Ted Grant

The Generals Capture France — Workers must resist

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 1 no. 6 (June 1958)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Niklas 2008

The class struggle has reached a new stage in France. Three turbulent weeks have shattered the calm which has prevailed in Western Europe over the last few years. The Parliamentary illusions of official Socialist and “Communist” doctrine have been blown sky high.

For three and a half years French imperialism has waged an implacable war against the Algerian people’s demand for freedom: a colonial war of repression which has drained France of men, money and materials. The French working class is now paying for the treachery of the Socialist leaders and the complete passivity of the Communist leaders in the face of the war in Algeria. In the mountains and the plains in the towns and villages of Algeria, the paratroop regulars of General Massu have been trained and hardened as a force which can be used, not only against the Algerian freedom fighters but against the French working class. The pious Massu condones murder, torture and pillage by day and prays for forgiveness by night. He can do that equally well in France.

It is clear that the conspiracy was hatched over a period of months, and that the arch-conspirator, who has been lifted to power on the Tommy guns of the paratroops, was the commuter from Colombey, Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle. De Gaulle has tried for power before, and failed. Now he has used the Army and the settlers as a means of fastening his grip on France.

The settlers, in league with the Army and the police, seized control in Algeria on the pretext that the Paris Government was not strong enough in waging war against the Algerian people in their struggle for independence. In the face of the high treason of the generals and the police, the so-called “democratic” government in Paris showed its class solidarity with the insurgents rather than take action. Had it been a rising of a colonial people or of the working class, action would have been taken to shoot them down and bring their leaders to trial for high treason.

The Paratroop’s Jackboot

All capitalists act in the same way when faced with a revolt of the masses or of their “own” forces. Thus, before World War One, British capitalism was prepared to call out the troops against the miners in Tonypandy. But when the Liberals suggested Home Rule for Ireland there was a mutiny at the Curragh, and the Army officers refused to take action against the threatened rebellion in Ulster. In the face of this threat the Government, the representative of “Liberal” capitalism, meekly climbed down. Indeed, British workers should remember that it is not only across the Channel that things like this happen — they can happen here, too.

The threat of the paratroop’s boot — in Algiers — was sufficient to dismiss the democratically-elected government in Paris. Before this inglorious end, the leaders of the Socialist and Communist Parties were gathering under legality and the valiant banner of the Pfimlin Government. They were demanding of Pflimlin that he “act” against this plot. He acted — by sending the generals more troops!

The Socialist Party leadership were involved to the hilt in this by their support of the war in Algeria, of the Suez fiasco, and of all the crimes of French imperialism. Their representative in Algiers, Lacoste, from the start was plainly privy to the plot. Not only has he been permitted to carry on, while in Algeria and in league with the paratroops, a policy of torture and murder of Communists and Socialists, but even now he has not been expelled from the Socialist Party. Mollet, too, the leader of the French Socialist Party, played a big part in smoothing the general’s path to power, asking him to be good enough to state whether he intended to rape the Republic or make an honest woman of Marianne.

What is the State?

The leaders of the French C.P. behaved with as great, or an even greater, bureaucratic ineptitude. Having learned nothing from the rise of Mussolini and Hitler and Franco, they appealed to the capitalists’ state to take action against the insurgents. But the state is armed bodies of men, where the heads of the Army, the police and the Civil Service are placed in these positions because of their loyalty to capitalism. In the hour of danger, rather than take action which might lead to the possibility of socialism emerging victorious, they always go over to the side of reaction. Thus Pflimlin, after bowing ceremoniously to the icons of democracy, turns up, without ceremony, in the de Gaulle Cabinet, flanked by the traitors, Mollet and Lejeune.

What the workers’ organisations should have done was to warn the working class of the danger and explain the inexorable logic of history: where the working class has relied on any force other than its own, it has always been betrayed and defeated. The workers can rely only on their own strength, their own organisation, their own policy, their own programme.

Moch, Minister of the Interior in the Pflimlin Government, “threatened” to arm the miners. Had the working class been armed and organised for a struggle to the death if necessary, the generals would have beaten a hasty retreat. Instead of conciliating the generals, an appeal should have been made by the Socialist and Communist leaders to the 350,000 conscripts in Algeria and to the rank and file of the armed forces in France. Councils of Action should have been organised in every factory, in every street, in every city, in every village. That is the only way to defeat an armed coup by reaction.

De Gaulle has come to power in a “cold” way. He has come to power without any mass support, apart from the settlers in Algeria. It will take him time to consolidate his regime. At this stage, the ruling class is not prepared to go over to a direct Fascist dictatorship.

But the problems of French capitalism are piling up: the war in Algeria, economic crisis and the weakened position of France in the capitalist world. Unless the French workers learn the lesson of these events, they will suffer the disastrous fate of their German and Italian comrades. The coming to power of de Gaulle and the establishment of the beginnings of a military-police state is the last ominous warning.

In the time that is left, the French working class must begin to prepare: to arm and to organise defence forces against the attacks of reaction in the stormy period that lies ahead. They must develop a positive socialist programme of workers’ democracy, which can appeal to the overwhelming majority of French people: sailors, soldiers, airmen, peasants, small business and professional people.

British workers, too, must watch events across the Channel carefully. France today — Britain tomorrow.

For years the Labour leaders have made democracy, and the defence of democracy, the whole theme and justification of their Right Wing policy. Especially vociferous in this regard has been the leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell. Yet in the hour of democracy’s peril in France, he has refused to condemn the treachery of Mollet, Lacoste and the other Right Wingers who are supporting or are members of the government of de Gaulle. How will they behave if democracy is in peril in England?