This text has been taken from Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934-35, pp. 21-32, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1974. For further background, see note 14.
Transcribed for the Internet by Jørn Andersen, Dec. 1998
Led by the big bourgeoisie, France is foundering in the disintegration of the capitalist world. In the ruling circles of society, in all the institutions of the regime, scandals are multiplying; the corrupting influence of the rich is spreading.
For the workers, growing unemployment; for the small peasants, ruin; for all the exploited, misery is increasing.
Dying capitalism is bankrupt. And the ruling class has only one plan for trying to get out of this historical bankruptcy: still more misery for the laboring masses! Suppression of all reforms, even the most trifling! Suppression of the democratic regime!
Throughout the entire world, the iron heel of fascism is becoming the last resort of desperate capitalism.
Imperialism, given a deathblow by the Russian Revolution of October 1917, was able to maintain its domination over society because of the defeat of the proletarian parties in the two periods of the postwar epoch: the general betrayal by the Social Democracy and the degeneration of the Communist International following these defeats. The defeat of the German Revolution in 1923, of the Chinese Revolution in 1927 and of the German and Austrian proletariat  in 1933 and 1934 mark the decisive moments when capitalism succeeded in stabilizing itself.
However, these precarious victories, obtained without the former ruling class in Soviet Russia having been able to reestablish itself, only served to sharpen the universal crisis. More violently and anarchistically than ever, the pressure of the monopolies on the world market clashes with national boundaries and the principle of private property.
Benefiting from the reverses of the proletariat in its revolutionary march towards socialism, the world bourgeoisie is using its last resort, fascism, by means of which it is making desperate efforts to clear the organized working class from its road.
Such is the international situation that is pushing the French bourgeoisie towards fascism.
But fascism alone is still not the last word of disintegrating capitalism. When it has fought its internal enemy, each imperialism must expand externally. This is the source of a new world war. Fifty million men perished in the atrocious suffering of the last war and its aftermath. Workers all over the world will be massacred by the hundreds of millions in the next war. France, whose population is stationary, will escape this less than any other country.
The workers must oppose these criminal plans of the bourgeoisie with all their might!
To try to emerge from the chaos in which it has plunged the country, the French bourgeoisie must first resolve the monetary problem. One section wants to do this by inflation, i.e., the issuing of paper money, the depreciation of wages, the raising of the cost of living, the expropriation of the petty bourgeoisie; the other by deflation, i.e., retrenchment on the backs of the workers (lowering of salaries and wages), extension of unemployment, ruin of the small peasant producers and the petty bourgeoisie of the towns.
Either alternative means increased misery for the exploited. To choose between these two capitalist methods would be to choose between two instruments with which the exploiters are preparing to cut the throats of the workers.
Brutal deflation is the first step in the plan of the French capitalists. The workers are being deprived of unemployment relief; social insurance is being menaced; wages are being reduced. Government employees are already being affected; the small peasants are next.
This will not prevent the bourgeoisie from passing to the other method of inflation tomorrow, if it is expedient. Hitlerite Germany is an example. The exploited must vigorously oppose this plan of the bourgeoisie!
To the program of deflation, of the reduction of their means of existence, the workers must counterpose their own program of fundamentally transforming social relations by the complete “deflation” of the privileges and profits of the band of Oustrics and Staviskys who exploit the country!  This is the only road to salvation.
To find a solution favorable to the toiling masses, we must draw up, without delay, the pitiless balance sheet of capitalist bankruptcy, conduct an inventory of the receipts and expenditures of all classes, of all social groups.
For the proletarians, the exploited of all categories, this is not difficult. The workers’ wages are recorded in capitalist account books. As for expenditures, small businessmen register them from week to week. The income and expenditures of the peasants, artisans, small businessmen, petty functionaries are a secret to no one. The rapacious banks estimate precisely by mortgages the rate of increase of ruin of the peasants!
But the capitalists, the great exploiters, jealously guard their secrets. The trusts, the monopolies, the large companies, which dominate the total production of the country by directly possessing nine-tenths of it, never give an accounting of their larceny.
This exploiting mafia covers itself with the sanctity of “business secrets”.
Business secrets are but a device for controlling the life of the poor, disguising all the banking, industrial and commercial affairs of the rich, the Staviskys and the de Wendels, who hide under the cloak of “general welfare” and “national economy”.
Down with business secrets: Those who demand sacrifices must start by presenting their account books. Thus will their crookedness be unveiled!
Bourgeois democracy accorded the laboring masses a semblance of political control over their leaders by the ballot box. As long as this did it no harm, the bourgeoisie permitted such democracy. But it never permitted even a shadow of control over its economic administration, over the basis of its exploitation, which ends in anarchy, bankruptcy and destitution of the masses.
The parasitic shareholder has the right to know how the business that enriches him functions. The worker, the exploited producer, has only to obey and keep his mouth shut; he is merely a part of the machinery.
But the workers want to know all parts of the machine. They alone can judge its functioning. In place of the capitalist rule of management let us set up the implacable control of the laboring people.
Factory committees, peasant committees, committees of small functionaries, of employees could very easily, with the help of honest technicians, engineers, accountants loyal to the working people, do away with the “business secrets” of the exploiters. It is by this method that we must establish public control over banks, industry and commerce.
Under this general appeal, the Communist League fights for the following measures in behalf of the workers:
At the present time, it is the banks that direct and actually control the whole economy of the country. But if the working people seize the banks and through their medium start to manage industry, transportation and commerce, the general standard of living could be raised immediately.
The nationalization of banks, big industry, transportation and insurance companies is the preliminary condition for an economy directed toward the welfare of the great laboring masses, of the whole people.
This nationalization must allow no indemnity for the big capitalists who have enriched themselves by bleeding the proletarians for years and years and who were able to offer only wretchedness and economic anarchy.
The nationalization of the great means of production and exchange absolutely does not mean the crushing of the small peasant, commercial and artisan enterprises. On the contrary, the great privileged monopolies are the ones who strangle the small concerns.
The small concerns must be left free and then the workers, having nationalized the large enterprises, could come to their aid. Planned economy, based on the immense riches accumulated by the banks, trusts, corporations, etc., would permit the establishment of a plan of production and distribution that offers the small producers direct orders from the state, raw materials and credits under entirely favorable conditions. Thus the peasantry would receive agricultural machinery and fertilizer at low prices.
Nationalization by the workers means the destruction of the great private monopolies, support of small enterprises, redistribution of products for the benefit of the great mass of producers.
All foreign trade must pass through the hands of the state. Thus trade would no longer be controlled by private monopolies that regulate imports and exports with no care for the consumers’ interests. Invaluable advantages for the great masses would arise from this intervention between national production and the world market. Thus only the state, ruled by the workers, would really control all foreign commerce for the benefit of the collectivity.
The peasantry constitutes nearly half the French population. The proletarian state must rest on the exploited peasants as well as on the workers of town and country. Our program answers the needs of the great rural masses as well as those of the working class.
We affirm that our final aim, as a higher form of progress, is the collectivization of agriculture as well as of industry. But the proletariat cannot force this aim on the peasantry. It can only facilitate the evolution toward this goal. The proletariat can only make proposals in this direction, which must then be completed, corrected and broadened through the common experience of the two classes equally oppressed by the capitalist exploiters. We must first secure for the peasants a real opportunity to determine their own fate, to decide the use of their forces and their property, to express their preferences in methods of farming, to choose by their own judgment the moment to pass from private to collective economy.
The rural population is far from being homogeneous. The ruling class and its servile professors carefully hide the fact that a small minority has monopolized a great part of landed property and has concentrated in its hands the best means of agricultural production (machines, tractors, cattle, etc.), not to mention sources of credit.
We propose the struggle for immediately putting into effect the following measures:
The great institutions of the state (post office, customs, education, etc.), which exploit several million toilers, function for the benefit of capitalism. The recent scandals have shown the corruption that reigns among the higher functionaries.
The small government employees are exploited by the corrupt and venal officials who utilize their office to permit the possessing class to crush the laborers still more.
We must make a clean sweep. With the collaboration of all the exploited, committees and unions of small government employees will make the necessary changes to establish real social services that function by and for the laboring masses.
The government extorts billions of francs from the poor, from the exploited, from people of all conditions, to develop and arm its police, its gardes mobiles and its army – in a word, not only to develop the civil war but also to prepare the imperialist war. Young workers mobilized by the hundreds of thousands into the armed forces of land and sea are deprived of all rights.
We demand the dismissal of the reactionary and fascist officers and noncommissioned officers, instruments of coup d’état. On the other hand, the workers under arms must retain all political rights and should be represented by soldier committees elected in special assemblies. Thus they will remain closely linked to the great mass of toilers and will unite their forces with the people organized and armed against reaction and fascism.
All the police executors of the capitalist will, of the bourgeois state, and its cliques of corrupt politicians must be disbanded. Execution of police duties by the workers’ militia. Abolition of class courts, election of all judges, extension of the jury for all crimes and misdemeanors; the people will render justice themselves.
The robber Treaty of Versailles is a source of atrocious evils not only for the workers of all Europe but also for those of the “victorious” country, France. Defense of the international relations issuing from this treaty, by which the bourgeoisie annexed Alsace-Lorraine  without even a plebiscite like that it demands for the Saar , today leads to war.
The French bourgeoisie not only oppresses indirectly a whole section of Europe but also lays waste and crushes immense colonies. For all the peoples oppressed by the big French capitalists – by the de Wendels and the Michelins, the banks of Paris and others – for the people of Alsace-Lorraine as well as of Indochina, Morocco and Madagascar, we demand the right of complete self-determination, up to and including separation if they desire it.
The toiling masses of this country have no interest in helping the French banks maintain their domination over other peoples. On the contrary, by winning allies and supporters for their own struggle, the toilers are helping the fight for liberation.
In order to transform society and lift it out of chaos, we must first save it from the war in which the bourgeoisie would plunge it anew.
Against the moves of German fascism, the French capitalists have set up a policy of blocs of states bearing allegiance to the criminal Treaty of Versailles. France uses the League of Nations, the gathering of the rapacious bourgeoisie, to cover its actions with a veil of pacifism while it places the burden of the crushing cost of the armaments race on the laboring people. And the “defensive” lie of “security” allows chauvinistic frenzy to do its work, to hurl the country towards the monstrous massacres of tomorrow.
Proletarians, peasants, tradesmen, artisans and government employees can avoid this future only by establishing all forms of their control, by unmasking secret diplomacy, by opposing with every means the preparations for the war, by wresting the government from the hands of imperialism.
Only the victory of the revolutionary toilers of France can eliminate all possibility of imperialist war and arouse the enslaved peoples of Europe and the colonies. Pacts and treaties would then turn to dust; the only possible solution, which was seen as early as 1919, would then be: The Socialist United States of Europe.
Against the politics of imperialist blocs, against the pacifist lie of the League of Nations, against the secret diplomacy of the war and the madness of armaments! Throughout the aged European continent, divided, militarized, bloodstained, threatened with total destruction by a new war, we raise the only banner of liberation, that of the Workers’ and Peasants’ United States of Europe, the fraternal Federation of Soviet States!
For every proletarian, the first step in this direction is the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union, where the October Revolution of 1917 created the great foundations of the first experience of proletarian dictatorship based on the abolition of private property of the big capitalists.
The struggle against the Soviet Union still remains the fundamental objective of world imperialist reaction.
The toilers of France will fight for the defense of the Soviet Union by unmasking the “pacifist” plans of the bourgeoisie. Pacts and treaties will not effectively defend the Soviet proletariat, but revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie in other countries will.
The union of the Socialist Republics of France and Russia will broaden international proletarian solidarity; compromises with Barthou, Tardieu, Herriot  and their imperialist gangs will not.
Only these broad measures can save the masses from misery and lead them to socialism. From today on, all the toilers must vigorously struggle for their fulfillment.
Moreover, not through individual action, not through activity of one grouping or another, can these measures be fully applied; it can be done only through the state power that is at the helm of the economy, of the politics and the culture of the whole country. In whose hands is the helm? That is the whole question!
The bourgeoisie is starting to carry out its plan of the transformation of state power, to eliminate once and for all the resistance of the workers: decreasing the rights of elected democratic institutions (parliament and the communes), and even complete suppression of these rights, for the proletarian pressure is felt there even though in a perverted way.
The bourgeoisie is trying to concentrate the executive power in the hands of a few men who impose their decisions by means of an administrative, military and police apparatus, which is brutal, uncontrolled, costly.
The bourgeois plan of the “authoritative state”, directed against the exploited, must be ruthlessly attacked by the toiling masses.
Only the laboring masses, taking their future into their own hands, in one powerful revolutionary thrust, can energetically and with iron will create the necessary great power to save society from the capitalist oligarchy that corrupts it and leads it to ruin.
The task is to replace the capitalist state, which functions for the profit of the big exploiters, by the workers’ and peasants’ proletarian state. The task is to establish in this country the rule of the working people. To all we declare that it is not a matter of secondary ‘modification,’ but rather that the domination of the small minority of the bourgeois class must be replaced by the leadership and power of the immense majority of the laboring people.
The alliance of the peasants and the workers is necessary for this. Reaction tries to frighten the peasants with the specter of a proletarian dictatorship that subjugates the peasants to the workers. But in reality the proletarian state cannot be achieved as long as the proletariat is isolated from the peasantry.
The example of the October Revolution, of Soviet Russia, helps us. However, in France we can do better than our Russian brothers and avoid some of their mistakes. France’s economic level is higher, and we intend to act in conformity with the actual conditions of our country. It is on the basis of a clear and precise program and a close understanding between the proletariat and the exploited peasants that the dictatorship of the proletariat can be established.
The peasantry is scattered. This is one of the reasons for its political impotence, in spite of its numbers and its importance in production. The peasants can only gain power by making common cause with the workers against the bourgeoisie.
The alliance of the peasantry and the workers will be achieved only if the working class shows its strength, its decided initiative and its ability to carry out this program. This is why we must, above all, create conditions for unity of action.
The workers’ alliance of parties and trade unions must be organized, uniting all the forces of the laboring people without exception.
A national committee of the workers’ alliance, regional committees, local committees, should be organized. Creation of shop committees elected by the workers.
The impulse given by these workers’ alliance committees, their authority among the masses, will inspire the laboring people of the countryside to organize themselves into peasant committees.
In the struggle against fascism, reaction and war, the proletariat accepts the aid of petty-bourgeois groupings (pacifists, League for the Rights of Man, the Common Front, etc.), but such alliances can be only of secondary importance. Above all, the task is to secure the united action of the working class itself in the factories and the workers’ neighborhoods of industrial centers. The alliance of the important workers’ organizations (Communist Party, Socialist Party, CGT, CGTU , Communist League) will have no revolutionary value unless it is oriented toward the creation of:
To reinforce the struggle of both the workers and peasants, the workers’ committees should establish close collaboration with the peasant committees. Constituted as organs of popular defense against fascism, these workers’ alliance committees and these peasant committees must become, during the course of the struggle, organisms directly elected by the masses, organs of power of the workers and peasants. On this basis the proletarian power will be erected in opposition to the capitalist power, and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Commune will triumph.
We are thus firm partisans of a Workers’ and Peasants’ State, which will take the power from the exploiters. To win the majority of our working-class allies to this program is our primary aim.
Meanwhile, as long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist  and fascist bourgeoisie.
However, we demand from our class brothers who adhere to ‘democratic’ socialism that they be faithful to their ideas, that they draw inspiration from the ideas and methods not of the Third Republic but of the Convention of 1793. 
Down with the Senate, which is elected by limited suffrage and which renders the power of universal suffrage a mere illusion!
Down with the presidency of the republic, which serves as a hidden point of concentration for the forces of militarism and reaction!
A single assembly must combine the legislative and executive powers. Members would be elected for two years, by universal suffrage at eighteen years of age, with no discrimination of sex or nationality. Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker.
This is the only measure that would lead the masses forward instead of pushing them backward. A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power.
If, during the course of the implacable struggle against the enemy, the party of “democratic” socialism (SFIO) , from which we are separated by irreconcilable differences in doctrine and method, were to gain the confidence of the majority, we are and always will be ready to defend an SFIO government against the bourgeoisie.
We want to attain our objective not by armed conflicts between the various groups of toilers but by real workers’ democracy, by propaganda and loyal criticism, by the voluntary regrouping of the great majority of the proletariat under the flag of true communism.
Workers adhering to democratic socialism must further understand that it is not enough to defend democracy; democracy must be regained. The moving of the political center of gravity from parliament towards the cabinet, from the cabinet towards the oligarchy of finance capital, generals, police, is an accomplished fact. Neither the present parliament nor the new elections can change this. We can defend the sorry remains of democracy, and especially we can enlarge the democratic arena for the activity of the masses only by annihilating the armed fascist forces that, on February 6, 1934, started moving the axis of the state and are still doing so.
The bourgeoisie will never willingly consent to measures that can pull society out of chaos. It wants to perpetuate all its privileges, and in order to protect them it is starting to use fascist gangs.
Our slogan is not the disarming of the fascist gangs of finance capital by finance capital’s own police. We refuse to spread the criminal illusion that a capitalist government can actually proceed to the disarming of the capitalist bands. The exploited must defend themselves against the capitalists.
Arming of the proletariat, arming of the poor peasants!
People’s Antifascist Militia!
The exploiters, who are but a tiny minority, will recoil before the unleashing of civil war; the fascist and reactionary bands will lose their audacity only if the workers are armed and lead the masses.
Only if the workers proceed in this way will the greater part of the soldiers and sailors, children of laboring people to whom our propaganda must unceasingly recall their origins and their class duty, be won to the cause of the workers and take the side of the working masses against the reactionary and fascist officers who would use them against their class.
The task is enormous, but it is the only road to salvation! The Communist League shows the way.
Society, which can only exist by your labor, is rotting away because the ruling bourgeoisie will not give up a single one of its odious privileges. To retain them, the bourgeoisie is preparing fascist bands which threaten your existence.
On February 12  you displayed your power and your determination not to submit to this violence. But on that day your leaders betrayed you; they outlined no concrete slogan, no serious perspective of struggle for you. To attain your strength, to defend your right to live, to work no more for the enrichment of a minority of shameless exploiters-prepare your revolution, join the action of the Communist League!
14. A program of Action for France, La Verité, June 1934; Fourth International, October 1942. La Verité (The Truth) was the paper of the Communist League of France, section of ICL. The main ideas in this document, published in the name of the League, came from Trotsky, parts being dictated to secretaries during the hectic weeks when he was trying to find a place to live, and the whole being edited by him. This program was a response to the pre-revolutionary situation that developed after February 6, 1934, when fascist and reactionary groups staged an armed demonstration against the Daladier government at the Chamber of Deputies. The French workers answered on February 12 with a one-day general strike and demonstrations throughout the country. France rapidly became polarized, and the government shifted to the right, Doumergue replacing Daladier as premier and promising to provide a “strong” government. The idea of a united front against fascism, which had been the Communist League’s agitational strong point for some time, now began to gain acceptance in the mass working-class parties and unions. A Program of Action was designed to provide the political content and goals of the promised united front. It can also be read as an early version of the Transitional Program adopted by the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938 (see The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International by Leon Trotsky), although the latter, of course is of international scope and not restricted to a single country.
15. The Austrian proletariat fought heroically in armed struggle against the Dolfuss regime in February 1934, but was defeated.
16. Albert Oustric was a French banker whose speculations wiped out many banks and led to the downfall of the Tardieu cabinet in 1930. Serge Alexandre Stavisky was another financier whose shady operations involved widespread payoffs to police and bourgeois politicians. His mysterious “suicide” in January 1934 was so embarrassing to his friends in the Chautemps government that it fell; this scandal also figured in the right-wing agitation leading to the attempted coup d’état of February 6, 1934.
17. Alsace-Lorraine is a frontier region between France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland,which Germany grabbed in 1871 after defeating France in the Franco-Prussian War. When Germany was defeated in World War I, the area was awarded to France under the Versailles Treaty. On neither occasion were the inhabitants even consulted.
18. The Saar, a western region of Germany, is one of the richest coal basins in Europe. It was a part of France in the eighteenth century and then was divided between Prussia and Bavaria by the 1815 Treaty of Paris. The Versailles Treaty took the Saar from Germany, putting its administration under the League of Nations and its coal mines under the control of France. In March 1935, the overwhelming majority of the population voted in a plebiscite to be reunited with Germany, despite the fact that the Nazis then controlled Germany.
19. Jean Louis Barthou (1862-1934) was minister of foreign affairs in the Doumergue regime. He and King Alexander I of Yugoslavia were assassinated in Marseilles in October 1934 after Barthou, a leading French advocate of “collective security”, had arranged the Soviet Union’s admission into the League of Nations. Andre Tardieu (1876-1945) was the reactionary politician who had the assignment in the Doumergue regime of preparing amendments to the French constitution that would strengthen the state, that is, curtail democratic rights. Edouard Herriot (1872-1957) was the leader of the bourgeois Radical party who was most prominently identified with the policy of seeking alliance with the Socialist Party in the 1920’s – an early form of the People’s Front. Trotsky wrote a pamphlet about him, Edouard Herriot, Politician of the Golden Mean (November 7, 1935).
20. The General Federation of Labor (CGT) was the major union federation in France, dominated by a reformist leadership. A split in 1921 resulted in the formation of a more radical but smaller rival, the Unitary General Federation of Labor (CGTU), which lasted until the two were reunified in 1936.
21. Bonapartism was a central concept in Trotsky’s writings during the 1930’s. A concise explanation of what he meant by bourgeois Bonapartism will be found in the article Bonapartism and Fascism (July 15, 1934). His analysis of Soviet Bonapartism will be found in the article The Worker’s State, Thermidor and Bonapartism (February 1, 1935).
22. The Third Republic of France, extending from the downfall of Louis Napoleon in 1870 to the French defeat by Germany in 1940, was viewed by revolutionaries as the epitome of bourgeois corruption and hypocrisy. It is contrasted here with 1793, when the French bourgeoisie was still revolutionary.
23. SFIO stands for the French section of the Labour (Socialist) International, the formal name of the Socialist Party. The Communist Party’s formal name was the French Section of the Communist International (SFIC), but the initials used here are CP.
24. February 12, 1934, was the day of the general strike protesting the fascist demonstration of February 6.
Last updated on: 4.3.2007