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Fourth International, June 1944


Jeanne Sorel

The Pucheu Case and “Free France”


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.6, June 1944, pp.174-177.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Pucheu, former Minister of the Pétain Government, has been shot at Algiers in execution of a sentence pronounced by the French military tribunal sitting in that town. The working class will have but one regret, that Pucheu was not sent to the firing squad by proletarian justice. The trial has, however, a far wider meaning than that of the individual fate of a collaborator of the Germans who unavailingly attempted to change horses and back the Allies.

Pucheu’s trial throws some light on some important aspects of the French situation. France has always been the country where political struggles were consistently fought out to the bitter end, and today the struggles in France are an inherent part of an entangled maze of struggles which are developing over the whole of Europe. We may therefore neglect nothing that can throw any light upon the present great European drama and its currents and tendencies.

Who Was Pucheu?

Pucheu had none of the usual characteristics of a French politician of the democratic period. He never appeared upon the political stage of the Third Republic. He was one of a number of young intellectuals bought by the Comité des Forges, the most powerful cartel of French heavy industry. After 1914-18, the Comité des Forges had endeavored to enlist the services of some brilliant young men (amongst them Pucheu) who, among other things, edited the Bulletin Quotidien de la Societé d’Etudes Economiques, a roneographed publication of restricted circulation whose 60 or 80 and more daily pages brought extensive and reliable information on a wide range of subjects, with well-considered appreciations and views judiciously elaborated in the interests of big capital.

Pucheu played a leading role in the economic services of the Comité des Forges, but not till later did he enter politics, and even then he remained behind the scenes until the Bordeaux coup d’état. He belonged to several small committees which aimed at maneuvering politicians and never attempted to exercise any direct influence upon the larger masses. In this respect there is much similarity between the circles frequented by Pucheu and the notorious Herrenklub of Berlin. It is the policy of the Comité des Forges which Pucheu strived to enforce, first as Production Minister and then as Minister of the Interior in the Pétain government. Again and again during the trial Pucheu declared that he was “acting by order.”

The pleadings at Pucheu’s trial did not give rise to the development of long dissertations on international policy, but the few words that were spoken are quite sufficient to show up the game of French capitalism. Giving evidence, General Giraud declared:

“If I am not mistaken, it was towards the end of 1942 that Pucheu requested an interview from me ... He was of the opinion that the time of the ‘attentist’ [wait and see] policy of 1940 had come to an end. I told him I agreed with him on this point. Now that Germany’s defeat was certain, there could be no question of remaining an accomplice of Germany.”

General Giraud thus corroborates what Pucheu had expressed more clearly still:

“In October 1942, I came back to Vichy and submitted a memorandum to Marshal Pétain. I told him that, in my opinion, ... the possibilities of the wait and see (‘attentist’) policy had been exhausted and that the time was ripe for an Allied intervention in North Africa. I suggested that, without Laval being informed, negotiations should be opened with Tuck, the American chargé d’affaires. I went to Lyons where I was received by General Giraud. He communicated his plans to me and I declared that I would take his orders.”

We can summarize as follows the international policy of the Comité des Forges, before and after Bordeaux, and then since 1942: French capitalism, fearing a proletarian revolution and lacking confidence in Great Britain’s capabilities, seeks an outlet in a policy of collaboration with Germany. But this overthrow of alliances could not be effected by normal parliamentary means. A period of cross-currents and confusion, the June 1940 collapse, had to come before such a reversal could be effected, and then it implied the necessity of bowing before Germany instead of following Great Britain. The French capitalists thought they might successfully play this card. German capitalism, then supreme in Europe, was very weak outside Europe and was compelled to seek an agreement with the United States which held the first place in the capitalist world. In the Spring of 1940, Laval, who then held no post within the Vichy State apparatus and could therefore express himself more freely, addressed himself to the United States in a broadcast speech. Several weeks before Hitler opened hostilities against the USSR, Laval was telling the Americans: Europe is behind Germany, the bulwark in the fight against Bolshevism, and you should come to an understanding with her. No country is better situated than France to serve as intermediary.

This policy of equilibrium was adopted by practically all the teams which took part in the game of Vichy and Paris from 1940 to 1942. At that time, doubts, and even more than doubts, began to arise as to the possibility of a German victory, and a part of French big capital began to turn with the wind. Pucheu expresses this by saying that “attentism is a policy whose possibilities have been exhausted,” and Giraud declares: “I quite agree.“ “Exhausted,” we may well mark the word.

As a result, the year 1942 is characterized by the wide-scale export of French capital into North Africa. The occupation of North Africa by the Allies is being prepared in France under the direction of the American diplomats, Leahy, Murphy and Tuck. The exploiters of the French workers and peasants no longer aim at being the intermediate agents between two gangster parties; they now long to become the flunkeys of the victorious camp. In July 1940, Dakar opposes the Royal Navy with cannon-shots, in December 1942, she bows without resistance to His Majesty The Dollar.

From the above quotations it appears quite clearly that Giraud had entrusted Pucheu with the task of sounding Pétain in this matter and that this was directed against Laval whose intrigues and double-crossing they may have feared. Pétain refused to side with the United States or to enter their service – presumably because he had his doubts as to their ability of rapidly settling accounts with German imperialism. It is then that Washington regretfully severed its relations with Pétain.

As at the time of the assassination of Darlan, the minor incident of Pucheu’s execution has once more revealed the rivalries existing between Britain and America in spite of their numerous declarations of friendship. Practically none of the London newspapers expressed any reservations on the subject of the disposal of Darlan and Pucheu. On the contrary, the State Department publicly expressed their regret at Darlan’s assassination and now fail to conceal their displeasure at Pucheu’s execution.

True, the American government simultaneously denies any acknowledged or concealed sympathy for Vichy – and undoubtedly, they feel no sympathy – either acknowledged or concealed – for de Gaulle’s committee. This has been the case ever since 1940 and still remains true. In this connection, the instructions recently imparted to General Eisenhower whereby he is to deal, in France, with whatever local authorities he will deem fit, are more eloquent than all of Cordell Hull’s general declarations. In the eyes of America, de Gaulle’s original sin consists in having been the first chief of the French Legion, created by the Foreign Office to take the opportunity of the French collapse in order to seize France’s colonies. Washington, however, had its own designs in the matter of these colonies and preferred to deal with the men of Vichy who appeared to offer better guarantees of stability and social conservatism. Pétain might have become the American de Gaulle. As a result of Pétain’s evasion, the Americans temporarily forfeited certain advantages and had to play a more complicated game, but they must reckon that their material supremacy will allow them, either at Algiers or later on in France, to suppress any elements likely to play into the hands of the Foreign Office or the Kremlin.

The Algiers tribunal sentenced Pucheu for “having incited men serving in the Army or the Navy to pass over to the service of a foreign power, i.e., Germany, at war with France” and for dealing with Germany in his capacity of Secretary of State for Industrial Production and of Minister of the Interior. The Algiers tribunal was composed of former “attentists” who agree with Giraud and Pucheu that “the possibilities of the attentist policy are exhausted.”

Vichy’s Measures against the Working Class

The working masses had one primary indelible reason to hate Pucheu: repression had been constantly on the increase under Daladier, Reynaud, and up to Pétain, but under Pucheu’s Ministry it developed on an even larger scale. Exceptional jurisdiction was introduced; the courts pronounced death sentences against which there was no possible appeal. Pucheu caused heads to fall, and the masses clamored for his blood. It was also under Pucheu’s Ministry that the German occupation authorities began to shoot militant workers who were detained as hostages by the French authorities and who had never been sentenced by any tribunal. At Algiers, Pucheu claimed to have resisted the Germans on this point and denied that he had any responsibility in picking out the militants who were shot by the German authorities. Pucheu’s denials have no value whatsoever. We may believe him when he declared that he did not favor too much collaboration with the Germans, for it is obvious that French capitalism did not wish completely to bar the way to Germany’s capitalist rivals, and this would have been the inevitable result, had French economy been subjected to a thorough reorganization along German lines. In the matter of the repression of working class movements there was, however, no difference between Pucheu’s conceptions and those of German imperialism. No French worker can have the slightest doubt on this point. This aspect of the question has unfortunately been obscured by the ultra-chauvinist character of the evidence given by F. Grenier, the Stalinist Member of Parliament.

The Attorney-General declined to retain against Pucheu the accusation of complicity in the shooting of hostages and the tribunal declared Pucheu “not guilty of having caused the arrest of Frenchmen and thus having committed an arbitrary act or an act assailing the rights of one or more citizens.” In plain English, this juridical jargon is tantamount to the approval of Pucheu’s activities in the repression of working class movements. The Algiers tribunal thereby delivered a blank signature to Vichy and to the Gestapo for their anti-proletarian terror in France.

To the masses, Pucheu’s trial could only appear as a trial of the Pétain régime. But this was not the view of the tribunal, in spite of their condemnation of Pucheu. One of Pucheu’s barristers argued that “the Vichy Government is juridically legal, though it is not legitimate.” Pucheu himself stressed that at the time when he was a Minister, the United States and the USSR both recognized Vichy as the legal government of France. This question may be of interest to the various capitalist chancelleries, but from the workers’ point of view and from a purely factual point of view, it is undeniable that Pétain forced himself upon France by a coup d’état. In its decision the Algiers tribunal nevertheless declares that “by participating in the institution called ‘État Français’, ... Pucheu did not commit an offence aiming at the destruction or the transformation of the government.” Thus, the Algiers magistrates mark their approval of the Bordeaux coup d’état and of the authoritarian character of Pétain’s régime. Their disavowal only concerns one point: they are of the opinion that Pétain played the wrong card in the imperialist game.

The significance of the sentence pronounced by the Algiers tribunal goes far beyond the personality of Pucheu and of his judges. The sentence reveals the common nature of the Pétain régime in France and the de Gaulle régime now established in North Africa which lays claim to the future government of France. At the same time, the sentence may serve to lay open some of the differences between these two régimes.

The Pétain régime is the dictatorship of the army and of the police in the service of big capital. This is Bonapartism, not fascism. It is Bonapartism propped up by the Gestapo and the German occupation troops.

The de Gaulle régime – especially since its establishment at Algiers – contains an ever increasing number of men from the army and the police who have deserted Vichy. This too is Bonapartism. It is Bonapartism propped up by the Allied troops and the crumbs of Lease-Lend.

The differences between these two Bonapartist régimes are in no way exhausted by the fact that some of these French patriots have a marked preference for Basic English as opposed to the jargon of the Voelkischer Beobachter.

The Hotbed of a ‘New’ Fascism

In France, independent working class organisations are driven to illegality by Pétain; in Algeria, where reaction still reigned supreme at the time of the proletarian offensive of 1936, the de Gaulle régime cannot help tolerating the open expression of trade unions and working class parties and must even seek their collaboration.

In France, Pétain is constantly being spurred on by the agitation of the fascist organisations, in particular by Doriot’s PPF. In Algeria, these same fascist organisations have been reduced to illegality and there actually appears to be no fascist movement in existence at Algiers. Obviously, one of these bonapartist régimes leans essentially on fascist reaction, whereas the other leans more towards the exploited masses. This is nowise to the credit of one or other of the leading cliques, it is simply the resultant of the class forces in operation; but it is a fact of great importance for the future development of the class struggle.

Fascism is not openly and officially present at Algiers, but the influence of the existing and latent counter-revolutionary forces in France is far from unimportant. Fascism is not represented solely by groups like the PPF which have linked up their fate with that of German fascism. Fascism finds many other possibilities of development and unfolds into various forms that are more refined and much more dangerous for the future of the working class movement.

The actions of the “resistance movement” and of the “maquis” are being praised high and low. These are formations essentially composed of young men who are leading an unceasing and extremely dangerous struggle against the occupation troops. But armed struggle does not in itself constitute a political program. Physical courage abounds nowadays, in all uniforms and under all flags, the sore point being that too often workers are displaying this courage in the cause of their masters. What is the program of the “maquis,” of the “resistance movement”? The statement that their only aim is “the liberation of the national territory” does not suffice to define a program. We would like to probe a bit further into its social content, examine their aspirations and see what tendencies they are fostering. The official news handouts supply us with very sparse details, but even from them it is obvious that the “resistance movement” is composed of a number of diametrically opposed elements.

In the towns they are more linked up with the working class movement, and in particular with the Stalinist formations. This is the older part of the “resistance movement”, and dates back to 1941, i.e., to the beginning of the war against the USSR. Pucheu, attempting to justify his measures of repression against the communists, recalled during his trial that, at that time, “even the Gaullist broadcasts declared that the guerrillas had no military value.” This part of the resistance movement is still looked upon with very little favor by the reactionary elements in the Algiers apparatus. On the other hand, the resistance movement contains formations which were not constituted till 1943, after the dissolution of the French army which freed a number of ex-officers and NCOs who now serve as cadres for the young “labor-escapees” in the resistance movement. This part of the resistance movement is generally more linked up with the agricultural regions of the country and it undoubtedly constitutes a favorable hotbed for the development of a “new Fascism.” There, are to be found the same type of discontented ex-servicemen, of ex-officers seeking to score a victory over the enemy at home, as in Mussolini’s fascios of 1919 or in the memorable Baltikum troops. The resistance movement deems itself superior to all and everyone and recognizes none but its own laws. And this state of mind is being assiduously fostered. Some within the resistance movement are already stating that they aim at transforming it into a party, and others propose to do so immediately the country has been freed of German troops. Here then we have the germ of a new fascism. We do not mean to say that the resistance movement is fascism or that it is led by fascists. There probably are within the movement some fascist elements, conscious of the revolutionary danger that may arise in the near future, who aim to work at the formation of counter-revolutionary troops. But the bulk of the men in the resistance movement – at least those who do give thought to the problems of the future and are not content with fighting only – are still seeking a way out of the situation into which the war has precipitated them. They are not ipso facto fascists in embryo. On the contrary, the next stage in Europe will most probably be marked by a huge revolutionary upsurge of the masses, and declassed elements of the “resistance movement” will participate in this. If, however, this revolutionary wave were to break up, a new fascism would arise from the midst of these elements trained to violence and discipline. There is only one counter-measure: a class policy denouncing the lie of all groups pretending to remain above classes, and of all programs of national liberation without class content.

Why was Pucheu judged and executed by the Algiers flunkeys? Serving Wall Street and the City, they have the same dominant fear as their masters – that of the masses and the European revolution, especially as far as France is concerned, for the experiences of June 1936 are still extremely vivid. The Attorney-General, General Weiss, openly admitted this:

‘We wish with all our heart to avoid the threat of what might increase the danger of a civil war, which our dear allies, in spite of their watchful affection might be unable to dam.”

Pucheu also warns:

“If the provisional government of France enters the country behind the troops with methods and ideas identical with those they hold today, not one year till pass before they will have let loose the worst internal strife.”

Pucheu’s barrister declares that the danger already exists in North Africa now:

“The trial is a mistake from the political point of view in that it may well disconcert Moslem public opinion in North Africa and thus arouse unrest.”

The leaders at Algiers have thought that, by sacrificing a few lives, they may succeed in calming the rage of the masses and save the capitalist régime. How mistaken they are! No subterfuge can shackle the working class masses of Europe in their struggle. AMG and its servants will not succeed tomorrow, where the Gestapo with its accomplices has failed today. However many Pucheus they may sacrifice, they will not save their régime!

March 1944

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