France's ruling Socialists have targeted reducing unemployement as their top priority but this week's earmarking of $1.8 billion in easy credits for hard-pressed small and medium-sized businesses illustrates the difficulty of their task.

The fresh injection of public funds came on top of about $6 billion pumped in since June to little apparent avail.

Instead of making good on election promises to generate new jobs, the Socialists are trying to stem further unemployment. They are discovering that the best they can do is save many businesses from bankruptcy. For the first six months of this year, bankruptcies are up 22 percent compared to the same period in 1980.

Officials from President Francois Mitterrand down increasingly are pleading for more time and talking in terms of years, not months, for turning the economy around.

Upon returning from the Ottawa summit conference this week, Mitterrand again said the main government goal was revitalizing the economy and creating public sector jobs.

With the summit talks admit publicly what it has known in private ever since Mitterrand's election May 10: that the Reagan administration is not going to abandon its high interest policy no matter how much its European allies scream. This puts a further damper on the Europeans, as they must increase their own interest rates or see funds flow out to American banks.

Mitterrand told the weekly Cabinet session that "other legitimate aspirations must wait awhile." That phrase was taken both as a warning of increased inflation and as a warning of increased inflation and as a dash of cold water for ministers jockeying with each other to make good immediately on election rhetoric.

Nor can everything be laid at Washington's door, as Foreign Trade Minister Michel Jobert has been telling France, noting that the very shock of Mitterrand's victory helped increase French interest rates to record levels.

He noted France in June had a $1 billion foreign trade deficit. Add to that inflation at 13.5 percent and a franc that has lost 30 percent of its foreign exchange value since Jan. 1 -- plus rumors of a coming devaluation -- and the Socialists have more than enough reason to doubt the wisdom of classic Keynesian pump priming to nurse the sluggish economy back to health.

Moreover, French Common Market membership has proven so successful that no Paris government could envisage taking steps that were not in concert with its neighbors. One French job out of four depends on exports and exports in turn depend on competitive prices.

In addition, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's post-Ottawa determination to cut back his budget is going to dim hopes here that the Bonn economic locomotive could pull the French train along with it by yearhs end.

With Washington, London and Bonn pledged to fight the war on inflation first, the new French leadership apparently is taking stock of measures already announced.

Within weeks of Mitterrand's victory the government raised the minimum wage by 10 percent, family loan allowances 25 percent and government old age pensions by 20 percent.

This month, under the implicit government threat of passing a law reducing the work week from 40 to 35 hours by 1985, the employers association agreed with trade unions to cut it to 39 next year. But the biggest union, the Communist-dominated General Confederation of Labor, is holding out for 38 hors effective immediately.

Economists point out that the 39-hour week will not generate much new work for a society dogged by large numbers of young people arriving on the job market and small businesses going under in record numbers.

Government determination to push ahead rapidly with nationalization of 11 industrial groups and the biggest remaining private banks has dampened business enthusiasm. Businessmen especially worried about the prospects of governmental monopoly on credit, which the Socialists have defended by saying such a tool would allow them to pursue socially useful as well as profitable programs.

Meanwhile, sales of home applicances, shoes, textiles, cars and television sets are slow.

Both French and foreign economic forecasts for the year suggest a slump or no growth.

Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy has warned the National Assembly that unemployment -- now 1.8 million or 7.5 percent of the work force -- would worsen for the rest of the year.

Although well below Britain's 12 percent, unemployment now affects one young person out of six in a society traditionally more accustomed to double digit inflation than joblessness.

The 210,000 new jobs the Socialists are committed to creating over the next two years are in the civil service, cultural or social services and not in manufacturing.