J.R. Johnson

The French Rats and the Sinking Ship

A Grave-Digger Indicts His Fellows

(September 1944)

Source: New International, Vol. X No. 9, September 1944, pp. 288–293.
The indication of where note 3 is appears in the text is missing. – ERC.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (december 2015).

I – Pertinax Remembers Everything

In The Grave-Diggers of France, Pertinax holds up Gamelin, Daladier, Reynaud, Pétain and Laval as the men who ruined the Third French Republic. The author is André Géraud, who for nearly thirty years wrote for the Echo de Paris, a journal of the Right. In an international situation going to pieces he stood firm for the Anglo-French and, later, the Russian alliance. But this was the foreign policy of the Popular Front, and of liberalism all over Europe. Thus this journalist of the Right became the oracle of the Left. In 1938 the Echo de Paris could stand his outspokenness no longer and he started a weekly journal of his own with the leftist title, L’Europe Nouvelle (New Europe).

Today, an exile in America, he tells all. He writes from the inside with the knowledge of incident and personality possible only to the active contemporary. His thesis is that “The impact of socialism on the Republic unsettled, from one end of the community to the other, the propertied classes, both those long established and those of recent date.” On this he builds his whole intricate structure. He is deeply moved at the collapse and humiliation of his country, but feels that if the political line he advocated had been followed, the catastrophe could never have taken place. Thus strongly based, from a political and moral point of view, this closely-packed book moves with a gathering impetus and cumulative power which is tremendous. And when at the end Pertinax says that what is needed now is a break with the past as clean as was the break of 1789, he appears as the avenging enemy of the old society and the harbinger of a new.

Yet this book is poison, deadly poison. It is no mere historical narrative. It is a political manifesto. “French affairs,” he says, “call for decisions which can hardly be more than a gamble if arrived at in ignorance of out country’s vicissitudes all through the recent years.” While his analysis is clear, his policy is implicit. Neither can be ignored. This is the kind of book that not only relates but makes history. As usual, we shall deal first with the author on his own ground, then later we shall take up his program and the hatred of Marxism which even his disciplined pen cannot totally disguise.

The Military Debacle

Pertinax insists upon an examination of the Battle of France. Rightly so. That was the most striking manifestation of the essential crisis of French bourgeois society. And this being so, the France which is emerging will at every stage bear upon it the stamp and effects of the military débacle.

Heavy as a bomb-load come down his strictures on Gamelin, Pétain and Weygand for what he calls “their futile defensive doctrine.” But Pertinax does not merely flog a dead horse. He seeks to establish that the catastrophic nature of the French collapse was not due to lack of air power and tanks. With the material on hand, poor as it was, different generals could have done differently. The point is not academic.

The French Maginot Line ended at Montmedy. Any newspaper today can supply a map, but for our purposes let the reader draw a line across a piece of paper and at the center of this line another line perpendicular to it. He will thus have a large T upside down. It is rough but it will do. The center of the T is Montmedy. The line to the right is the Maginot Line. To the left of Montmedy, a very few miles away is Sedan. And to the left of Sedan is a looser fortified line, “Little Maginot,” running to the sea. The Germans broke through at Sedan, attacking down the perpendicular line, which was their left wing. A blind man can see even on this rough map [1] that their flank was open to the most devastating counter-offensive from the scores of thousands of men inside the Maginot Line. Pertinax shows that the Germans were aware of this and trembled for the success of their enterprise. But no attack was ever made. Pertinax says bitterly that at no previous time in French military history, except perhaps in 1870, would French commanders have missed such an opportunity. Few could disagree. He shows how stupidly Gamelin misconceived the new application of the Schleiffen Plan but, more important, shows repeatedly that the tactical errors were the consequence of pinning the French strategy down in the steel and concrete of the Maginot Line.

The second stage is when Weygand took over from Gamelin. Weygand, he says, should have drawn all the soldiers out of the Maginot Line, abandoned Paris, and swung his forces into the West. From there he could have fought delaying actions and got off a large portion of his army, à la Dunkerque, to Britain, to fight again, instead of rotting in German prisons.

Again this is not wisdom after the event. Weygand and his chief of staff, General Georges, actually discussed this plan before Weygand began operations. They turned it down. Why they did this, we shall see soon. The military consequences we know. The political consequences Pertinax does not draw. We shall draw them for him. The French bourgeois army was destroyed. Thus de Gaulle has to start almost from the beginning. That is why in his first days in Paris he called on Eisenhower to march American troops through the streets in order to show the triumphant FFI that force existed somewhere.

From the battlefields Pertinax then builds up his case against those who prepared France for battle. French rearmament lay largely on paper. The criminal strategy and tactics on the battlefield were merely the climax of the ever-deepening social crisis and the paralysis it caused. On this paralysis the ignorance, incompetence and stupidity of Pétain, Weygand and Gamelin flourished. Of Gamelin, Pertinax concludes that if he could not get his way in preparing France for war, he should have resigned so as to warn the country; Gamelin therefore was a man of weak character. Here endeth the first lesson and the first grave-digger is buried.

But at this point we Marxists, while accepting this [2], must interrupt. Not so fast, my friend. What were you doing when all this was going on? Granted that you were no military man, you could have seen the social crisis which produced the bad preparations, the false strategy and the military defeat. What did you do about that?

Not only did the Pertinaxes and the de Gaulles see it. They sat and watched while the highest military men in France laid the foundations of fascism and capitulation to Germany. As far back as 1934 Weygand, then Commander-in-Chief, told Pétain, then Minister of War, that in case of defeat Pétain could become the Hindenburg of France. What a pair of leaders! This, if you please, is in Pertinax’s diary under date of November 4, 1934. Weygand, we are told, had a “burning aversion for the Left, the socialists, the Free Masons, democracy, parliamentary institutions, which became a frenzy after his retirement in January 1935.” Pétain, in turn, “was cut to the heart by that fear of a social upheaval which in so many a conservative had silenced every feeling of patriotism.” Obviously these chiefs believed in the Leninist doctrine that the main enemy was at home.

Pertinax now says that these two “are effects far more than they are causes. They served as a blind for counter-revolutionary forces long held in check by the great majority of Frenchmen and ... put in a position of dominance by military defeat.”

See how an uneasy conscience causes him to slip into superficiality. The military defeat did not fall from the sky. These men and their followers caused it. Pertinax’s whole analysis of the military question has no sense unless this is the lesson to be drawn. And as for Laval! Here in rich detail are his fascist plots against the Republic at home and abroad. Pertinax knew it all.

On October 27, 1935, Laval, then Prime Minister, outlined his “anti-capitalist” party.

“The men of the Left,” said Laval, “have never laid a finger on the insurance companies, the trusts, the power monopoly ... The various direct action groups include a number of anti-capitalist elements. From among these a party could be recruited. And that is my party. The platform would be simple; internally a few steps taken against the plutocrats, externally a Franco-German rapprochement.”

This conversation, says Pertinax, was repeated to me a few minutes after it had taken place (page 423). So today a few hours after the destruction of the Republic, he reports this conversation and similar ones to us. We are not very grateful. Pertinax, after all, was no mere commentator. He was, in his own way, extremely active in politics. Take the following incident: M. Simond, editor of the Echo de Paris, complained that, contrary to Pertinax’s information, Weygand denied that he supported the Franco-Russian pact of 1935.

“By way of reply I invited to luncheon M. Simond, Weygand and his wife, M. Titulescu and two other friends. At my request Titulescu put the question to the general: ‘When M. Barthou bluntly informed me that we all must get nearer to Russia ... I asked you whether the innovation was necessary ...you replied ‘It is necessary.’ Is that a fair account of what took place?”

“Weygand ... was on the spot. Reluctantly he mumbled ‘Yes.’ ...”

Titulescu was the Rumanian statesman. Thus Pertinax was part and parcel of the men who ruled and led the corruption which was the Third Republic. If Gamelin was a grave-digger of no character, what about Pertinax himself? He says that de Gaulle in 1934 came to his house to dinner and argued hotly against a representative of the defensive doctrine of the French general staff. This argument Pertinax and his wife found “exceedingly unpleasant to listen to.” We hope it will be equally unpleasant for the French masses to read it at this late hour.

But let us grant that he was no military man and that it took Sedan to expose the military weakness. Pertinax’s direct responsibility is still enormous. The military weakness had social causes. They were known. In 1931, Pétain, the hero of Verdun, was thoroughly exposed for the fraud that he was in a book which was ignored by reviewers and disappeared so quickly from the book shops that its effect was as if it had never appeared. Foch, says Pertinax, had many times told him the truth about Pétain, and Foch died in 1929. Why didn’t Pertinax and all those who knew speak? Of Weygand’s bare-faced lie he says: “If ... I had dared to throw that lie in the teeth of one of our great army leaders, the Echo de Paris would have been shaken to its depths.” Pardon me, my friend. That is not the truth at all. What you mean is that “if you had dared” French bourgeois society would have been shaken. There is no need to accuse Pertinax of any personal dishonesty. The dishonesty was social. He and all his tribe conspired to keep the truth from the great masses of the people. According to their bourgeois logic, the crimes and incompetences of the great military leaders had to he hushed up. To have entered upon a task of fearless exposure would have created “panic.” It would help the enemy. So the exposure, such as it was, remained enclosed within the limits of hypocrisy and dishonesty organic to bourgeois society. [3] Pétain’s World War I reputation was a fake. [4] From 1935 he made propaganda everywhere for the pro-German, pro-fascist Laval. Who exposed him? To jump on the bandwagon now with a dramatic “J’accuse” does not exculpate the accuser. Pertinax is here a symbol. All who happened to have politically or otherwise opposed Laval, Weygand and Pétain, all who refused to accept Vichy, will use this as a passport by which they will seek status in post-Vichy France. The French masses should turn to them a face of steel and the more devastating their indictments, the more unflinching should be the rejection of those who knew so much and said so little.

The Democrats of France

Pertinax is a symbol of the democratic “anti-fascists,” Daladier, Reynaud and Blum. Daladier knew both Weygand and Gamelin well. As Prime Minister he protected them. He appointed Pétain ambassador to Franco Spain. In the face of the German danger, he kept proved friends of Laval in his cabinet (page 114). According to Pertinax, Daladier allowed the conservative groups “unbridled license” to undermine the national unity. Marcel Déat of Vichy fame, who signed a manifesto urging soldiers to desert from the army, went free. Rather than give up his personal power, Daladier preferred to have people in his cabinet whom he himself more than once called “traitors” (page 151). In the end his colleagues threw him out and he went into the Foreign Office and would not do any work – said he wanted to go home to the country.

This was the miserable scoundrel who had more power than any man in France between 1930 and 1940. All of them had their personal and political enmities. But all of them, Radical-Socialists and Social-Democrats, were one clique, consorting with proved fascists, appointing them to the highest and most responsible posts, united with them in the exploitation, suppression and deception of the great masses of the French people. Yet when the French Trotskyists said that they were the main enemy, these bourgeois politicians had the audacity to call them “unpatriotic” and “pro-German” and put them into jail.

Reynaud was no party man. For years he said what he thought and attacked his opponents regardless of consequences. But Reynaud, this great democrat, had a mistress, Madame de Portes. That is not important. What is important is that this woman had the ideas of Pétain and she and her friends saw Reynaud as the one who could at a suitable opportunity introduce into France – none could guess – the “New Order.” Thus the “New Order” was represented in the bedroom of the French Prime Minister, symbolical of the intimate relation between fascism and bourgeois democracy. To quote Pertinax, she had the whole night to undo what Reynaud’s democratic friends had done in the day.

She usually succeeded. Reynaud wished to appoint as Secretary of the War Committee de Gaulle, who had been his military adviser for many years and understood the strength of the German army and the weakness of the French. Madame de Portes blocked the appointment and Daladier too prevented it for his own factional reasons. But this must not blind us to the personal and political tie-up. De Gaulle, Reynaud’s man, was Pétain’s nephew. Blum, the socialist, was supporting Reynaud after having collaborated with and supported Daladier. Blum deferred humbly to Pétain at the War Council, but though he distrusted Gamelin’s military capacity did not dare to dismiss him. Reynaud, however, wanted to dismiss Gamelin. But he could think of no one to appoint for the whole French higher command was a mess. Then came the catastrophe of the break-through on May 10. France started up in alarm. Like Daladier, Gamelin collapsed personally and Reynaud appointed as commander-in-chief – Weygand. Then, to give the masses confidence in his government he appointed as vice-chief of the cabinet – Pétain. The people would take courage from the association of the great days of 1916 and 1918 with the name of Pétain – Pétain, commander-in-chief of the counter-revolution, whose ignorance, incompetence and defeatism had been unexposed by Pertinax and his fellow-journalists. Now we can see why Weygand could not take the bold strategic steps necessary when he succeeded Gamelin. Instead (beginning with defeat in his head and Pétain as a prospective Hindenburg) he displayed the most shocking incompetence and then appeared at Reynaud’s cabinet to call for an armistice. “I do not want France to run into the danger of falling into the anarchy which follows military defeat.” Little local governments would be set up “after the Soviet model.” Reynaud had to be quick because “were disorders to spread throughout the army and the population, he (Weygand) would consider the usefulness of the armistice as being already lost. Then the harm would have been clone” (page 263). Pétain sat nodding his head in agreement. In 1870 the miserable Bazaine surrendered at Metz and then asked the Germans for permission to “save France from herself.” No wonder they fought so badly in 1870 and in 1940.

Reynaud at first refused to agree. Pertinax keeps on insisting that a large majority of the cabinet was in favor of continuing the struggle. He misreads the historical logic of the social movement. The fact is that Reynaud, like the woman in Byron, while protesting that he would ne'er consent, consented. It was proposed to carry the government to North Africa and carry on from there. Reynaud agreed. Instead, this friend of Britain broke the alliance with Britain. Finally he resigned and Pétain took over. Blum and the others were all for resistance to the end. But Blum trusted Reynaud. Reynaud trusted Weygand. Weygand trusted Pétain. Pétain firmly believed that France needed Laval. And Laval thought that France needed Hitler.

On July 12, when Laval formally abolished French bourgeois democracy, Reynaud completed his evolution by asking the Socialists in his cabinet to support Pétain and Laval. At this meeting Blum voted against, but did not dare to defend himself (page 471). Herriot did not even vote against. Of 850 legislators, 569 supported Laval.

As could have been foreseen, the arrests began a few months later. Daladier, Gamelin and Blum were among those arrested and at the Riom Trials they were to make fine and courageous speeches against Pétain, Weygand and Laval, speeches as good in their way as this book by Pertinax. But that does not prevent them from being among the deepest diggers of the grave of France. If Pertinax’s guilt is not as great as theirs it is because his pen was not as mighty a spade as the swords which these others wielded.

Thus is democracy in crisis defended by bourgeois democrats. Let us conclude this section with a warning to the organized labor movement in the United States. Your Wallaces and your Willkies, your “progressives” and “sincere men” and “friends of labor” are bourgeois politicians, tied with a thousand threads to the bourgeois capitalist structure. Whenever they face a serious crisis, somehow or other, through “extraordinary powers” to Congress or Parliament, though the cabinet council, through giving the army power to keep order, through the bedroom, through sheer moral weakness, they either hand over the power to reaction or abandon it altogether. That is why the fierce fury of Pertinax against Vichy does not excite us very much. He and Daladier, Reynaud, Blum and de Gaulle all helped to put Vichy where it was. All the democratic supporters of Bonomi in Italy and of de Gaulle in France are busy at the same game today. This is an old, old story, as old as the republics of Greece and Rome.

Historical Digression

Yet before we leave this extraordinarily powerful denunciation we have to point out the great attraction this book will have for many French people on the whole and French intellectuals in particular. Like Pertinax, the intellectuals have been driven by the cataclysm to recognize that the ruin of France was not accidental. They have rendered splendid service in the underground and they recognize the necessity for drastic change. Apart from the gripping story he tells, Pertinax shows real feeling for French history and repeated flashes of insight and illumination, anti-Marxist though he is. Like all French intellectuals, he is proud of the French intellectual tradition, which he considers the finest European flower of the Graeco-Roman culture. His book is no theoretical mish-mash, as is the pseudo-Marxism of people like Hook and Laski. He himself is a product and uses the style of the best that remains of French classicism. This makes his political tendencies infinitely more mischievous. He is a skillful and subtle propagandist and we propose for a brief moment to challenge him here.

Hard-headed and practical as he is, he uses with telling effect familiar references to Catiline, Varus, Juvenal, driving home his points in terms well suited to his French readers. The climax of his book is the story of Terentius Varro, who had been routed at Cannae, “which Schleiffen considered a model of the victory of extermination” (see how cleverly he sets his case). But when Varro came home “factional strife” subsided. The citizens thanked him for “not having despaired of the Republic.” Pertinax goes on:

“How the antique phrase, stammered out by generations of schoolboys, takes on new life when applied to the French counter-revolutionaries!

“Reverse every detail of this picture and you have Pétain’s story.”

And there he ends his long narrative.

This, for France, steeped in the classical tradition, is wonderful propaganda. De Gaulle obviously did not despair of the Republic; French factions should rally behind him. Bur even in such limited space as we have, Pertinax will not get away with that. There is a much more important Roman parallel which applies not to de Gaulle only but to Pertinax himself, illuminates their past and predicts their future. It is worth relating.

Cicero in 63 B.C. was consul of Rome. He was (we quote only from the staid anti-Marxist Britannica) “leader of the Italian middle class.” He represented their “antipathy alike to socialistic schemes and to aristocratic exclusiveness.” Catiline and Caesar were aiming at dictatorial power and bidding for the support of the masses in true “fascist” fashion. Cicero, like Blum and Daladier, allowed Catiline the utmost license to carry out his plots against the republic. Space, alas, forbids us to quote from one astonishing speech in which he explains to the obviously angry Roman people why he took no stern measures against Catiline. However, Catiline fled from Rome. He was defeated and, despite the protest of Caesar, his friends were executed. Disorder continues and Cicero is exiled. Pompey, the soldier, has military power, but Cicero is recalled to restore the republic. In the face of growing confusion “even strict constitutionalists like Cicero talked of the necessity of investing Pompey with some extraordinary powers for the preservation of order.” Pathetic, isn’t it? Caesar destroys Pompey, establishes the dictatorship but is murdered. Once more the Romans call on Cicero to restore the republic. Cicero’s new policy “was to make use of Octavian, whose name was all-powerful with the veterans, until new legions had been raised which would follow the republican commanders.” Nothing ever teaches these people. Cicero in the end is murdered by Octavian, who finally abolishes the Roman Republic.

History is littered with the bones of the Ciceros and their modern counterparts. We have to add for Pertinax’s benefit that Cicero’s orations against Catiline have justly been famous as masterpieces of denunciation. It seems the denunciators are the best grave-diggers. For Pertinax in this book advocates a dictatorship for General de Gaulle in order to cleanse France of fascism and strengthen republican institutions (page 585). Our modern Cicero once more turns to the military dictator to save the republic. We repeat: these people never learn.

II – Pertinax Learns Nothing

When France was in danger, Pertinax’s crime was, by commission and omission, to have shielded the enemies of the Republic. Today, like a duck in water, he is doing the same thing all over again. Today United States imperialism is the enemy of French liberty. Pertinax finds excuses for the long American flirtation with Vichy and Weygand (pages 535–7). And, crime of crimes, he tries to excuse Roosevelt’s backing of Giraud. Backed by Roosevelt, Giraud set up in Algiers a regime of “white terror.” Pertinax is ready with his excuse: it was due to military necessity. He admits that “de Gaulle ... had practically to force a passage to North Africa through numberless obstacles.” But even after D-Day, he writes, “... the Washington and London governments do not yet see more clearly than in 1942–43.” So Roosevelt does not see clearly! Really, one can scarcely contain one’s contempt. It is like reading PM and The Post. Once more this highly intelligent, well informed man, who is not without character, does not use his influence and reputation to tell the truth in plain, simple language to his countrymen and to the world.

This is the truth: Roosevelt wanted to use American arms to place on the necks of the French people Giraud, a member of the same military gang which had ruined France. In that crime Pertinax shares. The Bourbons had forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Pertinax is worse. He has remembered everything but learned nothing. And why? Because, like those bourgeois whom he condemns in words, he can see workers only as people who work in factories and must do as they are told.

In his Preface, he says that he wrote for a rightist paper for thirty years because he was “temperamentally repelled by abstract political theorizing” (page VI). By “abstract political theorizing” he means, of course, Marxism. So with him it is not property, but temperament. We accept. However, this temperament has been well protected. He does not attack socialism directly but misses no opportunity to dig at anything tinged, however faintly, with the ideas of Marx. Mandel, one of his heroes, is repelled by the men of the Right, but “as for the men of the Left he saw them unfailingly ruin everything they touched.” When Frossard, a Marxist of twenty years before, joined Pétain, in 1942, Pertinax comments: “Still another Marxist converted to social conservatism!” See him then suddenly at the end of the book not only demand vengeance against the men who betrayed France but call for a break with the past as clean as 1789.

The German invasion, ebbing “back to its own boundaries ... will nevertheless leave behind it a state of revolution. It has shaken men’s ideas and their social conditions to the core.” Here is a revolutionary! But experience has taught us to go carefully with these gentlemen. What exactly does he want a de Gaulle dictatorship for? Pertinax himself tells us that Washington distrusted de Gaulle because he talked of “a second revolution.” Revolution today is revolution against the bourgeoisie. “The bourgeoisie,” says Pertinax, “stands condemned,” but only “insofar as it cannot get away from its moral complexion during the last fifty years.” So the bubble is blown. His strong, clear voice breaks down into stammering as soon as he touches the class question. The moral complexion of the bourgeoisie, my friend, is the reflection of the economic position of the bourgeoisie. If they feared socialism for fifty years they will still fear it, and will behave as before. Says Pertinax: “We can vaguely discern a new civilization in the making.” Vaguely.

There is no vagueness about the new society. The first thing is that bourgeois property must be destroyed. That is the conclusion shouting from every page of this book. Pertinax’s ears are deaf to it. What, he discerns only vaguely, the bourgeoisie sees only too clearly. That is why it acts as it does. Pertinax pleads passionately for the punishment of the “gangs responsible for the defeat, the armistice and the policy of collaboration.” Why? Because, unless this is done, “too many Frenchmen, however well meaning, may again be led astray by vested interests.” So there will again be “vested interests”? But it is the “vested interests” whom you yourself said had been so unsettled by socialism that they led the country to disaster. One feels like laughing and turning away. Despite all the big words, there is really nothing to Pertinax. Let us address ourselves to those who may be caught in the trap of his masterly indictment. For, no less than he, we want to see France on her feet again.

“Whither France?”

We, however, are unashamedly “abstract political theorists.” Our abstract political theory taught us that the French bourgeoisie would abandon democracy for fascism and would seek, yesterday the German bourgeoisie, today the American bourgeoisie, to save it from the destruction of its “vested interests” by the French proletariat leading the nation. Abstract political theorizing taught us that French society, after 1934, faced either the fascist dictatorship or the rule of the workers. Abstract political theorizing taught us that the Radical-Socialists and the Social-Democrats would pretend to lead the people, only to betray them. Abstract political theorizing taught us that we must choose our side and work for it, our theory being but a guide to action. This, however, could be done only by breaking with bourgeois society in all its forms and mercilessly exposing to the people all the crimes, plots, evasions and falsifications of bourgeois society. This is our conception of political journalism. Abstract political theorizing taught us that when a “veritable popular revolution broke out on May 25” (page 367), the thing to do was to help these workers to continue their revolution to the conquest of power. Pertinax admits that the “revolution” was justified but blames Blum for not curbing the workers and sending them back to labor sixty hours a week in the war industries. It is a pity that Pertinax wasn’t given the opportunity to try. Blum, Thorez and the Stalinists had work enough to prevent the revolution from succeeding.

Of the workers themselves, our abstract political theory taught us that they have been conditioned by their development under capitalist society to lead humanity to a new stage, to the socialist society. Bourgeois society today crushes them down. But we know the enormous power that lies in them. Not only brute power. All that is precious in France is now contained in them and in those intellectuals who see that France will rise again only as a workers’ France. What in French history is so splendid as the manner in which the French workers mobilized themselves for the national defense once they recognized that their rulers had betrayed and then deserted them? The ardor for liberty, the spontaneity, the sense of form, the historical consciousness, the wit, the mockery, the blend of sophistication and natural grace, all of which have endeared France to lovers of civilization the world over, these have never shone with more dazzling brilliance than in the crudely printed pages of the underground press, stained with the blood of French working men and women. France, “mother of laws and of civilization,” lives and will live forever, but must purge herself of the corrupt and traitorous bourgeoisie. “France has never had a free and uncensored press until we of the underground made one under the German occupation.” Let that inspired cry from a resistance leader ring in the ears of Pertinax and his brother worshippers of the “vested interests” until the workers establish above ground and in the light of day the free and uncensored press of a socialist France.

Pertinax has only contempt for the men of the Left and the Stalinists. We share it. They ruined France and will continue to drag her down. Why? Because today, as in 1936, like Blum, Daladier and Reynaud, they are pledged to the maintenance of bourgeois society. That way lies only further ruin and shame.

But there were others in France who not only theorized abstractly but worked in accordance with their theories. Their credo is embodied in a small volume entitled Whither France, written by Leon Trotsky. On page 18 this abstract theorizer says: “Only fools can think that the capitulation of Daladier or the treason of Herriot in the face of the worst reaction results from fortuitous temporary causes or from the lack of character in these two lamentable leaders.” You see, learned journalist, there is something to be learned from abstract theorizing.

Of the Social-Democracy and the Stalinists turned traitors to the revolution, Trotsky writes: “All the Jouhaux, Blums, Cachins ... are only phantoms.” Phantoms they proved to be in the great crisis of France. Today they are as busy as Pertinax preparing the destruction of what the French masses are so laboriously trying to build up.

What, then, is to be done? We cannot end better than by repeating the advice of Trotsky as the French strikes of 1936 burst from out of the depths of the masses. (Take note of it, Messrs. French intellectuals in particular. You have experienced one reality – fascism. You didn’t like it. You fought against it. Splendid. Now prepare yourselves for the second.) On June 9, Trotsky wrote:

“The revolutionary general staff cannot emerge from combinations at the top. The combat organization would not be identical with the party even if there were a mass revolutionary party in France, for the movement is incomparably broader than the party. The organization also cannot coincide with the trade unions for the unions embrace only an insignificant section of the class and are headed by an arch-reactionary bureaucracy. The new organization must correspond to the nature of the movement itself. It must reflect the struggling masses. It must express their growing will. This is a question of the direct representation of the revolutionary class. Here it is not necessary to invent new forms. Historical precedents exist. The industries and factories will elect their deputies who will meet to elaborate jointly plans of struggle and to provide the leadership. Nor is it necessary to invent the name for such an organization; it is the Soviet of Workers Deputies.” (Whither France, page 154)

And after that what will be the form of the new society that Pertinax sees so vaguely? That struggle for power, gentlemen, is the birth-pang of the new society.

Only a week before, Trotsky had written of these Soviets or Committees of Action:

“The Committees of Action cannot be at present anything but the committees of those strikers who are seizing the enterprises. From one industry to another, from one factory to the next, from one working class district to another, from city to city, the Committees of Action must establish a close bond with each other. They must meet in each city, in each productive group in their regions, in order to end with a Congress of all the Committees of Action in France. This will be the new order which must take the place of the reigning anarchy.” (pages 147–8)

Does anarchy reign? None denies it. Hitler’s New Order has been rejected. A Soviet France – that is the new order for which the country waits. This is the way it will be achieved. That is the only break which will be as clean as 1789. Recent events have shown that the French masses of today are of the same build their fathers were. Soon may they see the Soviet road!


1. On the actual map the German position is worse, for the line of attack sloped from east to west.

2. We said much the same ourselves. See particularly, The New International, July 1940.

3. The story got out however. [Note by MIA: In the printed version there is no indication where this note should come, but from the sense of the discussion, this would seem to be an appropriate place.]

4. The strategic decisions of Verdun were not his. On all critical occasions he was pessimistic to the point of defeatism. Clemenceau and Foch had to speak to him in a way that a commanding officer was never before addressed in public.

Last updated on 17 December 2015