The French Left is at the gates of power. Long impotent in the face of Gaullist or conservative rulers, it has for a good many years now achieved an intellectual, programmatic and, above all, a popular renaissance that upsets the rules of the French and European political game.

This renaissance rests, first of all, on a new Socialist Party whose active membership has doubled over the last five years and whose political and economic program has taken a new form, one emphasizing the theme of self-management (autogestion). The renaissance of the French Left rests, secondly, on a Communist Party which is more and more bound to a French definition of socialism and which is, as a consequence, like other European Communist parties, following a road that diverges from that of Moscow. These two parties have concluded that, based on their positive evolution, a Union of the Left could be formed. The untiring efforts of French Socialist leader François Mitterrand laid the foundations and furthered the consolidation of this union, whose symbol and contract is the Common Program signed by the two parties in 1972.

In the next elections to the National Assembly, the parties of the united Left will be running on a precise program which is known to all, and to which they have been committed for the life of the legislature, that is to say, for five years. French democracy would profit if every political party had such a clear program.

The program of the Left is designed first of all to ensure justice and liberty for the most disadvantaged elements in French society. This is the continuing goal of the struggle of all socialist forces. But there will be no chance of achieving this goal if the present international situation is not taken into account.

II

The world in which the French Left is called upon to fulfill its responsibilities is still characterized by the preponderant presence of the two principal victors of the Second World War. The balance of their political, economic and military forces is the main given in the international system. Any expansionism on the part of one or the other raises the danger of a definitive conflict. However, this basic equilibrium should not conceal the multipolarization of power. Power may be economic, as seen in the encouraging strides made by both young and old nations which have become masters of their own resources; it may be military, as seen in the deadly spread of atomic weapons; it may be economic, political and military, like the birth in China of a people that the twenty-first century awaits to claim as its own after so long an absence. Power may, finally, be that of nothingness, that is, of despair. Isn't the power born of oppression and of poverty, nourishing not bodies but hatred, the most dangerous source of local conflicts, whose spread could be fatal?

In view of these developments, the principles that guide the French Left and will be applied if it comes to power are clear. First of all, France is situated geographically and historically in the Western world; it is within the West that France has established most of its political, economic, cultural and military ties; and it intends to remain there. Then, too, it is France's own wish that dictates this: centuries of exchanges and friendship call for a future that will draw on the best from the past. It is also in France's interest, for no one today is capable of proposing a realistic theory of peace different from that which rests on the military balance. This is why, in affirming its independence, France must continue to belong to its own camp and to defend it against possible future pressure or aggression from the other camp.

This attachment to one of the two existing camps is all the more important in a period marked by an intense Soviet military build-up and by the instability in certain Mediterranean regions, specifically the Middle East or, perhaps tomorrow, Yugoslavia, the originality of whose development is a rich asset shared by East and West. This does not in any way reduce the urgent necessity of exploring all paths to disarmament and to the halt of nuclear proliferation, and - even as stated in the Common Program of the Left - paths to a new international and European system that will one day permit the replacement of the Warsaw Pact and NATO by a new set of international guarantees. The new Democratic Administration in Washington is making appropriate efforts in this direction. For its part, the French Left explicitly desires that partial measures of disarmament be implemented in Europe as a step toward general disarmament: creation of denuclearized zones; a freeze on arms in Central Europe; and controlled and balanced reduction of forces and armaments in Europe as a whole.

National independence, respect for alliances, and participation in a concerted effort at disarmament, all bound together, would thus constitute the first principle of international action of a French Socialist government. The second objective would be the search for new solidarities. For much of the world France continues to be the symbol of liberty, for it was one of the first nations to gain it. But this incomparable capital of sympathy has often been squandered through a lack of ambition or through broken promises. The French historical tradition would be revitalized by the new politics of the Left and would enable a Socialist government to strengthen France's relations with many countries, especially those on the Mediterranean littoral which are experiencing a democratic evolution after having suffered under dictatorship, and those of Northern Europe - closer to France economically - the functioning of whose political institutions and whose social achievements are often of a higher quality than our own. Many different futures can be constructed with these countries.

Further away geographically, many developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America expect a new attitude on France's part toward development and international economic relations. The Lomé Convention, which France actively promoted between the European Community and certain African countries, has already brought about more equitable relations of cooperation and trade. This approach must be continued.

III

And what of Europe? The French socialists were participants in the government when the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) was signed. It was hoped that this organization would lead to the realization of one of the grandest ideas of the twentieth century, the European idea. Alas, things turned out rather differently. The EEC has, above all, allowed multinational corporations to conduct, in all states where they have located, centralized business practices consisting of, for example: blackmail based on employment, pressures and corruption à la Lockheed, brakes put on policies for regional development, monetary speculation, domination of entire economic sectors of a country - such is the balance sheet of the capitalist integration that has occurred, to the detriment of the economic and technological independence of the countries of the EEC. To this must be added the deterioration of the environment and of living and working conditions in regions and economic sectors affected by this savage restructuring.

One can thus understand why, despite a desire for peace and cooperation on the part of Europeans to whom two world wars have made clear the atrocious absurdity of nationalist rivalries, Europe has not yet succeeded in becoming a new idea on its own territory or in generating truly popular sympathy. These restraints and contradictions which have now taken the place of the restraints and contradictions that grew out of the cold war 30 years ago have not sapped the Socialist will to build a Europe. What the French Socialists want to do is to build in France a socialist society that will lead them to pose the problem of a widening of their struggle on a European scale, of the construction of a workers' Europe with a dimension that will be conducive to solving problems common to peoples whose bosses are no longer in Paris or in Bonn, but in New York or Chicago if not in Bermuda or the Bahamas.

Economic relations with our European partners have, by now, led to such interdependencies (35 percent of French imports come from West Germany, while 28 percent of French exports go to Germany) that a French withdrawal into itself could only lead to an economy rife with shortages and restrictions. Autarky plus police control is certainly not the model of socialism we wish for France. Besides, what problems in the structural transformation of our society - industrial policy, regional development, regional balance, transportation, agriculture - can be solved independently of other European nations?

Such interdependence might be considered a handicap. It is true that the domination of German and American capital over several important branches of our economy (energy, the steel industry, chemicals, machine tools) does have the effect of reducing our margin of maneuver for a leftist experiment in France. But one should also note that the effect of the victory of popular forces in France would redound to the benefit of the trade union movement and of all the European socialist parties with which the French Socialist Party has close ties through the framework of the Socialist International, and would permit the neutralization of hostile forces of the European Right and of multinational capital.

The right of veto (requiring unanimity for certain categories of decisions) will help safeguard French attitudes and freedom of action in essential areas if, by any chance, our adversaries should try to use European regulations (on free competition, credit and circulation of goods) to prevent the socialist transformation of our country. And, in any case, such behavior could be neither systematic nor abusive without running counter to their intended goal.

The principal failure of the Europe controlled by big business comes from its having thought it possible to create a European identity simply by lowering political and tariff barriers. But free trade, either in theory or practice, cannot create an identity. There will not be a European identity, a collective sense of belonging to a community, without instruments of common public power: a European citizenship that will go beyond the limited institution of a European passport to more far-reaching arrangements permitting nationals of another European country, after a certain number of years of residency, to take part in elections in the country where they reside or work, and to the creation of a common industrial statute guaranteeing workers not only the same social advantages, but also the same rights in supervising the running of their enterprises. The French Left, whose proposals are among the most advanced in this respect, could set an example in this area. For example, a common civil code, making uniform all national regulations on marriage, adoption, divorce, and the status of minors, or a common policy for the defense of freedom of the press and the right of free association and assembly, could be important elements for consolidating a European sense of identity.

IV

We share with our Communist partners, and with all French people attached to national independence, the refusal to abandon our sovereignty under the false pretext of building Europe. For independence has no meaning unless it is independence of policy. European harmonization has no meaning unless it is a harmonization of specific policies: perhaps in such areas of public services as the distribution of electric power or the railroads, with transfers of authority to agencies or community institutions, experiments could be contemplated. All this requires case by case negotiations, that is, the joint determination of ends and means as well as of guarantees, i.e., organs of control and political supervision.

Here again, the development of an alliance among the progressive forces of Europe, one enjoying the adherence of a large body of opinion of the different member states, will be our most valuable support. For this alliance to be born and to flourish, we need not allow ourselves to be content with the repercussions of an electoral victory of the Left in France, nor seek - like the revolutionaries of 1789 - to export a model or an ideology. Rather, a socialist France, actively participating in all European institutions, would be able to make proposals responding to the common problems of all the workers of Europe.

Our European choice results from the convergence of two factors: our own desire and the constraints which the development of capitalism puts on us. It thus represents a wager, and like all wagers, entails risks. But these risks are the only ones compatible with the construction of socialism in liberty. The policy of turning in on ourselves, of autarky and of mistrust, to which we could be led by a certain neo-Gaullist irredentism, could not be sustained without economic policing - in short, without police tout court. Besides, what kind of Socialism would this be which, having just won a considerable electoral victory in France, immediately sought to wall itself snugly within its borders? European Socialists will not take on a siege mentality.

I am not closing my eyes to the difficulties of the undertaking. Much depends on our partners in the Union of the Left. We share with them the categorical refusal to let the Europe that is in the hands of big business and international capital dictate to the Left what it must do in applying the program on which it will have been elected. We also share the commitment of the Common Program to direct our actions within a European framework and to work for the democratization of European institutions.

The mask of Gaullist speeches on the theme of national independence has been removed, at the very time when the domination of international monopolies over the French economy was allowed to strengthen itself. The phoniness of a Europe of unemployment, inflation and austerity is startling. More than ever, the destinies of Europe and of socialism are linked. Socialism will not endure in France without the assistance and support of the forces of progress in Europe. And socialism is itself indispensable to the construction of Europe.

As for the American people, how strange a destiny is theirs! They are among the most generous and the most inventive in the world, but the defense of their privileges often incites them to grave struggles in the service of sordid regimes where they lose their souls and the essence of their democratic principles. In conversations which I have had with the new Administration during my recent trip to the United States last January, I caught sight of a new attitude on the part of American leaders. The immense wrong caused by brutal diplomatic and military behavior has at last been understood. Are the great benefits that democracy would draw from the extension of liberties and popular power in France also understood?

To achieve their ends, the French Socialists do not want to discourage the freedom to set up new enterprises. On the contrary, just like those who fled an aristocratic Europe to construct a fraternal America, they only oppose privilege. Such is our state of mind which all those who conduct day to day economic relations with France must understand. Foreign enterprises, especially multinational corporations, will have to respect the laws in force, whose purpose will be to organize production in a more just manner. Such a rule is simple; it has no hostile character; it results from the free exercise of national sovereignty; it permits - indeed, it encourages - the development of better international economic relations. For all these reasons, the possible taking of responsibility by the French Left must be seen objectively as an event that will give the people of one of the oldest democracies in the world the means to enlarge their democratic activity and to place political development on the same level as economic development.

Nothing else is involved. Indeed, why would there be anything else? The task is already so vast and so rich in hope, both for free people and for those who aspire to be free.

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  • Michel Rocard is one of the National Secretaries of the French Socialist Party, with responsibility for the economic public sector. He is an Inspecteur des Finances and author of Inflation at the Heart of the Crisis and other works.
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