence as a nation.
Hence it was not surprising that the régime should have collapsed like a house of cards. The legally constituted authority around which the left urged the nation to rally was slipping from under our feet. The police, a large part of the administration and a majority of the citizenry could no longer be counted on to defend the régime against military insurrection. Those who did not hate it despised it. Except for minority elements among the Socialist parties, the only ones who were resolutely determined to fight for the republican régime were a group who in reality also wanted to bring it to an end, namely, the Communists. A popular mobilization would have enabled them to manœuvre to their own advantage and would soon have brought them into the government. Faced with the alternative of a military dictatorship or a popular front that would probably be dominated by the Communists, public opinion hesitated and buried its head in the sand, not wanting to make a choice. Thus, when de Gaulle offered to mediate, it saw in him a miraculous opportunity to escape its dilemma.
The liberal left was incapable of offering another solution. Without the Communists it was powerless. With them it inspired fear and was itself afraid. Torn between the Socialist leaders who had condoned the use of torture in Algeria and the Communist leaders who had condoned oppression in Hungary, the genuine left was divided and demoralized. It no longer had the self-confidence which it would have needed to summon democratic Frenchmen to what might well have been a struggle to the death. As soon as the risk of death becomes apparent people reveal their strength or their secret contradictions.
At bottom the French are glad that, thanks to de Gaulle, they have escaped civil war. People do not want to fight if they can help it, particularly when their standard of living is rising. In this case even the most convinced democrats do not regret that they were spared being put to the test, not only because defeat would have been inevitable in view of the almost total unanimity of the army, but also because principles and the men defending them had not been clearly defined on either side. In the circumstances the solution was a peculiarly satisfactory one, for it seized upon the prevailing confusion and lifted it to a higher plane, to that summit of mystical patriotism where the French are in their element. General de Gaulle was summoned by the cries of the Algerian insurgents and accepted by the army; yet he took into his government the parliamentary leaders of the defunct "system," political figures of the right and the left. In his person he constituted a link between the divided elements of the nation--the civilian authorities and the army, metropolitan France and Algeria.
Yet de Gaulle represents more than the amalgam required to restore the unity of the state. On a deeper level he emerges as one of those réconciliateurs to whom divided France entrusts herself after times of stress--Henry IV, Napoleon I and Napoleon III. Outside of France people are inclined to think of de Gaulle as a military man, more gifted than his colleagues, to be sure, but exemplifying the outlook of his caste. In reality he is a writer, a poet, far more than he is a soldier. He thinks of himself as synthesizing the history of France, and the majority of Frenchmen in turn look upon him as the living symbol of their nation, the proof that their divisions, however deep, can be surmounted as long as one man is capable of embodying their most contradictory traditions --a conviction which both flatters and reassures them. The monarchic order and the republican dream, Catholic discipline and social progress, feudal chivalry and popular revolt--once before, during the Resistance, General de Gaulle brought together in his person all these diverse elements which make France what it is, and today he is seeking again to impose the same synthesis on a nation disillusioned by party strife and the impotence of the régime.
With de Gaulle at the helm the French feel that they have been removed from the sphere of politics, or perhaps we should say lifted above it to the mystical sphere of volksgeist where the genius of a people united makes its mark on history. De Gaulle cannot be claimed by either the right or the left and this is what the French want, for as far as they are concerned abstract disputes have long since blunted the exact meaning of those terms. Everyone can, if he chooses, attribute to him his own hopes and convictions.
For that reason any effort to analyze de Gaullism in the usual political-sociological terms would be inadequate. De Gaulle does not really represent either a class or a social caste. His own psychology is a crucial factor but even more important is the specifically French tradition which he symbolizes, and that tradition rests largely on classic humanism, something fundamentally alien to what we know as fascism.
It is true that de Gaulle was brought to power by the Algerian insurrection, but that progression of events was not the result of a clearly defined will; rather it was the absence of doctrine in the insurrection which made it possible for certain de Gaullists to get the name of their leader acclaimed in Algeria. Naturally the Committee of Public Safety and the "colonels' group" restrict de Gaulle's freedom of action; but though he is obliged to put up with them he is not their prisoner, for he can count on another force: the de Gaullists of the Resistance, the pure de Gaullists whose memory of the ordeal they shared has kept their devotion to him alive. Just as Tito's ability to resist Soviet attacks has been thanks to the unswerving devotion of his former comrades-in-arms, so General de Gaulle's compagnons constitute a human armor which gives him a certain manœuvrability and independence. This sort of fidelity is more akin to the feudal virtues than it is to democratic loyalty. Yet in moments of crisis when the fragile life of democracy hangs in the balance, such emotions, if they are not distorted by unworthy leaders, can be the means of restoring lawful authority.
What de Gaulle seeks is to carry out a policy of state rather than of party. For him governing does not mean applying a program or conforming to the decision of the majority, but rather making use of whatever best serves his idea of France's interests and France's "mission." Once the parties had shown that they could not muster the will to govern, it became inevitable that this form of authoritarian power should prevail. Paradoxically, the anarchistic state of French politics gives France the opportunity to take positive action, for, given the international situation and France's relative weakness, she can no longer afford the luxury of following any policy that she pleases. The fact is that we had reached such a state of confusion that the demands of reality, the plainest lessons of events, were ignored. Today the French parties, having sunk into hopeless unreality, do not know what position to take vis-à-vis General de Gaulle's policy and will be incapable of offering any alternative policy for some time to come.
This lofty view of the great forces of history and the total absence of an inferiority complex--particularly in regard to Communism--will undoubtedly give French politics a new dynamism. On two points at least de Gaulle can give some satisfaction to the left: by enabling France to enjoy greater freedom in relation to American leadership and by accelerating the emancipation of the Negro peoples of Africa under French colonial rule. On the first point there is a certain ambiguity in as much as recriminations against the United States have become particularly violent among rightists and military men, who ever since the invasion of Suez have been accusing the United States of "sacrificing France to Arab nationalism." The new government's policy towards the Arab nations will thus be an important test. It will show whether de Gaulle intends to use French independence for the purposes of reactionary anti-Americanism or to improve relations between the West and the underdeveloped countries.
As far as French Africa is concerned, General de Gaulle's intentions are clear and have found concrete expression in the decision to entrust to Africans the leadership of the territorial governments. De Gaulle has considerable support among Negro leaders in Africa and this strengthens his position among the French leftists.
Nevertheless, the most urgent French political problem lies elsewhere: the war in Algeria. If de Gaulle does not succeed in bringing it to an end within six months, his grand design for the revitalization of France will be compromised.
Like all who had occasion to meet de Gaulle before he came to power, I am convinced that he understands the scope and significance of the Algerian revolt and that he hopes to find a solution for Algeria in which Moslem aspirations and French interests will be reconciled. Indeed, he pictures France, reinvigorated by him, as a nation so generous that there need be no contradiction between the one and the other. France is in his eyes a super-nation capable of embracing a community of free peoples. The question is, will he have the opportunity to apply his concepts? While he has a comparatively free hand within France itself, in Algeria he must reckon with established forces confident of their own strength. His real challenge lies there.
The Algerian insurrection might be compared to a three-stage rocket: launched by the colonialists, it was taken in hand by the military who guided it in the direction of Franco-Moslem "fraternization" and the "integration" of Algeria into France; finally, a handful of de Gaullists came to Algiers expressly to swing the movement behind their leader.
For de Gaulle the immediate problem was to assert his authority over the army and separate it from the colonialists. On the whole he has succeeded. But he has had to pay a heavy price for its allegiance: in order to persuade it to take his orders, he has had to embrace the position of the army and commit himself to the integration of Algeria. In the first stage this concession is not dangerous, since the initial steps which integration entails (equality of political rights, social benefit, modernization of agriculture) are positive steps from any standpoint. They will make life a little easier for the Moslems, give them certain legal guarantees and enable them to express their will through the ballot.
But this ambiguous situation cannot long continue. The army is calling for equality as a means of assimilating ten million Moslems into the population of France; unlike the colonialists, for whom the cry of equal rights is only a publicity ruse, the officers of the army wish sincerely to see France assimilate the Algerian people. That is the reason, the justification, for their struggle. Yet assimilation is impossible for two reasons. First, it faces insurmountable material obstacles. The difference in standards of living calls for a drastic change in the economic and social structure of Algeria--in particular, redistribution of land and other measures to which the colonialists are rabidly opposed. Second, assimilation faces insurmountable human obstacles. The armed resistance of the National Liberation Front can be reduced but not eliminated. Most important of all, an underdeveloped people cannot be converted into a modern people without the participation of the masses as well as the élite. If it is to succeed, integration must have the coöperation of the Moslems. Yet it is unlikely that the Moslems will wish to be amalgamated into a state whose traditions and mores are alien to them. They will therefore have to be made to accept integration by force. "Quadrillage," the system of disseminating propaganda developed by officers who believe they learned much about psychological warfare in the camps of Viet Minh, is designed to obtain a forced conversion which will be reflected in 99 percent affirmative votes, totalitarian fashion.
But a fascist orientation in Algeria cannot long coexist with the practice of democracy in France. Fascism has its own law: it creates temporarily a lyrical illusion, a mystic coalescence, but when it finds itself face to face with real obstacles it attributes its setbacks to enemies against whom it then unleashes the fury of the fanaticized masses. Hence I am convinced that Algerian fascism, when it finds itself pitted against the force of things as they are and the resistance of human beings, will turn on the metropolitan country and seek to crush the liberal forces remaining there. Integration can succeed only if it rests on the free allegiance of the Moslems. As that is out of the question at present, integration of the Moslems by force will be followed by integration of the democratic ranks in France into a totalitarian system of power.
The war in Algeria will last as long as Frenchmen refuse to satisfy the aspirations of the Algerian people; and as long as the war lasts the Algerian situation will continue to breed fascism. "We are Communists without doctrine," one of the colonels in command of the movement has said. Communists without a doctrine are worse than Communists with one. Of course the army is far from being entirely contaminated, but fascism will inevitably spread in the army as long as the war continues.[i] We are in a race against time. If de Gaulle succeeds in terminating the war quickly he will be able to impose on the army not only allegiance of the feudal type but also obedience to his authority in the democratic sense; if not, he will be obliged either to follow the army's lead or to break with it in his turn.
Thus it may be seen that General de Gaulle's freedom is narrowly restricted by the forces which asserted themselves during the May crisis. The Europeans in Algeria have demonstrated their intention of holding on to that land, whatever the cost; the army has shown that it does not intend to suffer another defeat and that it wants to make the Moslems French. As for the National Liberation Front, although it is impressed by the course of events, it has not changed its position. The decisions that General de Gaulle must take in order to bring about a solution can therefore be expected to give rise to serious conflict. That is why he takes refuge behind vague statements and seeks to gain time in which to restore the authority of the state.
Yet no matter what General de Gaulle's intentions and methods may be, what sympathies or fears he inspires, democrats obviously cannot rely on a single individual--and that is the basis of the present political régime. Were he the greatest leader in the world, the situation would still be precarious and in the long run intolerable in a democracy. The attempt to put the guidance of France's policies into the hands of one man, to make them subject to his personal intuition, can be only a temporary expedient. The time is coming when political choices will have to be made, first of all in Algeria. When that happens, the political forces will again come into their own. Personally I think that de Gaulle will have to join battle with Algerian fascism and that the left will rally behind him if he does. Some of my liberal friends, on the other hand, think that de Gaulle has committed himself too deeply to the army to be able to impose his policies upon it. Yet whether the army supports de Gaulle or opposes him, a democratic force on the left, cohesive and powerful, must be brought into being as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately the French left finds itself in a state of extreme weakness as it faces the present test. The relative victory which it won in the elections of January 1956 has been turned into a rout by its conduct in office. Dragged by Guy Mollet into supporting colonialist positions in Algeria, the left has fallen apart; a Socialist and a Radical minority have kept faith with their principles, but the majorities have brought discredit upon themselves by repudiating their pledges and taking part in the succession of governments which led to the crisis of May.
The confusion attendant upon General de Gaulle's accession to power prevents the left from repairing the breaches in its ranks. It is true that the majority of Socialist deputies voted against de Gaulle, but that vote was in most cases only an expedient whereby they hoped to clothe themselves once again in democratic virtue; the public gave them no credit for their belated and meaningless gesture. The anti-parliamentarianism so characteristic of the French state of mind is always ready to turn on the former majority once it demonstrates its weakness. Meanwhile the situation is not yet sufficiently clear, as I noted above, to permit the left to decide upon the objectives around which it is to rally. On the one hand, de Gaulle is seeking to appropriate part of its program; on the other, the Frenchman's relative satisfaction with social conditions as they are today--while it limits the spread of fascism--also curbs for the time being the aggressiveness of the trade unions.
The slogan "Defend the Republic!" which could have brought the workers out against the paratroopers did not mobilize them against de Gaulle because they were not persuaded that he was really a threat to them. In so far as the public takes an interest in politics, it is thoroughly weary of the late régime and wants a new administration, a modern, strong and stable government. This feeling, from which de Gaullism is now benefiting, should be made use of by the left as well if it does not want to see itself swept away. Unfortunately, the left is the prisoner of political machines which lack both vitality and imagination. The only man who could have reinvigorated it, Pierre Mendès-France, has himself been used by the Radical machine and discredited by a campaign of calumny. The only young and dynamic party, the "Left Socialist Union," is still in its infancy. Founded six months ago, it has only ten thousand members and does not include a single member of parliament.
This weakness is the more tragic in that it prevents the liberal left from taking action jointly with a Communist Party which is far stronger than it is. The fundamental paradox of the French situation is that democracy cannot be defended against fascism without the help of the Communists. The cause of democracy can benefit from the weakening of French Communism only if the liberal left strengthens and renews itself. The crisis in the Communist Party, occurring at a time when the liberal left has suffered discredit within the government, has served only to embolden the right. It was at the time of the revolt in Budapest that the extreme right, seeing the French Communist Party demoralized and isolated, resolved to overthrow the régime. Unfortunately their guess was correct and the Communist Party proved itself incapable of resisting. The strikes which it ordered were failures and only a few of its members battled the police with any enthusiasm.
The French Communist Party was the only one to adopt an attitude of unrelenting opposition to de Gaulle. It based its opposition on "the defense of republican institutions," but that legalistic argument did not seem very convincing when Imre Nagy was executed. It was hard to take seriously the Communist Party's indignation at the dismissal of parliament, knowing that the Supreme Soviet is in recess practically all the time. Stalinism continues to predominate in the inner councils of the French Communist Party, and as a result the Communists too are imprisoned within their own attitude of abstraction and negativism. Only social unrest could give meaning and vigor to their protests.
The dogmatic rigidity of the French Communist Party expresses itself in a "united front" policy[ii] aimed at bringing together all the opponents of the new government in "Committees of Anti-Fascist Vigilance," a name which significantly has just been changed to "Committees for the Defense of Republican Liberties." The Socialists naturally took fright at this threat of infiltration and ordered their followers to withdraw from the committees, with the result that the committees now consist of Communists, partisans of Mendès-France, Catholic trade unionists and people without party affiliation. It is probable that the Communist Party will try to seize over-all control of these committees, a move which would doubtless quickly curtail their further development.
What de Gaulle would like to do would be to influence the French Communist Party through an agreement with Moscow and thus bring the Communists into his government, as in the days of the Resistance. Moscow would doubtless be willing if de Gaulle would emphasize his policy of independent action for France. But the General's insistence on manufacturing a French bomb in order to be able to enter the "atomic power club" antagonizes the Russians and they will probably maintain an attitude of reserve.
Thus the Communist Party creates an insoluble problem for the French left: without it freedom cannot be defended; with it the defense of freedom is compromised. The bulk of the non-Communists fear Khrushchev more than they do General Massu. Hence the problem is to ascertain whether their fear of Communism will lead French democrats from one concession to another until they rally unconditionally to de Gaulle and resign themselves to a disguised form of fascism.
Dictatorship certainly is repugnant to General de Gaulle. Even when he was almost alone in London he surrounded himself as much as possible with the forms of legality. Since then he has repeated time and again the need of providing France with new institutions of government. Now that he has the chance he has set to work to construct a Constitution. This has not taken final form at the moment of writing, but its main objective is clear--to give the executive more power and more stability. It reduces markedly the authority of parliament and gives considerable new power to the President of the Republic, who is to name the Prime Minister and, on his recommendation, the members of the government (who shall not simultaneously be members of parliament). The President also will name the high civil and military officials. In fact, in times of crisis he will exercise full powers.
Some of these constitutional provisions are acceptable but as a whole they contain important contradictions. To begin with, the Prime Minister is put in an impossible position. Though he is merely the President's adjutant he nevertheless is responsible to parliament, a fact which is bound to lead to serious conflicts between parliament and the President. As André Philip has emphasized, it would be proper for the President to receive such wide powers only in a federal system of government. Yet though the Constitution creates a presidential régime it does not set up real federal institutions. A presidential régime based on the French centralized structure leads naturally to a legal dictatorship.
It is with regard to the overseas territories, however, that the draft of the Constitution is most disappointing to liberal opinion. The hope had been that General de Gaulle would pull France out of the colonial rut by creating a new relationship with the emancipated nations of Africa. But the present plan is to leave the African territories with a choice between integration and a federation that lacks federal institutions. True, the African peoples who are invited to vote in the referendum of September 28 may, by rejecting the Constitution, opt for independence. And during his African tour de Gaulle explained that the possibility of leaving the French community would remain open even after the federation had come into existence. But essentially the choice is still along the lines of the traditional French policy: between voting for independence against France or for a form of federation which can hardly be distinguished from integration.
This ambiguous and badly conceived Constitution does not inspire confidence in anybody and does not seem destined to last. Only professors of law are interested in it. Public opinion senses that the essence of the problem lies elsewhere, that the stability of the future régime does not depend so much on the text of the Constitution as on the outcome of the war in Algeria and on party reform.
In reality it is not a referendum which is being prepared so much as a plebiscite on the issue: de Gaulle or the Communists? The weakness of French leftist forces is such that they have not been able in a three-month period to elaborate a third course which would be truly democratic. It is too late to make a serious battle against the referendum, and it will even be difficult for them to rally their forces in time for the elections in October. Certain elements among the Socialists and the Radicals have, as a matter of fact, set up a Gaullist movement of the left (the "Republican Reform Center"). Yet for the most part the Socialists, paralyzed by the presence of their leader Guy Mollet in the government, shrink from any decision which might split them. We have succeeded in forming with the Socialist, Radical and Catholic leaders a "Union of Democratic Forces," which is seeking to reunite the liberal left in support of a single positive program; but it is very late and the inertia of the party machines blocks any effort at realignment. In a sense, the shock suffered by French democracy was too quickly abated by the appearance of General de Gaulle to shake the liberal left from its old ways.
The real resistance to fascism and militarism is to be found in the trade unions (particularly the unions of the teaching profession), in the higher ranks of the administration, among many of the justices and the clergy, among the intellectuals and the staffs of the universities. They are not ready to bow to tyranny and it will be difficult to lead France in a direction which they oppose.
Once before, 18 years ago, when the French political régime foundered, it was these circles that formed the ranks of the Resistance. Yet it would be dangerous to count on history repeating itself. Assuredly it would be preferable if the French had the courage to use the democratic tools still available to fight the political battles which must be fought if they are to save their liberty.
[i] The army is not fascist. The basis upon which fascism rests is the distress of the Europeans in Algeria. But the "psychological warfare" methods adopted by the army after the fashion of Communist armies have their own logic: brainwashing and the propagation of a single "doctrine." Already schools have been set up where young Moslems, in some cases war orphans, are indoctrinated with a view to their serving as propagandists of integration and forming a corps of political agents in the future.
[ii] See my article on the "united front" tactic and how it differs from the "popular front" in Foreign Affairs, July 1956.