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Wrong Turn On Red

POLITIQUE

By Michael Lerner

ONCE AGAIN, the French Communist Party (PCF) hobbles back to its ghetto. In fear of losing its ideological legitimacy, the party opts for political impotence in reaffirming its bonds with Moscow. The party's official endorsement of the Soviet offensive in Afghanistan precludes all possibilities of a union with the Socialists and formally closes a chapter of French Eurocommunism. Apparently, the party is willing to sacrifice its strength in France and its standing among other Eurocommunists for a strategy that virtually reassures the re-election of Valerie Giscard d'Estaing in 1981.

The timing of PCF Secretary Georges Marchais's visit to Russia--three days after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan--seems more pathetic than reproachable. His January 11th live broadcast from Moscow to Paris obliterates ten years of the French Communist Party's work towards separation from the Kremlin. To the chagrin of most party members, the Secretary General speaks of solidarity with the Soviets, and dismisses French social democracy as imperialistic. Of course, he doesn't mention Kabul. By resurrecting such buried phrases as "proletarian internationalism," Marchais plunges the party back into a long-abandoned orthodox line, thereby killing all hopes of political legitimacy.

IT WAS THIS SAME Georges Marchais who, at the 1976 East Berlin Conference, sided with the Italian Communist Party Secretary Enrico Berlinguer in advocating insubordination to Moscow. It was this same Georges Marchais who, in 1976 at the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party, scratched the term "dictatorship of the proletariat" from the official party charter. And had not the PCF repeatedly denounced the Soviet Union for its disregard for human rights? Indeed, since the middle 60s, the party tempered its revolutionary character to achieve greater political integration. In collaborating with the Socialists, the PCF doubled its traditional 20-per-cent working class vote and captured 49 per cent of the French electorate in the last election.

Until 1978, relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. remained stable. The PCF hovered between the two without fear of provoking an internal ideological crisis. The Afghanistan incident blew the party's narrow runaway to smithereens. Forced to take a stand, the party landed on Moscow's turf.

However, within the context of French politics, the PCF had few alternatives. Unlike both the Italian Communist Party and the Spanish Communist Party, the PCF must vie constantly with the French Socialists for the title of "the opposition party." A complete severance of its ties with Moscow could make the party politically undistinguishable from its bourgeois opponent. Always on the defensive, the party follows a precarious path, extremely sensitive to the international political climate. Whenever the PCF begins to climb the electoral ladder, unexpected external events drop the party to the bottom rung. The party succumbs to a Sisyphian fate each time it bids for power.

In 1945, as a result of the large role it played in the French Resistance, the PCF formed the largest single party in the French parliament, controlling the government for nearly three years. Suspending revolutionary methods of working class agitation, the PCF concentrated its efforts on the legal conquest of a legislative mandate. The Communists dominated the entire public sector by 1947, from garbage collection to atomic energy development. But with the advent of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine the party had either to abdicate its claim as a revolutionary party, or leave the government. Unwilling to gamble, the party went into a 20-year exile. Now, faced with the same political alternatives, the PCF remains consistent. In a milquetoast move that depicts the same ideological insecurity, the party opts for Soviet alignment at the expense of a shot at winning the 1981 elections.

Solidarity with Moscow has cost the PCF solidarity at home. While reaffirming its revolutionary image, the party has created internal cleavages. For the first time in history, the party's policies divide the communist C.G.T., the largest workers union in France. The party's perplexing silence on the exile of scientist Andrei Sakharov has alienated academics and intellectuals. Not since 1956, when Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin threw the PCF and its hard line Stalinism into a blender, has the party experienced such internal dissent. As the party splits, a tight-knit nucleus of traditional militants assumes control, ignoring the petitions of frustrated members.

If anything, the French Communist Party's sudden retreat to Moscow proves its incapacity to adapt to a pluralistic democracy. Too scared to complete in the political forum on its own, the party crawls back to the Kremlin for support. Complete separation from Moscow means political and ideological uncertainty. Why take risks when a defensive millitant position at least ensures survival? Though costly, realignment with the U.S.S.R. provides an escape from a situation where the PCF was forced to clarify its politics.

THE FRENCH COMMUNIST PARTY suffers because it rejects the existing social order while seeking a bigger role in it. Total political integration would force the party to abandon its revolutionary character, thereby risking the loss of working class support; on the other hand, total isolation spells political impotence. Unable to choose, the party survives by oscillating between the two and by dishing out an ideological bouillabaisse that offers everything without clarifying anything. When forced to take a stand, as with the outbreak of the Cold War in 1947, or the recent invasion of Afghanistan, the party falls apart. Too weak to survive on its own, the French Communist Party sacrifices political power for ideological security, and, once more, draws back into its shell.

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