Supercilious Ivy League High Tory
- Aug 29, 2011
FIRING LINE: France and Indochina
Buckley: When in 1965 the various émigré committees signed the Quebec Agreement, it was widely speculated that the inaugural chairman of the Committee for National Salvation would be François Mitterrand. The qualifications of Mr. Mitterrand were widely recognized. He had been appointed Director for National Reconciliation in 1959 by President Chautemps of the Provisional Government of the Third Republic, he had been asked six years earlier to form the Organization for the Preservation of a Free Algeria, back when he served as the principal deputy for the late General Weygand, and during the Revolution he performed several acts of courage in defense of the legitimate state for which he was decorated, before his exile here in the United States. Besides all of that, he is a productive intellectual and a politician, a combination notably alien to the French people [laughs]. He earned his degree in the thirties from the University of Paris, where he participated in several Catholic and conservative organizations and wrote articles on politics and religion for The Echo of Paris. Since his exile, he has devoted his life to the unification of the querulous cliques that once claimed the mantle of legitimate French authority, and we congratulate him on the accomplishment of that feat. Mr. Mitterrand now serves as Chairman of the Committee for National Salvation and continues to write, including his forthcoming “The Long March of Vietnam,” which will be our subject for today.
Mr. Mitterrand, your associate Pierre Boutang of French Action recently wrote in the New Yorker that “the expedition in North Vietnam cannot be understood without recognizing the political pathology at the heart of the mission...it has convinced the French people that the historical processes of imperialism have been overcome without any alteration in the distribution of power. Paris’ instructions still carry the force of diktat. Thus our tragedy is that this authority and its military accoutrement are employed towards morally degenerative ends. It is a war at once for the propagation of Marxism as well as for the continued subjugation of the Vietnamese people.” I would like to ask Mr. Mitterrand if he agrees with this interpretation?
Mitterrand: I believe generally, yes. I do not think, as the passage suggests, that the collaboration can be reduced to a matter of a colonial edict. It would be better to recognize that the North Vietnamese state is itself a construction of the communist government, and so it would be easy to conclude that both the personalities and the ideology of North Vietnam are prefigured to the French position. I have no doubt that in practical terms this affords the Parisian government a great deal of latitude to…
Buckley: Perhaps then you consider this similar to the British government’s policy of moral leadership?
Mitterrand: No, no, I do not think they are the same. The British situation is distinctive in the sense that their political leadership, holding a position of real authority in the colonial world, has preferred to adopt what we might call global abstention. The French position, I would say, is rather the opposite. It has failed in practical terms to direct the empire in a coordinated direction, though it struggles admirably to ignore this reality.
Buckley: I see.
Mitterrand: But I think the important part in that passage is how it concludes. The French expedition is not only a morally degenerate campaign, in that it is a Marxist enterprise, but one of incoherence and hypocrisy. The entire mission of French Indochina has been inverted from one ideological program to another. Before the revolution, it was not without its inconsistencies, but it was still a mission that expounded the Western development of Vietnam in material and moral terms. Now the agenda is rather distorted. It seeks to impose Marxism on Vietnam, even though from a Marxist viewpoint such an imposition is a perversion of its own historical processes. I do not think anyone in France believes that the ideology of political and economic organization which persists in the Metropole is applicable to that of Vietnam, and yet that is the method and structure of authority which exists in Indochina on French insistence.
Buckley: In your mind, would it have been preferable to allow Vietnam to develop organically?
Mitterrand: Absolutely. In fact, I feel much the same way about Algeria. We hear a good deal about the desire for land reform and other such policies among the Vietnamese people, and we know how these concessions attract the peasantry towards communism. There is no reason for this. These policies might have attained the same importance and popular satisfaction through a national transformation as a communist one.
(interrupting) Buckley: And would be happier for it.
Mitterrand (laughing): Yes, quite so. It is as simple as this. There is nothing indispensable anymore about the French presence. Therefore it persists simply to impose its own state ideology, for it [syndicalism] is entirely irrelevant to the arc of Indochina’s development and for its own spiritual independence. It is a vanity project on a grand scale, as only the French could accomplish (both laughing). Still, all the time France rejoices at her anti-imperialist campaigns, ignorant to the fact that her new imperialism is the very ideological pedestal from which she sings liberation to the natives. You have not been so successful in exporting your own democratic expressions to call the Vietnamese enterprise an imperialist one.
Buckley: That may very well be true. But what I would like to interrogate is the origin of this project of national vanity. If, as you say, the French expedition is purely a symbolic one, an extension of Europe’s obsession with the revolutionary, does that not also impute within it a strategic value insofar as the essential quality of the revolutionary state is the relentless exportation of its viewpoint? Does Paris not view the struggle within the context of regional maneuvers against the capitalist world?
Mitterrand: By necessity, Marxist foriegn policy must be channelled through traditional avenues of power and balance. It is the natural consequence of the failure of world revolution. However, I do not think the revolutionary state has designed a regional policy in Southeast Asia from which it is pursuing its tactical ends in Indochina. France cannot confront the United States in any corridor of the globe, the disparities are too extreme. This remains the unspoken confession of the syndicalist alliance down to this day. In Indochina, however, Paris has nestled itself between two giants. Only there can it employ the specter of China, which has, since Korea, blunted the military flexibility of this country, to carry out its design. This cushion has provided the syndicalists with a refuge from the verities of international relations elsewhere, and enabled them to conduct a policy immune from American retaliation. So in this sense French participation is almost entirely improvised. Here perhaps the French and the English communists are most similar.
Buckley: One is almost inclined to respect the Soviets and the Chinese for their thoughtfulness (both laughing). Now, I grant you that the conditions have been optimal for French involvement; not even the presidential princeling would deny that. But you see, here we have outstanding the very motivation for this improvisation, as you call it. If it is as you say, and there is an absence of a coherent policy...the absence of a popular policy...
Mitterrand (interrupting): I did not say that the improvisation is unpopular.
Buckley: Go on.
Mitterrand: In fact, I might argue the contrary.
Buckley: In this country, if it were apparent to the public that the leadership was favoring a peripatetic foriegn policy, as some allege has unfolded in Southeast Asia, you would quickly discover packed pulpits and placards.
Mitterrand: The French are not Americans.
Buckley: We won’t hold it against you (smiling).
Mitterrand: No, but, this is an important point. The essence of the French Empire is as sentimental as material. Before the revolution, there were those who supported and those who opposed colonial control, just as in, say, Portugal today. Those divisions were natural for a traditional imperial state. But today, the French people feel absolved from the orthodox concerns of Empire—they do not need to inflict the same cruelties or exploitations that once girded their order. This is not to say it does not continue regardless, but Marxism has liberated their consciences.
Buckley: By ebullient speeches for “national liberation?”
Mitteracy: Yes, and there is no doubt that this feeling is the sanctuary of imperial paternalism. The French people are not ready to abandon their fatherhood. Who can blame them? We know the stagnation of syndicalism. It has revealed itself as a philosophy that can preach progress while in fact satisfying the reactionary. Everyone knows that Western Europe is much as it was in the 1940s, crushed by state power into economic and intellectual stasis, while, you know, this country has endured every sacrifice since 1941, and yet has been transformed into the first defender of liberty and material progress. The legacy of syndicalism must be recognized as one of perpetual frustration. When you understand this, you will know why the French state clings so dearly onto their adventures.
Buckley: Flattery won't save you.
Mitterrand: It never hurts (laughing).
Buckley: Well, you’ve described this, uh, ennui. I can certainly understand how these foriegn divergences would keep the approbation of the French people. Even so, this is, I’m sure you’ll agree, not the chief impulse behind the policy of the French government. Unless you mean to say something like, “the French government is willfully distracting the French public with its dangerous program in Indochina.” If that were the case...
Mitterrand: No, nothing so obvious, though it might be said that I believe the recent re-election of the Left Front was in large part decided by the popularity of the war. Stil, I am sure that the leadership suffers from the same pathology as the citizenry. Most groups in the Assembly, and, of course, the leadership, are committed to a principle they call ‘normalization.’
Buckley: In Indochina?
Mitterrand: Yes. But of course this normalization is anything but normal. It does not say, we shall leave your country and cooperate on equal terms; instead it imposes a political authority that imitates our own and then insists on permanent amiability and cooperation as the pretext for accomplishing normalization. Nothing would inspire French pride as much as the ratification of various political and economic arrangements with Indochina, even if in practical terms the benefit to France would be exclusively figurative. In my mind, at least such an outcome would reveal the farcical relationship between European communism and the colonies. This would divulge something that the British have striven to avoid, though perhaps they too will be exposed the longer they remain in Malaysia and so forth. .
Buckley: For much of the past century, as you know, the problem of self-rule has haunted the European powers. Such excuses as we now hear from our Southern partisans regarding, say, the American Negro, were quite commonplace in the imperial discourse...and on and on they would go regarding the infantility of subject peoples, their inability govern themselves until they could, if you would pardon the expression, pull themselves by their bootstraps. Now, I do not detect a concern in your remarks for the capacity of the peoples of Asia and Africa to conduct government in a responsible manner. Would that be a reasonable summation?
Mitterrand: It is not that I have no concerns.. I worry that the political cultures of the colonial world are corrosive to the stability of their nation-states. This is not a racial point, mind you. I think the tremendous violence in the Third World, for all its entanglements in the global conflict, is chiefly an expression of local conditions. Here is the thing, however. It would be preferable to allow these, creation struggles, if you please, rather than concede them to the Marxist paternalism that we have discussed at length. That tutelage, whether in Korea or Vietnam, is not only destructive to the development of the nation, but also imbued with a doctrinal violence that is purely abstract in theory—in this case, universal revolution—and purely destructive in practice. It has already led these two states into aggressive war against their neighbors, and why should it ever be otherwise? Take, for example, South Vietnam. It is a nation wracked by ethnic and regional divisions. The state responds to these difficulties by a cruel employment of violence; not an unreasonable reaction for a wartime authority, though not yet justifiable. Still, it was not the provocateur of this war. It does not export its philosophy of government with a bayonet. And one can imagine, in the long fluctuations of national genesis, that it will evolve and transform into something sustainable, perhaps peacefully, perhaps violently. But is there anyone who can say the same of the North Vietnamese? Any such evolution will first be confined by the rigors of Marxist doctrine. They might employ minor alterations to their political system, but it will remain fundamentally oriented to the revolutionary crusade. And it will be further confirmed in this sclerosis by an enduring connection to the syndicalist state in France, which will spare no effort in upholding the special revolutionary connection between master and subject.
Buckley: Ironic. And the solution?
Mitterrand: As for France, and for Vietnam, and Western Europe only the destruction and overthrow of every national-syndicalist party can free them from permanent immobility.