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Pierre Frank

Mr. X Versus de Gaulle


The French Left Unveils Their Candidate Mr. X

PARIS, Jan. 15 – Since the arrival of de Gaulle to power, political life in France has been almost non-existent. The few referendums and elections have left the masses largely indifferent, preoccupied as they are with the daily struggle. (The figure for strike days during 1963 was the highest in ten years.) The workers’ parties receive big votes in the elections but mobilize nobody.

However, the so-called opposition of the left; that is, under the circumstances, the clubs of the politicians, top functionaries, etc., feels that a means has been found to revive political life. This is around the election of the President of the Republic.

It is more than 110 years since a President of the Republic was elected by universal suffrage. The experience of the Second Republic with the election of the man who was to become the second Bonaparte (see Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), following a coup d’etat, created among republicans a tradition hostile to the election of the head of the state by means of universal suffrage. The fear was that a man backed by a plebiscite would go beyond the parliament. The republican tradition was even opposed to political leadership by the President. On de Gaulle’s gaining power through the coup d’etat of May 13, 1958, the bonapartist tradition replaced the republican tradition, and the President of the Republic is to be elected through universal suffrage.

Legally, the election must take place by 1965, but de Gaulle can precipitate matters at any time. During a recent tour in the provinces, he let it be understood in his usual equivocal way, that he might seek a new mandate. It is likewise not impossible that he will seek reelection not through an electoral campaign but through a referendum.

Democratic Pond Stirred Up

For all these reasons, the democratic frogs have been stirring for some time in their little clubs, seeking to settle on a candidate for the presidency from here on out in opposition to the candidacy of de Gaulle.

It should be noted that among these frogs are to be found quite a number of neocapitalists who seek a “modern state”; that is, a “strong” bourgeois state, with a vigorous President of the Republic, in which parliament in the final analysis would play a permissive role. In brief, these gentlemen are not too displeased with the present regime. What they want in place of the arbitrary de Gaulle, who is hostile to the elected intermediary bodies, is a personage who acts in a more regular way with the traditional political circles.

Under present conditions, a candidate running in opposition to de Gaulle does not appear to have any chance of coming out ahead. But our frogs are busy with intricate calculations. There will likely be a candidate of the right who could take about five per cent of the votes. If the candidate of the left obtained a little more than forty per cent of the votes, then taking into account the abstentions, de Gaulle would risk being elected by only a minority instead of an absolute majority, and he would be quite capable of rejecting these results. Even if he doesn’t pull out in a huff, our augurs add, de Gaulle is close to 75; he is not immortal; and it is good to run a candidate to get him known and prepare his triumph over a candidate of the right who will not have much weight once de Gaulle is no longer here.

To all these considerations, there must be added the fact that two big workers’ parties exist, the French Communist party (PCF) and the Socialist party (PS), without whose support a candidate cannot hope to win a massive vote.

The astuteness of these strategists is limitless. It is necessary to find in the Socialist party an adequate personality, one who adheres unquestionably to “socialism,” but who, at the same time, is able to maintain his “independence” in relation to the party. To have him nominated as a candidate by his own party would, under present conditions, tend to force the hand of the leadership of the Communist party. This party, not wanting to bear responsibility for splitting the votes of the left, must likewise hesitate at presenting a Communist candidate who would not be able, given the character of the electoral rules, to register under his name all the votes won by the Communist candidates in the legislative elections.

What We Want Is Mr. X

We have not yet come to the end. To have a candidate meeting such qualifications is not sufficient. It is still necessary to find the means of making him acceptable without too much trouble. Looking across the Atlantic, something might be learned, it seems, concerning presidential elections. It is necessary to operate the way advertising campaigns are launched: create the demand, publicize the features of the product in demand, and do this in such a way that the consumers will conclude: the only product I want is the Such and Such brand.

The first part of the operation was launched without a hitch. An opening press campaign raised the disturbing thought: the left runs the greatest risk if it doesn’t have a candidate right now for the presidency of the Republic. Came the second round: we’re not concerned about the name of the candidate; let’s call him “Mr. X” for the time being; but let’s reach agreement on the features he needs!

With the appearance of the very first article, there were plenty of explanations as to what was going on behind the scenes, but that didn’t stop things from proceeding in their course. Those in on the game began to say during the speechmaking windup at some of the truly republican banquets: “For me, ‘X’ can’t be anyone but Deferre.”

On being interviewed, Gaston Deferre, the Mayor of Marseilles, candidly replied, “I don’t know if I was made for that. I’ll have to think it over.”

The timing required a major move, otherwise the campaign could lose momentum and end in something the very opposite of what was wanted. The leadership of the Socialist party was summoned to take a stand. The movement was strong enough among the party chieftains to bring this about and they decided to call a special congress of the Socialist party on February 1 with only one point on the agenda, the candidacy of Deferre.

Mr. X Unfurls His Banner

Some fifteen days before the congress, the Marseilles Mayor, during a congress of his federation, announced his views. The press, radio, television, gave him top billing. All his speech was concerned about was to make clear that he stood on a neocapitalist platform. Socialism is not involved, neither now nor later. Deferre stands for the firm application of the Gaullist constitution, against the poor record of de Gaulle in this respect.

In other words, he stands with both feet planted in the present bonapartist regime. For him, his candidacy is thus not a challenge against the regime but a proposal for trimmings. He does not intend to talk about any “program” which he promises to carry out in one way or another; he will attempt to solve problems as they arise.

Finally, while affirming his loyalty to the Socialist party, he wants to be the candidate of the whole “left.” There is no question of drawing any line to the right. On the other hand, he took a categorical position against any negotiations over his candidacy with the Communist party. The Communist party, he said, must vote for me or assure the election of de Gaulle.

This is the way things stand on the eve of the special congress of the Socialist party. Guy Mollet and the official Socialist party newspaper Le Populaire are silent. It is known that Deferre’s candidacy does not exactly enjoy Mollet’s blessing, but it seems that he will not be able to block it at the congress. The congress may see some shrewd maneuvering to deny Deferre the free field he demands; but how this will turn out cannot be predicted.

An Indignant Cry from the CP

The Communist party reacted strongly to Deferre’s speech, particularly his haughty attitude in their direction and insisted on the necessity of agreement on a program – bourgeois democratic, it should be noted in passing – letting it be known that a Communist candidacy is always possible for the first round of balloting in the absence of an agreement.

We have summarized the circumstances surrounding the preparations of the left, a very respectable left, for the presidential election to be held in the still undetermined future. As of now the maneuvers of narrow circles, of smalltime Machiavellian hopefuls, seem to be succeeding. But the real problem is not touched by these combinations.

The only force that can bring an end to the Gaullist regime is the working class; and, at the present time, its activity – including its interest in a candidate for President of the Republic – hinges first of all in the relations between the Communist and Socialist parties. Minimum agreement between these two parties would give different meaning to a candidacy. The relations between the Communist and Socialist parties are no longer war to the knife as they were for the past fifteen years; they are undergoing a change, although it cannot yet be discerned where the discussion now underway between these two formations will end.

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Last updated: 20 July 2018