Leon Trotsky

Whither France?

France at the Turning Point

(March 26, 1936)

This book is devoted to elucidating the methods of the revolutionary policies of the proletariat in our epoch. The presentation is polemical in nature, like the revolutionary policy itself. Once the masses have been won, the polemic against the ruling class turns, at a certain stage, into revolution.

Revolutionary policy has its theoretical basis in a clear understanding of the class nature of modern society, of its state, its laws and its ideology. The bourgeoisie operates with abstractions (“nation”, “fatherland”, “democracy”) in order to cover up thereby the exploiting character of its rule. Le Temps, one of the most venal newspapers on the terrestrial globe, gives daily lectures to the popular masses of France on patriotism and altruism. Meanwhile, it is a secret to nobody that the altruism of Le Temps itself is on the market at fixed international rates.

The first step of revolutionary politics is the exposure of bourgeois fictions which poison the consciousness of the masses. These fictions acquire a particularly malignant character when amalgamated with the ideas of “socialism” and “revolution”. Today, more than ever before, the tone in the workers’ organizations of France is being set by the manufacturers of such amalgams.

The first edition of this book played a certain role in the formative stages of the French Communist Party. At that time considerable evidence of this came to the author’s notice, and, incidentally, it is not difficult to find traces of it in l’Humanité up to the year 1924. During the twelve years that have since elapsed, a radical recasting of values took place in the Communist International – after a number of feverish zigzags. Suffice to mention that this work is listed today among the proscribed books. In their ideas and methods, the present leaders of the French Communist Party (we are compelled to retain this name which is in complete variance with reality) do not differ in any principle from Kautsky, against whom our work was originally directed. They are only infinitely more ignorant and cynical. The relapse into reformism and patriotism that Cachin and Co. are now living through might itself have served as a sufficient justification for a new edition of this book. However, more serious motives exist: they are rooted in the profound pre-revolutionary crisis which is convulsing the régime of the Third Republic.

* * *

After a lapse of eighteen years, the author of this book has had the occasion to spend two years in France (1933-35); to be sure, only as an observer in the provinces, who, moreover, found himself under constant police surveillance. During this time, in the Isère Department, where the writer had to live, a minor and quite banal routine episode occurred, which, however, provides the key to French politics as a whole. In a hospital, owned by the Comité des Forges, a young worker, about to undergo a serious operation, took the liberty to read the revolutionary press (or, to be more precise, the press which he innocently accepted as revolutionary, namely: l’Humanité). The hospital delivered an ultimatum to the careless patient and, later, to four others who shared his sympathies: either they must renounce receiving the undesirable publications or they would be immediately thrown out into the street. Of course it availed the patients nothing to argue that clerical-reactionary propaganda was being carried on quite openly in, the hospital. Inasmuch as only ordinary workers were concerned, who had neither mandates as deputies nor ministerial portfolios to risk, but only their health and lives, the ultimatum proved ineffectual. Five sick men, one of whom was scheduled for an operation, were ejected from the hospital. Grenoble at that time was a Socialist municipality, headed by Doctor Martin, one of those conservative bourgeois who generally set the tone in the Socialist Party, and whose consummate representative is Léon Blum. The ejected workers sought a champion in the mayor. In vain. Despite all entreaties, letters and intercessions they failed even to obtain an interview. They then turned to the local left newspaper Dépêche, in which Radicals and Socialists composed an indivisible cartel. Upon learning that the matter involved the hospital of the Comité des Forges, the director of the newspaper refused point blank to intervene: anything your heart desires, except that! For a previous indiscretion in connection with this all-powerful organization, Dépêche had already been deprived of an advertisement, and suffered a loss of 20,000 francs. In contrast to the proletarians, the director of the “left” newspaper, like the mayor, stood to lose something. They therefore refused to engage in an unequal struggle, leaving the workers with their diseased intestines and kidneys to their fate.

Once every week or every fortnight, the Socialist mayor disturbs the dim recollections of his youth by delivering a speech on the superiorities of socialism over capitalism. During elections, Dépêche supports the mayor and his party. Everything is in order. The Comité des Forges maintains an attitude of liberal tolerance towards socialism of this sort, which does not do the least harm to the material interests of capitalism. By means of an advertisement of 20,000 francs per year (so cheaply are these gentlemen priced!), the feudalists of the heavy industry and banks keep a large cartel newspaper in actual subjection. And not the newspaper alone. The Comité des Forges apparently has arguments, both direct and indirect, weighty enough for Messrs. Mayors, Senators, Deputies, including the Socialists. Entire official France is under the dictatorship of finance capital. In the Larousse dictionary this system is called a “democratic republic”.

It seemed to the Messrs. left deputies and journalists, not only in the Isère but in all the departments of France, that there would be no end to their peaceful cohabitation with capitalist reaction. They were mistaken. Long corroded by dry rot, democracy suddenly felt the barrel of a gun at its temple. Just as the rearmament of Hitler – a coarse material fact – brought about a real upheaval in the relations between states, laying bare the vain and illusory nature of the so-called “international law”, just so did the arming of the gangs of Colonel de la Rocque result in convulsing the internal relations of France, compelling all parties without exception to reform their ranks, to assume a different colouration and to effect regroupments.

* * *

Friedrich Engels once wrote that the state, including the democratic republic, consists of detachments of armed men in defence of property; everything else serves only to embellish or camouflage this fact. Eloquent champions of “Law”, like Herriot or Blum, always became incensed at such cynicism. But both Hitler and de la Rocque, each in his own domain, have once again demonstrated that Engels is correct.

Early in 1934, Daladier was the presiding minister by will of universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. He walked around with national sovereignty in his pocket alongside of his handkerchief. But the moment that the detachments of de la Rocque, Maurras and Co. showed that they dared to shoot and to slash the tendons of the police horses, sovereign Daladier surrendered his post to a political invalid designated by the leaders of the armed detachments. This fact is of considerably greater importance than all the electoral statistics, and it cannot be erased from the pages of the most recent history of France, for it forecasts the future.

Assuredly, the course of the political life of a country cannot be altered by every group armed with revolvers, at any time. Only those armed detachments which are the organs of specific classes can play a decisive role under certain conditions. Colonel de la Rocque and his henchmen seek to insure “law and order” against convulsions. And inasmuch as law and order in France signify the rule of finance capital over the middle and petty bourgeoisie, and the rule of the bourgeoisie as a whole over the proletariat and the social strata closest to it, the detachments of de la Rocque are simply the armed pickets of finance capital.

This idea is not new. One can often run across it even in the pages of Le Populaire and l’Humanité, although, of course, they were not the original formulators of it. These publications, however, speak only half of the truth. The other and equally important half consists of the fact that Herriot and Daladier with their followers are also an agency of finance capital; otherwise the Radicals could not have been the ruling party in France for a period of decades. If we are not to play the game of hide and seek, we must say that de la Rocque and Daladier both serve one and the same master. This does not mean to say that either they themselves or their methods are identical. Quite the contrary. They fiercely war against each other, like two specialized agencies each of whom has its own special secret of salvation. Daladier promises to maintain order through the exercise of the self-same tricolour democracy. De la Rocque holds that outlived parliamentarianism must be swept away and replaced by an open military-police dictatorship. The political methods are antagonistic but the social aims they serve are the same. The historical basis of the antagonism between de la Rocque and Daladier – we use these names merely for the sake of simplicity in our presentation – is the decline of the capitalist system, its incurable crisis, its decay. Despite the constant triumphs of technology and the explosive successes achieved by individual branches of industry, capitalism as a whole acts as a brake upon the development of the productive forces, engendering an extreme instability in social and international relations. Parliamentary democracy is indissolubly bound up with the epoch of free competition and free international trade. The bourgeoisie was able to tolerate the freedom of strikes, of assembly and of the press only so long as the productive forces were mounting upwards, so long as the sales markets were being extended, the welfare of the popular masses, even if only partially, was rising and the capitalist nations were able to live and let live. It is otherwise now. If we exclude the Soviet Union, the imperialist epoch is characterized by the stagnation or decline of the national income, a chronic agrarian crisis and organic unemployment. These phenomena pertain internally to the present phase of capitalism just as gout and arteriosclerosis pertain to certain ages of man. To explain world economic chaos by the consequences of the last war is to lay bare a hopeless superficiality in the spirit of Caillaux, Count Sforza and the like. The war itself was nothing else than an attempt on the part of capitalist countries to unload the already impending crash upon the enemy’s back. The attempt failed. The war only deepened the manifestations of collapse, which, in its subsequent development, prepares a new war.

Bad as French economic statistics are, and although they deliberately evade the problems of class contradictions, even these statistics are unable to cover up the manifestations of a direct social disintegration. Amid the general decline of the national income, amid the truly horrifying fall in the income of the peasants, amid the ruin of the little men in the cities and the growth of unemployment, the gigantic enterprises with a turnover above 100 to 200 millions a year are doing a brilliant business. Finance capital is sucking the lifeblood from the veins of the French people, in the full sense of the term. Such is the social basis for the ideology and politics of “national unity”.

Mitigations and flickers of better times are possible in the process of decline; they are even inevitable. They remain, however, purely episodic in character. The general tendency of our epoch imperiously drives France, in the wake of a number of other countries, to the alternative: either the proletariat must overthrow the utterly decayed bourgeois order, or capitalism, in the interests of self-preservation, must replace democracy with Fascism. How long can Fascism last? The answer to this question will be provided by the fate of Mussolini and Hitler.

The Fascists fired their guns on February 6, 1934 at the direct orders of the Bourse, the banks and the trusts. From the self-same ruling summits, Daladier received the instruction to hand over power to Doumergue. And if the Radical premier capitulated – with the pusillanimity that is generally characteristic of the Radicals – it was precisely because he recognized his own master in the gangs of de la Rocque. In other words: sovereign Daladier surrendered power to Doumergue for the self-same reason that the director of Dépêche and the mayor of Grenoble refused to expose the abominable cruelty of the agents of the Comité des Forges.

However, the transition from democracy to Fascism carries with it the danger of social upheavals. Thence arise the tactical vacillations and differences among the summits of the bourgeoisie. All the magnates of capital are in favour of further strengthening the armed detachments, which can serve as safety reserves in the hour of danger. But what place should be allotted to these detachments even today? Should they be permitted immediately to assume the offensive or should they still be held in reserve as a threat? – These questions remain unsolved as yet.

Finance capital no longer believes in the ability of the Radicals to lead the petty-bourgeois masses behind them, and by means of the pressure exercised by these masses to restrain the proletariat within the framework of “democratic” discipline. But finance capital is likewise uncertain of the ability of the Fascist organizations, which still lack a real mass base, to seize power and establish firm order.

The behind-the-scenes leaders have been instilled with the need for caution not by parliamentary eloquence but by the rage of the workers, by the attempt of the general strike, which, to be sure, was stifled at its very inception by the bureaucracy of Jouhaux and, later, by the local uprisings (Toulon, Brest). A slight curb was placed on the Fascists, and the Radicals breathed just a bit easier. Le Temps, which had already rushed to offer its hand and heart in a number of articles to the “young generation”, discovered anew the superior merits of a liberal régime as the one most in harmony with French genius. Thus, the unstable, transitional, bastard régime was established, which harmonizes not with the genius of France but with the decline of the Third Republic. What stands out most sharply in this régime are its Bonapartist traits: the independence of power from parties and programs, the liquidation of the parliamentary legislation by means of emergency powers, the rising of the government in the guise of an “arbiter” above the struggling camps, i.e., factually above the nation. The ministries of Doumergue, Flandin, Laval, all three with the invariable participation of the compromised and abject Radicals, represented minor variations of one and the same theme. Upon the inauguration of the Sarraut ministry, Léon Blum, whose perspicacity possesses two dimensions instead of three, proclaimed that: “The final effects of February 6 have been destroyed on the parliamentary plane.” (Le Populaire, Feb. 2, 1936). This is commonly known as cleaning the shadow of a carriage with the shadow of a brush. As if it is possible, in general, to abolish “on the parliamentary plane” the pressure of the armed detachments of finance capital! As if Sarraut can escape feeling this pressure and not quake before it! In point of fact the Sarraut-Flandin government represents another variation of the self-same semi-parliamentary “Bonapartism”, only somewhat inclined to the “left”. Sarraut, himself, in replying to the charge of his having resorted to arbitrary measures gave the Chamber the best answer possible. Said Sarraut: “If my measures are arbitrary, it is because I aim to be an arbiter”. This aphorism would not have sounded badly even on the lips of Napoléon III. Sarraut feels himself to be not the plenipotentiary of a certain party or a bloc of parties in power, as is in accordance with the rules of parliamentarianism, but an arbiter over classes and parties, as in accordance with the laws of Bonapartism.

* * *

The sharpening of the class struggle, and especially the open emergence of the armed gangs of reaction, caused a similar upheaval among the workers’ organizations. The Socialist Party which had been peacefully performing the role of the spare wheel in the chariot of the Third Republic, found itself compelled to half-renounce its cartel tradition, and even to break with its own right wing (the Neos). Concurrently, the Communists completed their evolution in just the opposite direction but on a scale infinitely more extensive. Over a period of several years these gentlemen had raved deliriously about barricades, conquering the streets, and so on (their delirium, to be sure, remained primarily literary in nature). Now after February 6, 1934, realizing that the situation had taken a serious turn, the specialists in barricades scurried to the right. The normal reflex action of the scared phrase-mongers coincided most propitiously with the new international orientation of Soviet diplomacy.

Oppressed by the danger threatening from Hitler Germany, the policy of the Kremlin turned towards France. Status quo – in international relations! Status quo – in the internal relations of the French régime! Hopes for the social revolution? Chimeras! The leading circles in the Kremlin refer as a rule only with contempt to French Communism. One must hang on to what exists, lest things get worse. Parliamentary democracy in France is inconceivable without the Radicals: they must be supported by the Socialists. It is necessary to order the Communists not to hinder the bloc between Blum and Herriot and, if possible, the Communists – themselves must join the bloc. No convulsions, no threats! Such is the course pursued by the Kremlin.

When Stalin renounces the world revolution, the bourgeois parties of France refuse to believe him. Needless caution! In politics, blind credulity is, of course, not a great virtue. But blind distrust is no better. One must know how to compare words with deeds and be able to recognize a general tendency of development over a period of years. The policy of Stalin, determined by the interests of the privileged Soviet bureaucracy, has become conservative through and through. The French bourgeoisie has ample reasons to place faith in Stalin. All the less reason for trust on the part of the French proletariat.

During the Trade-Union Unity Congress at Toulouse, the “Communist” Racamond gave a truly immortal formula of the policy of the People’s Front: “How to overcome the timidity of the Radical Party?” How to overcome the bourgeoisie’s fear of the proletariat? Very simply: the terrible revolutionists must fling away the knife clenched between their teeth, they must put pomade on their hair, and filch the smile of the most fascinating courtesan. The result will be Vaillant-Couturier – latest model. Under the onset of the pomaded “Communists”, who with all their strength pushed the leftward-moving Socialists to the right, Blum had to change his course once again, fortunately, in the accustomed direction. Thus arose the People’s Front – the society for insuring Radical bankrupts at the expense of the capital of the working-class organizations.

Radicalism is inseparable from Freemasonry. When we say this, we have said everything. During the debate in the Chamber of Deputies on the Fascist leagues, Mr. Xavier Vallat recalled that Trotsky had once “prohibited” French Communists from participating in masonic lodges. Mr. Jammy Schmidt, a high authority in this field, we believe, immediately explained this edict by the incompatibility between despotic Bolshevism and the “free spirit”. We shall not enter into a dispute over this point with the Radical deputy. But we still consider that a labour representative who seeks inspiration or solace in the vapid masonic cult of class collaboration is undeserving of the slightest trust. It was not accidental that the cartel was supplemented by the extensive participation of the Socialists in the mummery of the lodges. Now the time has come for the repentant Communists also to don the aprons! Incidentally, the newly converted pupils will be able to serve the old masters of the cartel more comfortably in aprons.

But, we are told, not without indignation, the People’s Front is not a cartel at all, but a mass movement. There is, of course, no lack of pompous definitions, but they do not change the nature of things. The job of the cartel always consisted in putting a brake upon the mass movement, directing it into the channels of class collaboration. This is precisely the job of the People’s Front as well. The difference between them – and not an unimportant one – is that the traditional cartel was applied during the comparatively peaceful and stable epochs of the parliamentary régime. Now, however, when the masses are impatient and explosive, a more imposing brake is needed, with the participation of the “Communists”. Joint meetings, parade processions, oaths, mixing the banners of the Commune and of Versailles, noise, bedlam, demagogy – all these serve a single aim: to curb and demoralize the mass movement.

While justifying himself in the Chamber before the rights, Sarraut declared that his innocent concessions to the People’s Front were nothing else than the safety valve of the régime. Such frankness may have seemed imprudent. But it was rewarded by violent applause from the benches of the extreme left. There was no reason, therefore, for Sarraut to be bashful. In any case, he succeeded, perhaps not quite consciously, in providing a classic definition of the People’s Front: a safety valve for the mass movement. M. Sarraut is in every way fortunate with his aphorisms!

* * *

Foreign policy is the continuation of home policy. Having entirely renounced the viewpoint of the proletariat, Blum, Cachin and Co. adopt, under the screen of “collective security” and “international law”, the viewpoint of national imperialism. They are preparing precisely the same policy of bootlicking which they had conducted in the years 1914 to 1918, adding only the phrase “For the Defence of the USSR”. Yet during the years 1918-23, when Soviet diplomacy was also obliged to veer considerably and to conclude a good many agreements, not a single one of the sections of the Communist International so much as even dared to think of a bloc with its own bourgeoisie! Is not this alone ample proof of the sincerity of Stalin’s renunciation of the world revolution?

The self-same motives which impelled the present leaders of the Comintern to suckle at the paps of “democracy” in its period of agony led them to discover the glorious image of the League of Nations, when the death rattle was already emanating from it. Thus was created a common platform of foreign policy between the Radicals and the Soviet Union. The home program of the People’s Front is concocted of generalities which allow of as liberal an interpretation as does the Geneva covenant. The general meaning of the program is to leave everything as of old. Meanwhile, the masses refuse to accept the old any longer: therein lies the gist of the political crisis.

Disarming the proletariat politically, the Blums, Paul Faures, Cachins and Thorezes are most concerned lest the workers arm themselves physically. The agitation of these gentlemen does not differ in any way from the preacher’s sermons on the superiorities of moral principles. Engels, who taught that the problem of state power is the problem of armed detachments, and Marx who looked upon insurrection as an art, appear as medieval barbarians in the eyes of the present deputies, senators and mayors of the People’s Front. For the one hundred and first time, Populaire prints a cartoon picturing a naked worker with the caption: “You will learn that our bare fists are more solid than all your blackjacks.” What a splendid contempt for military technique! Even the Abyssinian Negus holds more progressive views on this subject. The overturns in Italy, Germany and Austria apparently do not exist for these people. Will they cease singing paeans to “bare fists” when de la Rocque claps handcuffs upon them? Sometimes one feels sorry that such an experience cannot be afforded privately to the Messrs. Leaders, without involving the masses!

From the standpoint of the bourgeois régime as a whole, the People’s Front represents an episode in the competition between Radicalism and Fascism for the attention and good graces of big capital. By their theatrical fraternization with Socialists and Communists, the Radicals want to prove to the master that the situation of the régime is not as bad as the rights assert; that the threat of the revolution is not at all so great; that even Vaillant-Couturier has swapped his knife for a dog collar; that through the medium of the domesticated “revolutionists” it is possible to discipline the working masses, and, consequently, to save the parliamentary system from shipwreck.

Not all the Radicals believe in this manoeuvre; the most solid and influential among them, headed by Herriot, prefer to take a watchful position. But in the last analysis they have nothing else to propose themselves. The crisis of parliamentarianism is first of all the crisis of the confidence of the voters in Radicalism. Until some method for rejuvenating capitalism is discovered, there is not and cannot be any recipe for the salvation of the Radical Party. The latter has only the choice between two variants of political doom. Even the relative success it may score during the coming elections can neither avert nor even long postpone its shipwreck.

The leaders of the Socialist Party, the most carefree politicians in France, do not burden themselves with the study of the sociology of the People’s Front. No one can learn anything from the endless monologues of Léon Blum. As for the Communists, the latter, extremely proud of their initiative in the cause of collaboration with the bourgeoisie, picture the People’s Front as an alliance between the proletariat and the middle classes. What a parody on Marxism! The Radical Party is not at all the party of the petty bourgeoisie. Nor is it a “bloc between the middle and the petty bourgeoisie” in accordance with the idiotic definition of the Moscow Pravda. The middle bourgeoisie exploits the petty bourgeoisie not only economically but also politically, and it itself is the agency of finance capital. To give the hierarchic political relations, based upon exploitation, the neutral name of “bloc” is to make a mock of reality. A horseman is not a bloc between a man and a horse. If the party of Herriot-Daladier extends its roots deeply into the petty bourgeoisie, and in part even into the working masses, it does so only in order to lull and dupe them in the interests of the capitalist order. The Radicals are the democratic party of French imperialism – any other definition is a lie.

The crisis of the capitalist system disarms the Radicals, depriving them of their traditional implements for lulling the petty bourgeoisie. “The middle classes” are beginning to sense, if not to understand, that it is impossible to save the situation through paltry reforms, that it is necessary to scrap audaciously the existing system. But Radicalism and audacity are as incompatible as fire and water. Fascism is fed above all by the growing lack of confidence of the petty bourgeoisie in Radicalism. One can say without fear of exaggeration that the political fate of France in the period immediately ahead will take shape depending largely upon the manner in which Radicalism is liquidated, and who will fall heir to its legacy, i.e., its influence over the petty bourgeoisie: Fascism or the party of the proletariat.

* * *

The elementary axiom of Marxist strategy reads that the alliance between the proletariat and the little men of the city and country can be realized only in the irreconcilable struggle against the traditional parliamentary representation of the petty bourgeoisie. In order to attract the peasant to the side of the worker, it is necessary to tear the peasant away from the Radical politician, who subjects the peasant to finance capital. In contradistinction to this, the People’s Front, the conspiracy between the labour bureaucracy and the worst political exploiters of the middle classes is capable only of killing the faith of the masses in the revolutionary road and of driving them into the arms of the Fascist counter-revolution.

Unbelievable as it may seem, some cynics attempt to justify the policy of the People’s Front by quoting Lenin, who if you please, proved that there is no getting along without “compromises” and, in particular, without making agreements with other parties. It has become an established rule among the leaders of the present Comintern to make mock of Lenin: they trample underfoot all the teachings of the builder of the Bolshevik Party, and then they take a trip to Moscow to kneel before his mausoleum.

Lenin began his activities in tsarist Russia, where not only the proletariat, the peasantry and the intelligentsia but also wide circles of the bourgeoisie stood in opposition to the old régime. If the policy of the People’s Front has any justification at all, one should imagine that it could be justified first of all in a country that has yet to achieve its bourgeois revolution. The Messrs. Falsifiers, however, would not do badly at all if they were to point out at what stage and under what conditions the Bolshevik Party ever built even a semblance of the People’s Front in Russia? Let them strain their imagination and rummage among the historical documents!

The Bolsheviks did conclude practical agreements with the revolutionary petty-bourgeois organizations, for example, for joint illegal transport of revolutionary literature; sometimes to repulse the Black-Hundred gangs. During elections to the state Duma they did, under certain conditions, enter into electoral blocs with the Mensheviks or the Socialist Revolutionaries, on the second ballot. That is all. No common “programs”, no common and permanent institutions, no renunciation of the criticism of temporary allies. Such episodic agreements and compromises, confined strictly to practical aims – and Lenin never spoke of any other kind – have absolutely nothing in common with the People’s Front which represents a conglomeration of heterogeneous organizations, a long term alliance between different classes, that are bound for an entire period – and what a period! – by a common program and a common policy of parades, declamations and of throwing up smokescreens. The People’s Front will fall to pieces at the first serious test, and deep fissures will open up in all of its component sections. The policy of the People’s Front is the policy of betrayal.

The rule of Bolshevism on the question of blocs reads: march separately, strike together! The rule of the leaders of the present Comintern is: march together in order to be smashed separately. Let these gentlemen hold on to Stalin and Dimitrov, but leave Lenin in peace!

It is impossible to read without indignation the declarations of the bragging leaders who allege that the People’s Front has “saved” France from Fascism. In point of fact, they mean only to say that the mutual encouragement “saved” the scared heroes from their own exaggerated fears. For how long? Between Hitler’s first uprising and his coming to power, a decade elapsed, which was marked by frequent ebbs and flows. At that time, the German Blums and Cachins also used to proclaim more than once their “victory” over national socialism. We refused to believe them, and we were not mistaken. This experience, however, has taught the French cousins of Wels and Thälmann nothing. In Germany, to be sure, the Communists did not participate in the People’s Front, which united the Social Democracy with the bourgeois left and the Catholic centre (“the alliance between the proletariat and the middle classes”!). During that period the Comintern rejected even fighting agreements between working-class organizations against Fascism. The results are quite well known. The warmest sympathy to Thälmann as the captive of executioners cannot deter us from saying that his policy, i.e., the policy of Stalin, did more for Hitler’s victory than the policy of Hitler himself. Having turned itself inside out, the Comintern now applies in France the quite familiar policy of the German Social Democracy. Is it really so difficult to foresee its results?

The coming parliamentary elections, no matter what their outcome, will not in themselves bring any serious changes into the situation: the voters, in the final analysis, are confronted with the choice between an arbiter of the type of Laval and an arbiter of the type, Herriot-Daladier. But inasmuch as Herriot has peacefully collaborated with Laval, and Daladier has supported them both, the difference between them is entirely insignificant, if measured by the scale of the tasks set by history.

To pretend that Herriot-Daladier are capable of proclaiming war against the “200 families” who rule France is to dupe the people shamelessly. The 200 families do not hang suspended in mid-air but are the crown of the system of finance capital. To cope with the 200 families it is necessary to overthrow the economic and political régime, in the maintenance of which Herriot and Daladier are just as much interested as Flandin and de la Rocque. The issue here is not a struggle of the “nation” against a handful of magnates as l’Humanité pictures it, but the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. It is a question of the class struggle which can be resolved only by revolution. The strike-breaking conspiracy of the People’s Front has become the chief obstacle on this road.

It is impossible to say in advance how much longer the semi-parliamentary, semi-Bonapartist ministries will continue to succeed one another in France and in general through what concrete stages the country will pass in the next period. This depends on the world and national economic cycle, upon the degree of stability of Italian and German Fascism, upon the course of events in Spain and last – but not least in importance – upon the awareness and the activity of the advanced elements of the French proletariat. The dénouement can be brought closer by the convulsions of the franc. A closer collaboration between France and England can postpone it. In any case the death throes of “democracy” may drag out much longer than the pre-Fascist period of Brüning-Papen-Schleicher endured in Germany; but this does not stop it from being the death throes just the same. Democracy will be swept away. The only question is: by whom?

* * *

The struggle against the “200 families”, against Fascism and war, for peace, bread and freedom, and other magnificent things is either a lie, or it is the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. The toilers of France are faced with the problem of the revolutionary conquest of power not as a distant goal but as the task of the coming period. Meanwhile, the Socialist and Communist leaders not only renounce the revolutionary mobilization of the proletariat, but resist it with all their strength. Fraternizing with the bourgeoisie, they hound and expel the Bolsheviks. So greatly do they hate the revolution and dread it! Under these conditions, the worst role is played by those pseudo-revolutionists of the type of Marceau Pivert who promise to overthrow the bourgeoisie, but only with the permission of Léon Blum! The entire course of the French labour movement for the last twelve years has placed the task of creating a new revolutionary party on the order of the day.

To speculate whether events will allow “sufficient” time for its formation is to engage in the most fruitless of all occupations. History has absolutely inexhaustible resources in the domain of different variants, historical forms, stages, accelerations and retardations. Under the influence of economic difficulties Fascism may venture prematurely and suffer a defeat. This would imply a long respite. Contrariwise, it may occupy a temporizing position too long and thereby increase the chances in favour of the revolutionary organizations. The People’s Front may break up out of its own contradictions before Fascism is able to engage in a general battle: this would signify a period of regroupments and splits in the parties of the working class, and a rapid fusion of the revolutionary vanguard. Spontaneous mass movements as in Toulon and Brest may attain a wide sweep and create a reliable fulcrum for the revolutionary lever. Finally, even the victory of Fascism in France, which is theoretically not excluded, does not mean that it will reign for 1,000 years as Hitler prophesies, or that it is even assured to endure as long as Mussolini has been able to maintain himself. The twilight of Fascism, beginning with Italy or Germany, would quickly spread over France as well. To build a revolutionary party in this, the least favourable variant, is to bring nearer the hour of vengeance. The wiseacres who shy away from the un-postponable task with the words, “the conditions are not yet mature”, merely reveal that they themselves have not matured for the conditions.

The Marxists of France, as well as those of the entire world, must, in a certain sense, begin at the beginning, but on an infinitely higher historical level than their predecessors. Progress is at first rendered extremely difficult by the fall of the Communist International, more infamous than the fall of the Social Democracy in 1914. The new cadres are being recruited slowly, in a cruel struggle against the united front of the reactionary and patriotic bureaucracy in the working class. On the other hand, these very difficulties, which did not descend upon the proletariat accidentally, constitute an important condition for the correct selection and the firm tempering of the first detachments of the new party and the new international.

Only a very tiny section of the cadres of the Comintern began its revolutionary education from the outset of the war, prior to the October revolution. All these elements, almost without a single exception, are now outside the Communist International. The next oldest stratum joined the already victorious October revolution. This was much easier. But only an insignificant portion has remained even of this second draft. The overwhelming majority of the present cadres of the Comintern adhered not to the Bolshevik program, not to the revolutionary banner, but to the Soviet bureaucracy. These are not fighters but docile functionaries, adjutants, errand boys. It is by reason of this that the Third International is putrefying so infamously amid the historical situation so rich in great revolutionary possibilities.

The Fourth International rises on the shoulders of its three predecessors. It is subjected to blows from the front, the sides and the rear. Careerists, cowards, philistines have nothing to seek in our ranks. The percentage of sectarians and adventurists, inevitable at the beginning, is winnowed away as the movement grows. Let pedants and sceptics shrug their shoulders about “small” organizations that issue “small” papers and fling a challenge to the entire world. Serious revolutionists will pass contemptuously by the pedants and sceptics. The October Revolution also once began with its swaddling clothes.

The mighty Russian parties of Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks who made up the “People’s Front” with the Kadets, crumbled into dust in the course of a few months under the blows of a “handful of fanatics” of Bolshevism. Subsequently the German Social Democracy, the German Communist Party and the Austrian Social Democracy died an ignoble death under the blows of Fascism. The epoch which is drawing close for the European peoples will sweep out of the working class, without leaving a trace, all that is equivocal and rotten. All the Jouhauxs, Citrines, Blums, Cachins, Vanderveldes and Caballeros are only phantoms. The sections of the Second and Third Internationals will ingloriously leave the stage one after another. A new regroupment in the workers’ ranks is inevitable. Young revolutionary cadres will gain flesh and blood. Victory is conceivable only on the basis of the methods of Bolshevism, to the defence of which this volume is dedicated.

Whither France? Index

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Last updated on: 19.3.2007