J.R. Johnson

The Gravediggers

How French Rulers Sold Out to Hitler

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 40, 2 October 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

The victories of the Allied armies over the. armies of fascism and the, driving out of the Nazi, invader from the occupied countries pose an important question: why did France come under the heel of Nazi domination?

The answer is revealed in the fact, not apparent to all, that France, like every country, was composed of two nations. One was the bourgeoisie, the ruling or capitalist class. An important section of this class not only found it possible to collaborate with Hitlerites, but actively worked to achieve such a union. Arrayed against the collaborationists was the other nation of France, the working class, together with smaller layers of the middle class and farmers. We have evidence, even from sources which would deny this existence of classes, that proves beyond any doubt the guilt of these representatives of the ruling class of France. Is this so? Let us see.

A French journalist has just written a book describing the history of France before, during and after the 1940 catastrophe. The book is called The Grave-Diggers and it lays the blame on Gamelin, Daladier, Weygand, Reynaud and Laval. It is a masterpiece of description and analysis and should certainly be read. There the reader will see, among other things, the behavior of Weygand, the commander-in-chief of the French army in 1934, and Petain, the Minister of War at the same period. Pertinax, the author of The Grave-Diggers, gives chapter and verse for the following: Weygand hated democracy, trade unions, socialism and everything connected with the working class. With him this amounted to a frenzy.

Petain was governed always by the fear of a “social upheaval,” in other words, fear of the revolution of the workers.

In 1934 they were in command and control of the military preparations for the coming war. Weygand, commander-in-chief, told Petain, War Minister: “In case we are defeated you can become the Hindenburg of France.” Hindenburg was the German general who, as President of the German Republic, prepared the way for Hitler.

Weren’t these a noble pair of patriots to be leaders of the “national defense” of France?

But worse is to come. Petain, for years before the catastrophe, went about saying that France needed Laval. And Laval’s program was capitulation of France to Hitler and incorporation of France as junior partner in Hitler’s “new” European “order.” He said so openly, even when he was Prime Minister of France in 1935!

Were all the French political leaders and generals like that? Let us note the significance of the fact that Blum, the socialist Prime Minister, bowed humbly before Petain. Blum also gave the support of himself and his Socialist Party to Reynaud. And after the first defeat of France in early May, Reynaud, with the support of Blum, appointed Weygand as commander-in-chief and Petain as Vice-Premier of the government.

In other words, these “democrats” appointed these notorious pro-fascists as leaders of the nation in its moment of greatest crisis!

Pertinax describes what happened. He shows how Weygand’s generalship was governed by his fear of the French workers and his anxiety to get rid of the alliance with Britain. Pertinax shows also how Weygand bungled the defense and rushed to the cabinet to tell Reynaud that they must make an armistice at once. If they didn’t, said Weygand, the army would disintegrate and there would be Soviets in France. While Weygand spoke, Petain kept nodding his head in agreement.

The French people as a whole were willing to continue the fight but, as usual, the “democratic” leaders capitulated to the fascists, and Laval, Petain and Weygand became masters of France under Hitler’s domination.

For seventy years the French ruling classes had preached to the French workers submission to the ruling class government, of course. Why? Because the French “nation” had to be saved from the German menace. Now, frightened at the growth of the working class movement and the threat of socialism, they had capitulated to Hitler without making any real fight. Henceforth they preached to the French workers a new doctrine – submission to Hitler’s “new order.” Some of them ran away with their fortunes to Algiers but supported Hitler from there. The French masses were bewildered at first but soon settled down to magnificent resistance.

The French government persecuted them without mercy. But when the British and Americans began to show signs of winning the war, then the French rulers, in Algiers in particular, turned away from the Germans and began to support the “democratic” imperialisms. These utterly shameless capitalists from start to finish were concerned not with the nation but with their property. They would support Beelzebub himself if he could guarantee their profits.

Now we ask one question. If the French working class, as a whole, from the start had realized that the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, as a whole, was its main enemy, wouldn’t it have been better off today? The treachery of Petain and Weygand, the rush to support Hitler, the rush back to support Roosevelt, all these treacheries could not have taken place, to the sorrow and confusion of the French masses.

If anyone wants to have a clear example of what is meant by the idea that in an imperialist war the main enemy is at home, he should read The Grave-Diggers.

(Read also a review in The New International for September, where this book is fully reviewed and Pertinax’s own role as grave-digger is exposed.)

Last updated on 16 February 2016