World News

Scent of subversion in socialist camp

Marci McDonald November 6 1978
World News

Scent of subversion in socialist camp

Marci McDonald November 6 1978

Scent of subversion in socialist camp

France

On the sidewalks of Paris more than 5,000 tons of garbage piled up, putrid and reeking, as first the refuse men then the garbage-truck drivers went on strike. Rats scurried brashly over the mountains accumulating in the posh Place de l’Opéra. But these were not the only hazards on the streets last week. Pedestrians who managed to dodge unsightly avalanches of decay on the trottoirs were almost certain to trip over succeeding waves of marching strikers as France erupted into its worst labor convulsions since the legislative elections last March.

Ports were paralysed and an emergency airlift had to be organized to fly supplies into Corsica as sailors and dock workers dug in on a weeks-long work stoppage. TV programming dwindled to a minimum, the mail service to a trickle. Interns walked out of Paris emergency wards for a day and even the

city’s legendary conciërges, who have tyrannized generations of apartment dwellers from their humble hallway loges, took up placards and marched. “Strikes—an epidemic,” cried the daily LAurore shrilly. “France bogged down,” lamented Le Figaro.

It ought to have been a moment of glorious vindication for the French left, which had warned that the workers would rise in arms if they weren’t victorious in last spring’s voting. But as grumblings mounted around the country against Prime Minister Raymond Barre’s economic policies, which have pushed inflation and unemployment to critical new highs, the left seemed paralysed. On one side, the Communists are retreating into growing isolation, still swamped in acrid internal debate over their March election tactics. On the other, the Socialists are locked in a growing leadership fight in which aging mon-

arch François Mitterrand is fending off embarrassing challenges from a trio of young party turks.

In the bitter disillusionment which swept Socialist ranks after their failed rendezvous with victory, the first and

most obvious threats came from Mitterrand’s own right hand, his 50-year-old teddy-bear-like deputy, Pierre Mauroy, the mayor of Lille—long ago nicknamed “Le Dauphin.” Equally predictable were the stirrings from the party’s farleft wing led by dissident radical JeanPierre Chevenement, 39. But as the bruised Mitterrand closeted himself away in his summer retreat to write his latest book— The Bee and the Architect, a poetic musing over the last three years which also serves as a self-justification of his leadership—the Socialists kept up a public united front.

Now, as Mitterrand has re-emerged to take command in preparation for the 1981 presidential elections, that front has been rudely shattered by an outspoken, 48-year-old, chain-smoking party economist named Michel Rocard, whom the French press have already dubbed “The Eagle” and “le phénomène Rocard.” In a deft and dazzling media blitz over the last month, Rocard has called for a “profound renewal” in the party and referred in veiled but unmistakable and unflattering terms to Mitterrand’s ancient history as a minister in the preDe Gaulle Fourth Republic, as well as his 63 years.

The son of a celebrated Protestant physicist who worked on France’s atomic bomb, Rocard has long been a party maverick—but one with impressive credentials. After graduating from the prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Ad-

ministration, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s alma mater, he joined the finance ministry, just as Giscard had done, at the same time leading a splinter-left group called the Unified Socialist Party. Four years ago, he was won over to the Socialist mainstream, where his espousal of worker control of industry within the free market system

has led former supporters to accuse him of veering toward the left’s right. Rocard has never disguised his distaste for Mitterrand’s historic dalliance with the Communists, which the party leader still insists is the sole route to an election win.

An increasing number of disaffected young Socialists have begun to agree with Rocard, seeing in his quick-fire intellect, platform flair and grassroots popularity not only a champion for their cause, but a new face who could bruise Giscard’s bid to keep the presidency. One poll last month reported that Mitterrand’s support had slipped 15 points to equal Rocard’s, while another rated them as equal contenders for public affection if the presidential balloting was held now.

Despite the blatant jockeying for his throne, Mitterrand himself has remained restrained and aloof—and clearly far from out of contention. Nevertheless, as the veteran tactician, who welded a disarray of squabbling factions into the country’s second most powerful party, prepared to depart for this week’s Socialist International congress in Vancouver, a boost came for Rocard’s cause from an unexpected quarter. In a just-published political fiction by the pseudonymous Philippe de Commines (in real life, former LExpress staffer André Bercoff), a terrorist threat prompts Giscard to appoint Michel Rocard to the prime ministership, where he oversees the transfer of corporate control to the workers. Its title: The Revolution of 1980.

Marci McDonald