Only a Beginning...
Nothing is over but the counting and not even that. In the last two Sundays of June, Frenchmen will return to the polls, and François Mitterrand will invite them to confirm their verdict by electing a new, Socialist-dominated National Assembly. In the electoral campaign the new President will have to reveal more clearly his program and his alliances. His government will also measure the resistance of big business, domestic and foreign.
On the historic night of May 10, such thoughts for the future were absent from the minds of the huge crowd flocking spontaneously to the Place de la Bastille. They had come to celebrate the end of conservative rule. It cannot be said that all had waited eagerly for this moment for twenty-three years, since many were barely that old.
It was a night to savor as the men who had treated the state as their private property started to pack while their wealthy backers began to worry about their basic interests. One man, traveling that night from Château-Chlnon to his small house in the heart of Paris, had a special reason for rejoicing. At 64 , François Mitterrand had finally reached his goal. Whatever one thinks of his maneuvers as a politician, he has been consistent on how the Socialists should regain power.
Ever since French settlers and paratroopers from Algeria, destroyed the Fourth Republic and brought Gen. Charles de Gaulle back to power in May 1958, Mitterrand has guided his party on the assumption that the left needs Communist support to win but will accept it only if the Communlsts are the junior partners in the coalition. In 1977, when victory was within his grasp, the Communlsts suddenly turned down the role they had accepted. Defeated a year later and written off by most commentators, Mitterrand bounced back. In the April 26 first-round elections, the Communists paid a price for having shattered the alliance, and their setback ruined Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's campaign by depriving him of the indispensable Red Bogy. On May 10, the left rallied more wholeheartedly behind Mitterrand than the right behind Giscard d'Estaing. A swing of about 2.5 percent was enough to insure a comfortable victory of 15.7 million to 14.6 million votes for the first Socialist President of the Fifth Republic.
Mitterrand will keep his campaign pledges in two stages. When he assumes the Presidency, probably on May 25, he will at once form a government and dissolve the National Assembly. Without a Parliament, his government can only proceed by decree. It can, however, raise the minimum wage, or set up a commission to prepare for the reduction of the workweek to thirty-five hours.
Meanwhile, from their new position of strength, the Socialists will be negotiating with their potential partners--mainly the Communists--trying to reach an agreement providing both for an electoral pact and for some Communlsts participating in the government. The Socialists hope to improve the economy by boosting consumption. Their platform also contains a limited program of nationalization, Including the remainder of the banking system, nine big industrial groups, steel and sections of the nuclear, space and armament industries already financed by the state.
By normal capitalist standards this is quite a lot, but the change cannot be described as revolutionary. Mitterrand was right when he denied the charges of Giscard d'Estaing that his election would mean the conversion of France to so- cialism and "a change of society." He is clearly trying to carry out reforms within the framework of existing society, and the trade unions will give him, at least for some time, the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, any statements about Mitterrand's reformism must be qualified in two ways.
First, because of the world economic crisis, the climate is hardly favorable for reform. With the French economy stagnant, or growing very slowly, drastic measures are required to bring about relatively small improvements. The second qualification applies to all left-wing governments. Whenever they are elected, capital--domestic or foreign--plays it safe for a while, waiting to see whether the newcomer respects the rules of the game. It stops Investing, and sends Its money abroad. Thus, the economic equation is rapidly altered and the left-wing government 1s forced either to surrender or to become more radical than it originally intended. In Paris the Bourse and the foreign exchanges have responded to the Socialist accession In typical fashion, but it is still too early to say whether the capitalist establishment will face François Mitterrand with the usual challenge. Nor can we know what his response will be, if it does.
Let us rather return to the historic night. The festivities were not limited to Paris or to pedestrians. Throughout France, joy-riding drivers were honking their horns rhythmically to the phrase "Ce n'est qu'un debut." "This is only a beginning." It may seem strange that so revolutionary a slogan was revived on an electoral occasion. But the slogan is literally true. Mitterrand's victory IS only a beginning, a turning point. For France alone?