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France under Hitler and Petain

Manifesto of the Fourth International

November 1940

Adopted: 1940
First Published: December 1940
Source: Fourth International, New York, Volume I, No. 7, December 1940, pages 179-82.
Author: Jean van Heijenoort (according to Robert Alexander’s History).
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, February, 2006
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line, 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the address of this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

The Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, addressed itself to the workers last May with a manifesto in which it explained the causes of the war and indicated the tasks facing the working class in this catastrophe.

Since then the military fall of France has occurred and the French bourgeoisie has abandoned the camp of the “democracies” to collaborate with Hitler in the “reconstruction” of Europe. In the face of these events, the Fourth International can say with confidence that the facts have confirmed its analysis of the present capitalist war, have justified its criticism of the traitorous leaders of the working class, have given a new force to our program of socialist revolution.

The Causes of the French Defeat

The military downfall of France is not a “technical” accident, but the clearest expression of the atrophy of bourgeois democracy in France. The whole strategy of the French general staff consisted of passivity and waiting. Its plan of war was to gain time (in reality, to lose it), reclining blindly confident behind the Maginot line, the gigantic extension of the 1914-1918 trench system.

On the diplomatic field the policy of waiting and of retreat culminated in the inability of France to draw into its orbit and prepare a common system of defense with little Belgium, her ally in the First World War.

After the defeat, the world learned about the internal struggles within the French government, especially between Daladier and Reynaud—a very clear symptom of the decline of democracy, powerless even to produce a new Clemenceau and paralyzed by Byzantine quarrels.

The conduct of the French bourgeoisie and its general staff after the Germans broke through at Sedan confirms to the hilt our analysis, in our Manifesto in May, when we declared:

“The bourgeoisie never defends the fatherland for the sake of the fatherland. They defend private property, privileges, profits. Whenever these sacred values are threatened, the bourgeoisie immediately takes to the road of defeatism.... In order to save their capital, the Spanish bourgeoisie turned to Mussolini and Hitler for military aid against their own people. The Norwegian bourgeoisie aided Hitler’s invasion of Norway. Thus it was and always will be.”

After the German break-through in the North, the military situation was by no means hopeless, had the French bourgeoisie and its general staff been willing to mobilize all the resources of the country. But the general staff and the bourgeoisie felt, as General Weygand explicitly said, that such a situation would be like that of Russia in 1917. “It must not come to that,” said Weygand. Rather than leave open the possibility of the French proletariat coming to power and conducting a revolutionary war against Hitler, the French ruling class preferred to capitulate to Hitler.

The curve of French imperialism has been steadily declining since the “victory” of 1918. Its status in Europe and in the world as a result of the Versailles Treaty was extremely disproportionate to its real economic strength. It could provide its political vassals in Europe (the little Entente, the Balkan states) with financial aid but was incapable of making them customers for her industry, which could not compete successfully with Germany, England or the United States. The handling of the tremendous French colonial empire was also beyond the power of the industrial apparatus of the metropolis. The French bourgeoisie submitted the colonies to an exploitation that was ferocious but yet netted relatively little, for it was extremely backward in its economic methods.

Before the war of 1914-1918, the development of French capitalism was markedly backward compared to that of Germany and England, not to speak of the United States. The military victory of 1918 could not infuse new life into this relatively backward economy but, on the contrary, engendered many illusions and gave the impression of strength where there was only stagnation and decline.

Those Responsible for the Fascist Advance

The street fighting and demonstrations of February, 1934 signalized the approach of a revolutionary crisis, the polarization of the country into two opposed camps—Fascist and revolutionary. The decomposition of bourgeois democracy was only the fruit of the general decline Of the French empire, accelerated by the great economic crisis. This decay of bourgeois democracy was expressed in the rout of its traditional party, the Radical Socialist Party. In June, 1936, the French proletariat occupied the factories} thus placing the country upon the threshold of a revolutionary situation. The socialist revolution then loomed as the only possible road by which the country could come out of its atrophy. But the movement of the French workers was strangled by the apparatus of its own organizations. The treacherous leaders (Jouhaux, Blum, Thorez) did all they could to keep the workers chained to the chariot of decaying parliamentary democracy, in the name of the defense of the “fatherland” and of “democracy.”

The proletarian revolution in France would have opened a new future for the country. A soviet France would have immediately shaken the Fascist regime, and changed the face of Europe. The defense of the “fatherland” by the leaders of the workers’ parties paralyzed the workers in the struggle for their emancipation, but it could not prevent the triumph of Hitler. The defense of bourgeois “democracy” prevented the creation of proletarian Soviet democracy, but could not prevent the appearance of the Bonapartist dictatorship of Petain. The hollow “anti-Fascism” of the Popular Front thus stifled the proletarian revolution and led to the triumph of Fascism throughout Europe.

If the peoples of Europe have had to enter a new slaughter, if Fascism is pushing its way through the continent, the direct responsibility falls upon the leadership of the official organizations of the proletariat: the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the C.G.T. (Genera] Confederation of Labor). The Fourth International must explain patiently to the workers the lessons of the last years in the light of recent events, unmask the treacherous role of both the Socialist and Stalinist leaders and win the proletariat to Bolshevism.

The Petain Government

At the time of the fascist insurrection of February 6, 1934, those champions of democracy, Daladier and his friends, found nothing else in their arsenal but flight. In their place there emerged the government of the decrepit Doumergue, ready to replace the parliamentary mechanism by the police and the army.

After the military downfall of last May these valiant defenders of democracy, including Daladier himself, hastened to run like rats into Spain or to Morocco, without ideas, without perspectives, without a program. The swift invasion of the German troops had shattered the administrative system. The only group representing a certain relative solidity were the top ranks of the army. Around them rallied some Anglophobe politicians. This combination was crowned by the octogenarian Petain. The new Bonaparte did not even use cannon against parliament, which decided on its own hook to disappear.

The German army occupied all that part of France which retained some military and economic importance. Hitler then hoped to make a quick end to England. He left to Petain the care of millions of refugees. A French national government, provided it was docile, could decrease the problems of the invasion. Finally, its existence could prevent the immediate passing of the fleet in the colonies into the English camp. The Petain-Laval crew lent itself to docile service in this maneuver.

The war aims of France had been the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the defense of Poland, the destruction of Nazism and the reestablishment of a “free” Europe. It was in the name of these democratic and humanitarian undertakings that the bourgeoisie (aided by its agents in the workers’ camp) dragged the French workers and peasants into the fields of battle. After the defeat, the bourgeoisie suddenly concluded that it was not worth the trouble to fight for democracy, that democracy was dying throughout the entire world. Laval concluded an agreement with Hitler to participate in the “reconstruction” of Europe. And, as Hitler would not repulse those who fell flat on their bellies before him, a spokesman of the French bourgeoisie spoke of his “incontestable grandeur.” Yesterday the French bourgeoisie wanted to free Czechoslovakia, today it does not wish even to free itself. It leaps into the camp of its “hereditary enemy” and is preparing to aid it against its ally of yesterday. From one day to the next the “national” becomes “anti-national” and vice-versa.

Here is a great lesson for the workers of France and the whole world. The bourgeoisie (and its agents in the workers’ camp) everywhere and always curbs, in the name of “national” interests, the struggle of the proletariat for its emancipation. It persecutes revolutionaries for their defeatism and denounces them as agents of the enemy. The experience of France shows once more that “national” considerations serve only to mask the interests of the bourgeoisie which is always ready to change sides when it is a question of preserving its privileges. Let the workers learn a lesson that the bourgeoisie has once again demonstrated!

The Hitlerian “Peace”

Hitler has not as yet succeeded in invading England. The air force can decide nothing without an advance of armies to occupy territories. But that is not so simple. The war continues and can be protracted. Like a widening spiral, it spreads from continent to continent and tomorrow it will have encircled the earth. The armistice of Rethondes or the “peace” of Petain-Hitler will not protect France from the military vicissitudes of the continuing war.

Laval hopes that England will soon be crushed and he already sees the French bourgeoisie collaborating with Hitler in the “reconstruction” of Europe. Even in the case of a German victory, however, it is doubtful that Hitler can “reconstruct” much in Europe and it is still more doubtful that France can take a great part in this task. Goebbels recently declared to the members of the Hitler youth that after the victory they will remember war as the “golden time.” We can believe him. Before the war, European economy had, since the great crisis of 1929, lost all its equilibrium and could find a certain easing of its afflictions only in tremendous armament production. After the war, all the disproportions of a diseased economy will burst into full view, not to speak of national and social struggles. Here is what the “organization of Europe” by Hitler in collaboration with Laval holds out: worse times than the war!

The struggle for democracy under the flag of England (and the United States) will not lead to a noticeably different situation. General De Gaulle struggles against “slavery” at the head of colonial governors, that is to say, of slave masters. In his appeals, this “leader” uses, just like Petain, the royal “we.” The defense of democracy is in good hands! If England should install De Gaulle in France tomorrow, his regime would not in the least be distinguished from that of the Bonapartist government of Petain.

Churchill recently refused to discuss the regime of Europe after a British victory. He has, in effect, nothing to propose. The imperialist solution imposed in 1919 led to a new catastrophe twenty years later. Neither Hitler nor Churchill can regenerate capitalism. The whole system is in a blind alley.

The Class Struggle Continues

Hitler has reduced Europe to a vast concentration camp of nations. The struggle for the unity of all Germans has been followed by that for the unity of all non-Germans under the Nazi boot. But history is a sure guarantee that there has never been national oppression without national struggles.

The big French bourgeoisie has already succeeded in arriving at an understanding with Hitler. National resistance is concentrated in the poorer sections of the population, the urban petty-bourgeoisie, the peasants, the workers. But it is the latter which give the most resolute character to the struggle and will know how to connect it with the struggle against French capitalism and the Petain government.

The workers begin their national and class tasks with little danger from French fascism. The Petain government, far from being the fascist regime which panic-stricken democrats label it, has no mass base underneath it, fascist or otherwise. The fascist organizations can have no serious perspective of taking over the government with any support. In the eyes of the masses, including the petty-bourgeoisie, the French fascists cannot but appear as agents or friends of the victorious enemy. Thus neither Hitler nor Petain find a secure foundation in French society. It is noteworthy to add that the same phenomenon has occurred in Norway, Holland and Belgium, the other countries where the Nazis have installed friendly governments. An atmosphere of universal hostility weighs down upon the Nazi victor and his collaborators, serving to demoralize them while it creates a favorable atmosphere for arousing the masses to struggle.

With winter, the blockade, and the war in the Mediterranean, food has become and will become more and more scarce. The burden weighs more heavily on the cities than on the countryside, more heavily on the poor than on the rich. That means that the worst sufferers are the industrial workers and the lowest sections of the urban petty-bourgeoisie. The government has no solution to offer other than bureaucratic control of food distribution. But the rich always find means of escaping administrative control. Instead of governmental regulation, there should be substituted control by the people themselves. Each town, each section of the city, ought to have its food control committee which can control prices and will supervise the allotment. The state functionaries are always powerless in the struggle against profiteers and speculators and are often, indeed, their accomplices. Only control by the people can put an end to those who are ready to starve the people in order to keep up profits.

For the workers, especially in the unoccupied territory, the economic disorganization takes the form of unemployment. It splits the ranks of the workers and erodes their class solidarity. Against this pestilence the Bolshevik-Leninists propose the sliding scale of hours of work. The available work should be divided between all the workers in the factories, with a minimum salary.

The cost of living will rise more and more. Tomorrow inflation can arise. Here also it is the workers who will receive the hardest blows. Their struggle for wage increases will be useless if they do not obtain the rising scale of wages.

Facing the economic difficulties and the menace of famine, regulation and control are necessary. The bureaucratic measures taken by the state are useless or simply are turned to the profit of a handful of capitalists and to the detriment of broad sections of the working populations. Petain is prepared to regulate production of different branches of industry, thanks to the economic “dictators” at the head of each one of them. To this state control, the Bolshevik-Leninists counterpose workers’ control by the workers themselves. No one knows better than they the sources of waste and anarchy in production.

To the measures of the Bonapartist dictators imposing everywhere the bourgeois bureaucratic control from above, the workers will impose their control from below, exercised through broad sections of the workers in their capacities as producers and consumers.

After having “regulated” the trade unions with the servile aid of the trade union leaders, the Petain government has now decreed outright dissolution of the C.G.T. It is an elementary class duty of the Bolshevik-Leninists to fight shoulder to shoulder with all workers, whatever their political views, against the government’s attacks on the unions. At the same time, however, it is necessary to make the workers understand that the reformist trade unions that they have hitherto known are the product of another epoch, that of bourgeois democracy, and that that kind of trade unionism is dragged along with bourgeois democracy in its decline. The trade unions that the French workers will reestablish will be organs of revolutionary class struggle or they will not be reestablished at all. In the coming explosive struggles against the German generals or the Bonapartist ministry, the form that the workers’ organization is most 1ikely to take is factory committees directly elected by the workers.

A Soviet Union of Europe

The present situation will scarcely last long. Up to now Hitler’s successes have been due above all to the weakness and decline of the democracies. The real test of the Nazi system has only begun.

To the fascist “reconstruction” of Europe; that is to say, to the perpetuation of misery and ruin, we oppose the Soviet United States of Europe, a free federation of the peoples with a socialized economy in which the profit system will be replaced by the cooperation of the workers.

In the face of oppression and dictatorship, the workers will not abandon the struggle for democratic liberties (freedom of the press, of assembly, etc.) but they must understand that this struggle cannot revive the decaying bourgeois democracy which has engendered this very oppression and dictatorship. The only democracy now possible in Europe is proletarian democracy, the system of soviets, the elected organs of the working people.

The French state of Petain-Laval has superseded the Third Republic of Daladier-Reynaud, That has been buried in the past, and nothing can make it live again. To escape out of slavery, oppression and misery, there is but one road, the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government.

The Fourth International

In a Europe which is the prey of social and national oppression, revolts are inevitable. But the essential condition for success is the existence of a revolutionary leadership. Recent events in France are the direct condemnation of the entire policy of the official workers’ organizations (the Socialist party, the Communist party, the trade union leadership).

After the defeat, the Socialist leaders who called upon the workers to shed their blood to defend bourgeois democracy, rallied in the majority to the Petain government, that is to say, collaborated with Hitler. They have demonstrated once more that they are the docile agents of the bourgeoisie.

The shift by Stalin from one camp to another on the eve of the war disclosed what was the reality hidden behind the propaganda of the Communist Party against fascism and for the defense of democracy: this propaganda had the sole aim of assuring Stalin of the aid of French regiments without the least regard for the revolutionary interests of the French workers. Since Stalin’s diplomatic change of front, the Comintern has replaced “the struggle against Fascism” with denunciations of the imperialists, above all, the British and French. But the basis of the Comintern’s policy remains the same: the subordination of the revolutionary struggle to the interests of the Stalinist oligarchy. In practice, the Stalinist parties now live from day to day on small adventures. In Norway, the Stalinist paper succeeded in maintaining itself for some months under the German occupation, while denouncing English imperialism in the manner of Goebbels. But in the United States, the Communist Party demands the alliance of Moscow and Washington, which is the partner of London. In France, the Stalinists are ready to launch the workers tomorrow into any kind of an adventure that Stalin deems useful to his diplomatic game.

Never forget, workers of France, that the premiership of Blum was not possible without Thorez! The guilt for decapitating the June strikes is shared equally by the Communist Party with the treacherous leaders of the Socialist Party and the trade unions. Today Jouhaux and Blum mean nothing; but their criminal partner of 1936-1938, the Stalinist bureaucracy, can still do terrible damage to the French workers. They constitute today the main danger in the labor movement.

One of the essential tasks of the French Bolshevik-Leninists is to turn toward the duped followers of the agents of Stalin, turn to the Communist workers and to help them draw the lessons from these recent events.

The unprecedented military defeat and the downfall of the Third Republic have introduced disquiet and ferment into all the old organizations. Now the torpor provoked by the suddenness of the catastrophe is beginning to be dissipated. Discussions will not be lacking, but neither will confusion. Alone of all the big and little organizations, the Fourth International can confidently say that its program has passed the test of facts. That is why it can boldly present it to everyone. This program is the socialist revolution attained by the methods of implacable class struggle. An entire epoch has been left behind, that of decaying bourgeois democracy. It has carried away with it its bourgeois-democratic parties and leaders, as well as the workers’ parties and leaders who had bound their fate to it. We have entered into a new epoch, that of the struggles and the convulsions of the death agony of capitalism. But this new epoch is that of the Fourth International and its triumph!

November 1940

International Executive Committee of the Fourth International


Last updated on 2 February 2006