Ernest Mandel

De Gaulle’s Trip To Moscow

Source: From World Outlook, 29 July, 1966, Volume 4, No. 24, Paris and New York City
Written: July, 1966
Translated: by World Outlook
Transcrition & Marked-up: by David Walters for the Marxists’ Internet Archive 2009.
Public Domain: Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

[The following article has been translated from the July 9 issue of the Belgian left socialist weekly La Gauche.]

“As to alliances, we would think that they ought to be constructed ‘in three stages’: a Franco-Russian treaty procuring a first degree of security; the Anglo-Soviet pact and an agreement to be concluded between France and Great Britain constituting a second degree; the future pact of the United Nations, in which America would be a capital element, crowning the whole and serving as the ultimate recourse.” It was in these terms that Charles de Gaulle in December 1944, at the time of his first trip to Moscow, defined his concepts concerning European security, according to his Memoirs. (Volume III, p. 83, “Livre de Foche” edition.) Many things indicate that he has not changed his mind twenty-two years later. Wasn’t his second trip to Moscow designed to advance this concept?

Those with a more dour outlook will immediately object. The head of the Fifth Republic had something much more Machiavellian in mind. What he is aiming at is the predominance of France in Europe, or at least Western Europe if he is unable to extend it “from the Atlantic to the Urals.”

Since France doesn’t have the necessary economic weight, it must neutralize the drive of German industry through military superiority and diplomatic ruses. Hence it has two interests in common with the Kremlin—to block the Bundeswehr from getting nuclear arms and to break the American grip on “little Europe.” Thus the trip to Moscow was a power play against Washington and Bonn.

No doubt these analysts are right on the long-range aims of the general. But the nature of things is such that the designs of men—no Tatter how imbued with their own “grandeur”—are not at all sufficient to shape the destiny of the world. This is determined by the relationship among the big social forces. More than once in history, the diplomatic maneuvers of a power that was too weak have ended in serving the ‘big ones” despite the best intentions in the world. Didn’t this happen once again with the trip to Moscow?

Thus in the United States, the most cunning, like the servile tools of the (Johnson administration, carefully refrained from denouncing the general. “De Gaulle in Moscow served the United States despite the United States,” said some. ‘He worked for the whole West,’ others said approvingly. In Bonn, after weeks of glacial chill, the barometer of Franco-German relations again points to “fair weather.”

The truth is that de Gaulle, contrary to the groundless fears of some, did not betray his West German class brothers any more than he did his Polish class brothers at the time of his first trip.

In December 1944, Stalin dangled a “good, firm alliance,” real support against the Anglo-Saxons, in return for immediate recognition of the Lublin committee. But de Gaulle was not deceived. This would moan betraying a perhaps ‘democratic’ but certainly bourgeois Poland in behalf of a perhaps despotic but certainly noncapitalist Poland. And he did not want to take responsibility for an act contrary to “honor and honesty.” (Memoirs, Volume III, p sa.)

In June 1966, Brezhnev and Kosygin dangled an offer of just as real support against the United States, even genuine political leadership in Europe. In exchange they asked for recognition of the German Democratic Republic; that is, “of the two German states.” Be Gaulle brusquely replied that there could be no question of recognizing this “artificial construction. And with that rejoinder the serious conversation came to an end. The balance was nothing but decorations and fine talk.

Of course, the differences between Paris and Washington, between Fans and Bonn, are real in relation to the political future of our continent, its relations with the United States and the best strategy to follow to block the rise of the anti-imperialist and anticapitalist forces in the world.

Be Gaulle seeks a Europe freed largely from American supremacy. He seeks an Atlantic alliance on the basis of equality between North America and a Western Europe combined under his guidance. He favors a more supple policy, with regard to the USSR, which in his opinion should be definitively separated from China and the “extremists” among the revolutionists of the Third World, through some indispensable concessions.

He holds that it is necessary to “relax” the tensions to be able to resolve the questions in dispute, such as the reunification of Germany, while the Americans and the Germans of Bonn maintain that without this reunification no real relaxation is possible in Europe. But at bottom, they all defend a common cause—the cause of Big Capital. They all seek to hold back the enemy—socialism and the peoples of the Third World who are rising and seeking to break out of the capitalist world market. They all seek refuge under the “nuclear umbrella” of the Pentagon, without which they cannot counterbalance Soviet military power on the European continent (if anything confirms this, it is the explosion of the ridiculous French nuclear device in Polynesia which amounts to nothing in face of the power of the USSR). The means may differ, the aim is the same.

In this respect the Soviet Union represents something else again. The means are perhaps the same, but the aim is entirely different. Thus treaties on mutual consultation can be concluded—even by means of a direct telephone line!—treaties on technical cooperation, or whatever cultural and commercial exchanges are desired; the fundamental opposition between the interests of the French bourgeoisie and the Soviet leaders will by no means make it possible to form a genuine alliance in the present world context.

The Soviet leaders are aware of the weakness of the present Communist parties in Western Europe (for which they are in part responsible). They are aware of the temporary stabilization of caitalism in this part of the world (which they largely contributed to). From this they draw the conclusion that it is necessary to return to a policy that seeks to ‘exploit the interimperialist contradictions,” as before the second world war. They commit an error in believing that de Gaulle is ready to follow them into a tĂȘtei-tĂȘte, when he seeks in reality only to increase his power and prestige within the Atlantic Alliance

The French Communist leaders would obviously make a still greater error in concluding that the time has come for an ‘agonizing revision” of their political orientation in France, as in 1935 or 1944.

It is true that the policy of the USSR places them before a cruel dilemma; they no longer know if they should applaud or complain when the Soviet crowds cheer the person who remains, until proved otherwise, the fiercest and most dangerous class enemy of the French workers. If they oppose him, they are tempted to make an alliance with de Gaulle’s pro-American adversaries like Nollet and Nitterrand—and then the capitals of Eastern Europe are not very contented. And if they approve, what remains of their role as an opposition in France? There remains the socialist perspective which stands in complete opposition to the politics of de Gaulle; but the leaders of the French Communist party do not think this is any more “realistic’ than do the Social Democratic leaders of the SF10, or even the technocratic ideologists of neocapitalism.

That will the practical results of the trip amount to? The American Newsweek summarized the situation as follows: “At least he will have succeeded in engaging the Russians in a new diplomatic dialogue with the West.” That puts it in a nutshell. At a time when the intensification of the American aggression against the Vietnamese people makes a public dialogue between Moscow and Washington more difficult, de Gaulle is playing, objectively, the role of go-between for the Atlantic Alliance as a whole Thanks to him, the head of one of the capitalist states in this alliance has been acclaimed by crowds in the Soviet Union. For the first time in many years they have been shown a face of capitalism which their own leaders now say is benevolent, attractive, peaceful, full of good intentions toward the peoples of the world.

Pravda in connection with this trip, talks about an ‘irreversible process.” Let them beware of certain processes, which while still reversible, bode nothing good for the USSR. By attending mass in Leningrad, de Gaulle, like a good politician, was already prepa:ing for his coming trip to Poland. Rumania, ceaselessly increasing its trade with the West, already told the Russians in Bucharest that it would like to see the Warsaw pact modified just as de Gaulle wants to modify NATO. Decidely, if things are in movement, thanks not a little to the general, not everything is stirring in favor of socialism and not everything is stirring against the interests of American imperialism.

Last updated on 7 February 2009