Slogans sometimes succeed in conveying the mood of a period. In Europe the high hopes of the 1960s were followed in the 1970s by the nostalgia of "Remember Revolution" and the desperate nihilism of "No Future." For some years, however, the establishment has been trying to channel this mood into a message of its own, telling us that there is no future other than a capitalist one, and no horizon beyond the American. These diary notes aim to show how this version of history, while greatly assisted by the current dramatic collapse of the Soviet model, still meets with considerable resistance in Europe.
Money is Moral
Quite early in the recent strike that paralyzed production of Peugeot cars for seven weeks, both at the company’s Sochaux headquarters and its Mulhouse subsidiary, Peugeot president Jacques Calvet appeared on French television. He was asked why, with profits rising to $1.3 billion a year, wages were barely keeping up with the rate of inflation. (The strikers had shown that the bulk of the firm’s employees were getting less than $1,000 a month.) The righteous boss replied that there was nothing he could do for "mes ouvriers"–the capitalist version of the feudal possessive did raise some eyebrows-because of the threat of foreign competition. Calvet’s splendid image of himself as the self-sacrificing industrial knight, leading "his" workers into Europe and resisting Japanese and American invaders, was spoiled at once by the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, which printed Calvet’s income tax returns. These revealed not only that his monthly salary was $30,300 but also that in the previous couple of years, while the wages of workers had risen by 7 percent, the salary of the top manager had climbed by 46 percent.
The establishment press first protested that the paper was invading the privacy of the poor rich man but rapidly realized that it had to come up with a better line. The snag, it proceeded to argue, was not that Calvet earned so much; after all, he is far from the top in the French salary league, and he earns peanuts by U.S. managerial standards. The trouble is that whereas the American tycoon is proud of his pay and flaunts it, his French equivalent conceals it as if he were ashamed. Implicit in the argument was regret that the French have not yet accepted what is said here to be the American gospel, namely that a man’s worth is measured by his income; alas, the French still cannot face the fact that a tycoon is worth umpteen workers, teachers or nurses, nor admit that big money is beautiful.
Judging by the hypermarkets on the outskirts of its medium-sized towns, or by the Reaganite flu that infects a good portion of its intelligentsia, France is in the forefront of the race to Americanize Europe. But in other respects it is the chief resister. It was Paris that took the initiative in the European Community’s current vain attempt to prevent the reign of Dallasty on European TV screens through a recommendation that at least 50 percent of the programs shown in each country should be produced in Europe. Of course, since this cultural battle is waged in commercial terms, it is doomed to end in defeat. The U.S. companies, even when owned by Japanese or Australians, have the expertise In producing slick wares, and the profits from a huge domestic market give them the opportunity to dump their programs on Europe. Yet even if European communities joined forces across frontiers, their relative success would not change much. The shows produced by a Berlusconi or a Bertelsmann, the pulp provided by a Maxwell or a Murdoch, would in no way differ from the American original [see Ben H. Bagdikian, "The Lords of the Global Village," June 12]. To overcome the stifling commercialization of culture in advanced capitalism one would have to invent a different society, whereas the message trumpeted with considerable success on both sides of the Atlantic is that capitalism is our ultimate horizon.