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Fourth International, October 1944


Our Paris Correspondent

The Real Situation in France


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.10, October 1944, pp.293-295.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Although the bourgeois groups, and especially the Stalinists, succeeded in canalizing the Paris uprising of August 19-24 into nationalist lines and making it a “national” insurrection, the class lines, although superficially hidden, exerted their influence all the same. The general slogan was the purely nationalist one: “Out with the Boche;” and the general idea in the minds of the insurrectionists who fought and died on the barricades was that the sole purpose of the uprising was the ejection of the Germans from the city. In fact, the French Communist Party (CPF), which no doubt exerted the greatest influence in the Resistance Movement (in Paris the Stalinist-controlled FTP – Francs Tireurs et Partisans – formed the major part of the FFI) deliberately fostered this mood. L’Humanité appeared one day with the headline: “A chaque Parisien son Boche” (Let Every Parisian Get His Boche). However, while the class issues were momentarily confused in the minds of the masses, the character of the movement revealed the underlying class issues.

The actual street fighting was done largely by the FFI (FTP and others) in the city itself, aided on the barricades by elements of the petty bourgeoisie (the local shopkeepers, functionaries, housewives, etc.) and workers in the proletarian districts (XIth, XIVth, and other districts).

The workers of the banlieue, of the big factories, Renault, Citroen, SNAC, Gnome et Rhone, etc., did not in general descend into Paris. They intervened in quite another way. They occupied the factories, arrested or forced the arrest of the collaborating directing factory personnel and in the most advanced cases prepared the given factory to start production again under their control.

In most factories the initiative was taken by Communist Party factory militants, and the Trotskyists. For example, at one factory employing over 1,000 workers, about 15 workers assembled at the plant. Among these were some 10 CP members and supporters and two or three Trotskyists. These 15 occupied the deserted factory, sent messages to call the workers to a factory meeting in order to elect a workers’ committee. A “Commission d’Epuration” (Purging Committee) was set up to “try” all the collaborating managing personnel, directors, managers, etc. Supply committees were likewise elected to take over the factory canteen.

The food situation being acute, the factory canteens had begun to play an important role. Not only the workers but their families ate there. A large proportion of the disputes and strikes that had taken place in the weeks prior to the capture of Paris were related to feeding and canteen arrangements, the quality and quantity of the food, the prices, etc. Thus, during the insurrection, the canteen and the control of it became a vital issue. To obtain food the workers had recourse to direct requisitioning. Black market stocks were requisitioned by organized detachments sent out by the factories to supply the canteens. In the districts housewives’ committees sprung up to fight the black market and ensure the distribution of captured German food stocks.

Factory Militias

In many factories the nuclei of workers’ militias had already been built up secretly under the German occupation. The CP had called for the formation in the factories of “Milices Ouvrieres Patriotiques” (Patriotic Workers’ Militia), but in two ways their growth was obstructed. First, whatever arms were available to the Resistance Movement were distributed mainly to the reactionary elements, Organisation Civile et Militaire (OCMO), the Armée Secrete, etc. The FTP and workers had to arm themselves mostly from arms captured or stolen from the Germans. Secondly, the Stalinists urged the workers to leave the factories and join the Maquis, where invariably the workers were integrated under the leadership and control of ex-officer cadres. The Trotskyists, on the other hand urged the workers to stick to their factories which were their stronghold and not allow themselves to be dispersed and thus lose their class coherence.

In some cases the workers when they came to occupy the factories, found these already guarded by FFI formations, including the reactionary bosses’ Organisation Civile at Militaire (OCM).

In many factories in the Paris region, similar conditions as in Italy in 1919 and in Spain in 1936 existed, where the whole of the managing and technical personnel of the works had either fled or were arrested. The workers’ committees appointed new directors, foremen, technicians, etc., to work under their control and prepare the factories for the resumption of production; and they sent delegates to de Gaulle’s Ministry of Production, Ministry of Labor, etc., asking permission to start work and laying out detailed plans. They were told that it was impossible to start production as there was no power for the machines. The Government, they were told, would appoint administrateurs-delegues (administrator-delegates) to take over the factories whose directors had been arrested. In the meanwhile, nothing was to be done.

Even in the Paris Metro (subway) the staff on their own initiative drew up a plan and time-table for the trains, made the necessary repairs and said to the authorities, “Let us run the Metro.”

Production Under Workers’ Control

At the same time, the workers in the factories drew up “Cahiers de Revendications” (lists of demands) which varied from factory to factory, but included commonly wage increases, workers’ control and inspection of the books, workers’ control of employment and exchange, control of the canteen, etc.

In some suburbs the different factories joined forces and called inter-factory delegates’ meetings representing several factories in the district, democratically elected by secret ballot.

The “illegal CGT” (French Confederation of Labor) and the returned trade union officials from Algiers tried to bridle this spontaneous creation of factory committees. One example will illustrate the mood in which they were received. At a meeting of district factory delegates in a Paris suburb, an official of the CGT intervened and declared that the meeting had no authority, was not properly constituted and represented nothing. And so forth and so on. Whereupon one delegate, not belonging to any party, jumped up and exclaimed:

“And who the hell do you represent? I represent – he factory, I was elected by so many workers. Who elected you? I have paid my trade union dues for 15 years and it (the CGT) has done nothing for us at all.”

He was loudly applauded by the rest of the meeting. The CGT official had to withdraw.

Thus, although the Paris insurrection took place under nationalist, “classless” slogans, and although all tendencies in the Resistance Movement, from ultra-reactionary royalists to the Communist Party, tried to give it a national and classless character, from the very beginning the working class, basing itself, on the factories, “spontaneously” threw up its own class organs – factory committees, factory militias, etc. – and began to put forward class demands, thus creating the elements of dual power.

In the districts (arrondissements) of Paris, a form of dual power as between the Resistance forces (mostly Stalinist FTP) and the de Gaulle authorities exists. During the fighting, detachments of the FFI, FTP, etc., took the local mairies (town halls) by storm and once the Germans were ejected, contrived to occupy them and to assure the municipal services. At the same time housewives’ committees sprang up to control the food rationing.

The reactionaries are already trying to liquidate this duality of power which exists between them and the Stalinists who control the FTP, and the mairies. The headquarters of the FTP has been raided and searched by the police! The formations of the FFI are either being integrated into the regular army or dissolved. De Gaulle in his speech at the Palais de Chaillot was certainly referring to the FFI and FTP when he warned “France must have a united army which belongs to France only.”

Undoubtedly the French Communist Party had a decisive influence on Paris and on the course of the insurrection – in the factories, the FFI – hrough the FFP and in the districts. If it had pursued a policy of “Les Soviets Partout!” (Build Soviets Everywhere!) and actively pushed the workers’ committees, etc., and called upon the workers to build up their committees as the basis of workers’ power as an alternative to the Provisional Government, the insurrection would have very quickly developed into a workers’ revolution.

In fact, all the necessary conditions for a revolutionary situation existed, except for the presence of a sufficiently strong revolutionary party. The CP, by its very nature, and the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy could not but play an altogether different, counter-revolutionary role. By pursuing a “Popular Front,” national unity policy, and calling for a purely “national” insurrection, by exciting to the highest pitch the nationalist and chauvinist sentiments of the masses, it confused the class issues in the minds of the workers. It now finds itself on the horns of this dilemma: It is faced with an offensive by the reaction to liquidate – “legally” and peacefully if possible – he duality of power, and it is equally afraid of leaning on the support of the masses. The Trotskyist organization, on the other hand, calls for the strengthening of the workers’ committees in the factories and their coordination on first a local and then a regional and national plane. It points out that the only way of legalizing the power of the municipal councils is to base them on the “comités de quartier” (district committees), on the housewives’ and factory committees, through democratic elections, thus confirming them as the real expression of the will of the masses.

It is because these demands correspond to the needs of the situation and the real interests of the masses that they are being followed even by rank and file members of the CP in the factories. In several big factories of the Paris region, the initiative in occupying the factories and forming the workers’ committees was taken by the Trotskyists who received the support of CP militants. In such fluid conditions as existed in Paris, it has been shown by the experience of the French Trotskyists that a small body with a correct orientation, can definitely contribute to the development of the situation.


The problem that poses itself in France is – who will triumph?

Will it be the workers and peasants through the development of their own class organs, workers’ committees, peasants’ committees, etc. – into a Soviet Government – or will it be the bourgeois reaction in the form of a military Bonapartist dictatorship? There is no middle road possible.

A Constituent Assembly might be elected, but the internal contradictions and antagonisms in France are too acute to permit of France going through a more or less lengthy period of parliamentary democracy. Even before the elections for a Constituent Assembly can be held, it is quite possible that the contradictions will have developed to a stage that makes the holding of, “free” elections impossible. However, the struggle for all the democratic liberties – freedom of organization, freedom of the press and of speech, right to strike, etc. – hese are in France today of paramount importance and must be fought for and defended vigorously against all attacks. In the long run all these democratic liberties can be guaranteed only by the class organizations of the working class allied to the peasantry and the lower middle class.

The developments in France, of course, are not separate, but part of the developments in Europe itself. The French ruling class, expressing itself through de Gaulle, is staking its claim to a share in the peace settlement, the partition of Germany and the policing of Europe as a great power. As a matter of fact, however, France no longer has the power to play such a role in view of its economic, political and military weakness and the preponderant power, economic and military, of the USA. But in an attempt to stake his claim, de Gaulle plans – as his speech at the Chaillot Palace shows – to rebuild the French army and gear the whole economic life of France to the war effort. Such a burden will prove too heavy. France will be like Balaam’s ass. The imposition of such a burden upon the already weary masses after four years of German occupation and exploitation can only he achieved by dictatorial methods. De Gaulle, perhaps, has hopes of becoming a new Napoleon.

The fate of France cannot be separated from that of Europe. Either it will become a Bonapartist state in a Balkanized Europe, or its social revolution, bringing into power the Soviet government, will be but one part of the European revolution for a United States of Europe.

Paris, September 1944.

P.S. When Jacques Duclos, in a speech at a big mass meeting in the Vel. d’Hiv. said: “We all know that the proportion of two Communists in the Government does not represent the real relation of forces in the country,” he was very vigorously applauded.

If in Britain the question for the coming period is “Labor to Power,” then in France one might similarly say: “Thorez au pouvoir” (Thorez to Power), and let the masses in each case learn from their own experience.

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Last updated on 3.9.2008