From Fourth International, vol.6 No.4, April 1945, pp.106-110.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
Translated by Miriam Carter from the April-May 1944 issue of Quatrième Internationale, theoretical organ of the European Executive Committee of the Fourth International.
The shifting of the world economic axis from Europe to America, which took place after the war of 1914-la, shattered the foundation of all the European imperialist powers, victors and vanquished alike.
Between the two wars the atrophy of French economy and the stagnation of production became intensified and the resulting social paroxysms more and more violent, while the possibilities of concessions narrowed and financial ruin became widespread. The decay of the capitalist system, its incurable crisis manifested itself in the retardation of the productive forces and the instability of social relations. The war laid completely bare this advanced stage of decomposition.
The swift defeat of France and the occupation of the metropolitan center and later of the colonies, disclosed the contradictions which had been revealed and analyzed by the revolutionary Marxists immediately following the first imperialist war. “The appearance is that France, of all the countries, has grown most in power,” states the Resolution on the Versailles Treaty, adopted by the Fourth Congress of the Communist international in 1922.
“But in reality,” it goes on to add, “the economic basis of France, with her small and steadily diminishing population, her enormous domestic and foreign debt, and her dependence on England, does not provide an adequate foundation for her greed for imperialist expansion. So far as her political power is concerned, she is thwarted by England’s mastery of all the important naval bases, and by the oil monopoly held by England and the United States. In the domain of economy, the enrichment of France with the iron mines given her by the Treaty of Versailles, loses its value inasmuch as the supplementary and indispensable coal mines of the Ruhr Basin remain in German hands. The hopes of restoring shattered French finances by means of German reparations have proved illusory. When the impracticability of the Treaty of Versailles becomes apparent, certain sections of French heavy industry will consciously bring on the depreciation of the franc in order to unload the costs of the war on the shoulders of the French proletariat.”
These lines written in 1922 present, in brief but piercing analysis, the essential factors which have dominated the economic and political life of imperialist France in the interval between the two wars, as well as the fundamental characteristics of the political configuration of French imperialism in its present state of collapse. Ever since 1914 each imperialism has sought to throw the economic collapse with which it was threatened onto the shoulders of the others.
From this point of view, “victory” settled nothing at all, just as another such “victory” today will settle nothing. It is necessary to find a way out from the chronic crisis, the stagnation prevailing in industry (despite the development of some of its branches), the disorganization of agriculture and the collapse of economy as a whole. The solution lies not in the “victory” of one gang of imperialist bandits over another gang, but only in the overthrow of rotting capitalism by the proletarian revolution. The living example of France is a perfect demonstration that the crisis of imperialism is not conjunctural but organic. The imperialist appetite of France proved greater than the resources by means of which she had hoped to find a solution for her own economic crackup. The twenty years of unstable equilibrium which ensued have demonstrated that this immense edifice rested, as the Russian fable says, on chicken legs.
To avert financial ruin, the imperialist oligarchy tried to unload its debts on the shoulders of the working class and peasantry. The franc originally worth 20 sous became a franc of 12 sous under Poincaré, and of 8 sous under Auriol, and then the declining value of the franc opened the flood gates to rising prices.
After a few spasmodic spurts and the “windfall” in the shape of reconstruction of the devastated areas, industry wallowed in the stagnant waters of the crisis from 1930 on. The road of artificial revival through war preparations was closed to it. First because French imperialism, faithful to its tradition, never ventured to invest its gold, even in part, (as America did) secondly, because it could not follow the German example, since it had not crushed the working class. Unstable and tottering, it entered the second imperialist war in a state of complete disorganization.
The fact that in the interval between the two wars the relationship of forces between German and French imperialism became altered to the point where France was beaten and defeated almost without a struggle while German imperialism was able to withstand the weight of the largest coalition in history, has given birth, even among the vanguard, to a series of false analyses relating both to the character of French imperialism as well as the very root of the problem, that of imperialism itself. Did not the defeat and the occupation constitute “clear evidence that France had ceased to be an imperialist power, since she had lost – apparently at least – the control over her economy as well as political control both in the metropolitan center and in the colonies?” To pose the problem this way is to render the concept of imperialism empty of all content, and to reduce it to an abstraction.
Lenin defined imperialism as “capitalism in that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all territories of the globe among the great capitalist powers has been completed.”
What place does France occupy in this stage of development, and what are its characteristics?
France has long been under the “dominance of monopolies and finance capital,” and has long ago shown signs of an overripe imperialism, manifesting itself precisely in the tremendous export of capital. France practised international usury before America, and on a scale comparable only to that of America.
“Unlike British colonial imperialism,” wrote Lenin, “French imperialism might be termed usury imperialism. In regard to Germany, we have a third type; the German colonies are inconsiderable, and German capital is evenly divided between Europe and (South) America.”
These different characteristics have brought about different results: French industry has never developed to the point reached by German and English industry. The famous French motto “balance between agriculture and industry” has signified not only the flight of capital because of the lack of coal and oil which constitute the basis of all complete industrialization, but also a precocious maturity, and the search for profitable investments in more backward countries.
The French industrial apparatus is obviously inferior to the German, whose pivot is the Ruhr coal mining area; and to the British industry which rests on the collieries of Central and Western England. But even British imperialism has not spread such a web of obligations and credits over Europe as has French imperialism.
The export of English capital has had for its arena of exploitation the richest and vastest colonial empire. While English industry is also stagnating and rotting, its equilibrium is maintained by its reserves, by an empire enlarged despite its centrifugal tendencies, and by a navy which only yesterday was unrivaled.
German imperialism has followed a different road. Its “recovery” was made possible not only because of the inability of French imperialism to benefit by its victory, but above all because of a formidable industrial apparatus which was freed from all domestic debt by means of complete ruination of the petty bourgeoisie (total depreciation of the mark in 1923) which then resumed operation by absorbing American capital, and which attained a very high level of production through the crushing of the working class and its subjection under the heel of fascism.
The character of French imperialism – usury imperialism as Lenin called it – rendered it more vulnerable to its rivals and deprived it of the means of surmounting, even superficially, its organic crisis.
Its victory of 1919 did not provide the possibilities for reconstructing its economy, and French imperialism could never accomplish this. The task of rescuing France from decay rests with the working class. The only solution that the beaten and reactionary bourgeoisie could conceive was to erect a Chinese Wall, that is to say the Maginot line, for the defense of its counting-houses, and to continue to send its capital abroad in the form of liquid assets. But even this road was made perilous by the disorganization of the world market and the collapse of the Versailles system.
“The export of capital,” writes Lenin, “one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by the exploitation of the labor of several overseas countries and colonies.”
England suffered less from the danger of its credits because these were primarily invested in the colonial field. The case of French imperialism was different: of 45 billions of gold francs exported abroad, 25 percent were lent to Russia, 13 percent to Turkey, 23 percent to other European countries, while 9 percent went to the colonies, 13 percent to Latin America. More than half of these loans were wiped out after the loss of the Russian market and the permanent disorganization of the world market.
Nevertheless, by bleeding the colonies and exploiting the metropolis, France was able, after 1919, to throw new sums into world circulation; and while the results were less “happy” (the annual return on investments and loans dropped from 9 billions before 1914 to 4 billions before 1939), French imperialism completely retained its character of European usurer. More strikingly than anywhere else, capitalism revealed itself here as an insurmountable brake on the progress of a country and its productive forces.
Upon plunging into the crisis of 1930 the country became mired in the crisis, powerless to emerge. The “economic policy” of 1936-39 is a monument of irreconcilable contradictions. The promises of “raising the purchasing power” were accompanied by a frenzied rise of prices; the skeleton of the “Third Republic” was cracking at all its joints, while the bourgeoisie kept hesitating whether to plunge boldly down the fascist road, and the proletariat, curbed by a traitorous leadership, marked time.
The economic breakdown showed even to the blind how incapable the bourgeoisie was of pulling itself out of the mire. In the period preceding the current war the index of production showed a clear decline even in comparison to the pre-1914 level. Taking 1913 with the index of 100, the production index, which was 57 in 1919, climbed back to the 1913 level in 1924, reached its peak in 1930 with 140, only to drop to a critical average of 92 in 1938.
Agriculture, paralyzed by American, Russian, Balkan and even colonial competition, backward in its production methods and handicapped by the “scissors” between industrial and agricultural prices, provoked an exodus from the countryside (the rural population fell from 54 percent to 48 percent without any effective counter-balance in urban industrialization) and an increase in uncultivated land (8 percent of the arable area).
An economy in stagnation, disorganized finances, permanent social crisis, and an absolute incapacity to find a way out – such was the picture of France under the financial oligarchy.
The war has still further disoriented French economy and has changed the classic channels of her foreign trade. On the eve of the war France was self-sufficient only in eight out of 44 raw materials; prior to the outbreak of the war in 1939 French industry could only provide 10 percent of 24 vital materials. On the eve of the war 40.3 percent of the imports came from Europe, 22 percent from Africa, 18.5 percent from America, 17.5 percent from Asia and the Pacific. The exports listed in accordance with their destination were as follows: 54 percent to Europe, 25 percent to Africa, 12.4 percent to America, 7.1 percent to Asia and the Pacific.
The integration of France into the continental war economy acted to accentuate even more the atrophy of her industry. The production index, which fell to 50 in 1941 (with 1938 equals 100), went up only 8 points in two years. The only branch that really remained in operation is heavy industryprimarily iron mining. The exhaustion of reserve stocks, and the brutal restriction of consumption kept the other industries at a very low level of production. The loss of oil, of cotton and of copper (from America), of wool (from Australia), of jute and of tin created very precarious conditions for industries not working directly for the war.
But it is not here that we must seek the true cause of the stagnation; the blockade and the loss of raw materials did nothing but accentuate the process which had begun after the war of 1914-18. Suffice it to cite, for example, the case of the metallurgical industry. Despite the conquest of the Moselle basin, which doubled the capacity for the extraction of iron ore, the production of iron and steel kept steadily declining before the war: from 9.7 million tons in 1929 to 7.9 million in 1937 and 6.2 in 1938. Before 1939 there were never more than 50 percent of the 209 blast furnaces in use, while the larger part of the ore was sent to Germany.
Parallel with the disorganization of the economy and the pauperization there has been accentuated the process which began long ago, the process of the extreme concentration of capital. The “State” gave powerful impetus to this process which is characteristic of all the great imperialist nations. At the same time as a theatrical hullabaloo was started about “support to the French artisan and small industry,” the law on the concentration of business enterprises, (December 17, 1941) fostered the aggression of the pirates of large-scale industry and led to the systematic elimination and pauperization of the middle classes. 
“French economy is tending to become a capitalism made up of great units,” said the bourgeois economist Perroux before the war. The redistribution of the corporation stocks and the growing share which German imperialism has arrogated to itself (the word “collaboration” translated into economic terms) does not fundamentally change this process. The “victorious allies” of tomorrow would take the place of the ousted imperialism, but the process would continue in the same channel.
Another important fact – and this a direct result of the war – is the removal of labor-power: more than 700,000 workers have been sent to Germany, of whom 400,000 were skilled. If one adds the 250,000 “converted” prisoners who work in Germany, the number of French workers in the Reich is over one million. (French economy has in addition lost, since the war, more than a million able-bodied men who are now prisoners.) The depleted working class has been “filled out” by the integration in production of women and youth, and at the same time by lengthening the work-week.
In this situation heavy industry is prospering more than ever. Its plants have been reevaluated (paying debts with devaluated francs) and it has realized tremendous profits thanks to the abundance of capital put into circulation by the state in financing the war and thanks to the dividends. This has permitted not only the buying up of smaller enterprises paralyzed by the lack of raw materials, but also a gigantic hoarding (aided by the state which gathers together a large part of the visible profits).
“Immense sums are accumulating in the hands of the capitalists,” Bertrand de Jouvenel, the bourgeois economist, wrote recently.
“With the state, that great consumer, creating the means of payment in accordance with its needs and the needs of those to whom it is indebted, the distributed profits have risen to unheard-of levels ... The reserves of the capitalists have become even greater in proportion as the distribution of income between the capitalists and the workers has been profoundly modified-at the workers’ expense-by the rigorous freezing of real wages.”
The fakery of the “socialist state” of the great monopolists is thus exploded by the admission of the bourgeois economists themselves. Professor Laufenburger wrote:
“France is the only European country where the wage level is so considerably lower than the official price level, which itself is far lower than the real cost of living.”
The myth of a planned economy under the bourgeoisie, contained in the formula “stabilization of prices, money and wages,” reveals itself in reality as rising prices, inflation, freezing of wages. The fact that while 15 billions in paper money are put in circulation monthly, the franc still maintains a relatively stable international value is not only due to the fact that at the same time other currencies are undergoing an inflation, but above all and principally to the fact that the working class, with frozen wages, carries the main burden of the inflation, while profits become more and more monstrous and prices rise continually. Based on prices jar below the actual cost of living, the official index of retail prices nevertheless shows a figure of 260 in 1943 (1938 equals 100) while wages for the same period were 150 (1938 equals 100).
The French bureaucracy and the police jealously guard the patriotic task of making the working class pay for the war and for the defeat and for “the immense sums accumulating in the hands of the capitalists.”
Under these conditions of rationing, poverty, financial instability and inflation, the gangrenous black market is an absolutely natural phenomenon; the “planned economy” of the bourgeoisie creates perfect conditions not for checking, but for developing the black market. Only workers’ control of production and distribution could do away with these inequalities.
Superficially the agricultural situation presents a different picture. While the decline of agricultural production in essential grains such as wheat and corn has been as much as 40 to 80 percent, the swollen price level has created great “liquid assets” in the country and a serious hoarding. But this hoarding is more vulnerable than any other, not so much because of the future devaluation of the franc but because of the impossibility of exchanging the agricultural products for industrial products and thus bringing about an improvement both in agricultural methods and in the level of production.
On the contrary, the lack of industrial products (machines, fertilizers) and the using up of the existing chattel and materiel will accentuate the collapse of prices when the markets reopen and the peasantry which is now permitted to “shift for itself,” will be faced with the perspective of a debt even heavier than the pre-1940 one.
The above-described redistribution of corporation stocks in the metropolitan center is occurring in the same way in Algiers and all the “French” colonies where the English and American imperialists are taking an active part in the exploitation. After the capture of the preferential shares of the Moroccan railway they turned their primary interest towards phosphates, lead and manganese. Pierpoint Morgan participates actively in the affairs of the Algerian railways, while England now largely controls the Algerian exports. Even the reconstitution of the “empire”will bring French imperialism a heavy “Allied” mortgage.
The immense sums of capital which French imperialism threw into world circulation and which assured first rank position to the French finance capitalists, clearly have not been lost. While certain positions will be liquidated after the war, the accumulation of interest continues, nevertheless, all over the surface of the earth. But the “French holdings” frozen in America represent margins of credits (costs of the war) rather than promise of future profits.
In Europe, certain annuities continue to arrive in France. Bulgaria, for example, pays in tobacco the annuities on her debt and her quota of the Turkish debt (a financial swindle of 50 years standing). The old investments continue to bring in some very meager amounts, but remain always as credits ... “potential ones.”
Hoarding, that is to say accumulation of wealth lifted by a parasitic economy from the riches of the colonies and from the “pick of the basket” represented by the interests on credits extracted from backward countries, is today slowing down. A new hoarding is to be seen in the metropolitan center, the base of which is the national debt with the state, as we have seen, throwing huge sums of paper money into circulation. The new treasure hoarders are the rising generation of showy adventurers and marauders, pirates of industry, war contractors, and kings of the black market. No one can estimate how great this hidden hoarding is, which illustrates the “French virtue” of thrift. These sums will be converted tomorrow into gold chains for the little kings and princelings of the Balkans if the revolution does not arrive to sweep out this rotten regime.
Besides this hidden hoarding, a visible hoarding is taking place. The intensity of this accumulation can be determined by observing the changes in the public debt. The latter rose to 432 billion francs in August 1939 and reached 1320 billions in December 1943, or an increase of 888 billions on the basis of which the advances of banks issuing notes rose to about 400 billions. Approximately 500 billions invested in Treasury bonds constitute what they call short term debts, and are reused by the State. The hoarded savings-reserves in the banks have risen to about 220 billion francs (of which 60 percent are in the six great banks that dominate the French financial market).
What are these savings actually worth? The answer depends on the future value of the franc, that is on the growth of inflation. But the continual increase in paper money and Treasury bonds is only an index of the profound economic disorder and of the irremediable decay of the antiquated commercial and financial system.
One sole fact comforts the French imperialists, namely, that this decay is not limited to France but is universal. Indeed, the French figures are not very far removed from the general tendency. The increase in paper money circulation and the swelling of the debt can be seen also in Germany as well as in America or in England, as this table shows:
Everywhere the future is mortgaged, and their only hope is that they can make the international proletariat understand that it “must” pay the piper. The increase in taxes, in issuance of paper money (inflation), and in the debt are the means by which greater and greater budgets, required by the imperialist war, are maintained.
After the last war, French imperialism found itself faced with a budgetary deficit of 35 billions (undepreciated) francs and a public debt of 170 billions (undepreciated) francs, or 1005 billions in current francs. At the end of 1943 the domestic debt alone rose to 1320 billions (and only for France, to say nothing of the mortgages taken by de Gaulle), and this debt is rising each day. Of 360 billions of annual national income, the state was absorbing 250 billions by 1942! “One can see to what a level the margin available for private needs is reduced.” (Laufenburger.)
The monopolistic and “planning” state has become an immense machine for bleeding the country white. Taxes follow an ascending curve, and the mass of paper money increases ceaselessly, the French financial wreckage each day becomes a more unbearable burden on the shoulders of the working class and of the layers of the pauperized petty bourgeoisie.
The 1939 budget – budget of war and famine, which had been led up to by more than five years of misery – decreeing laws – reached an outlay of 137 billions. In 1942 the outlay reached 256.5 billions and in 1944-454 billions!
The picture of the French budget is that of a gaping hole which capitalism can fill only by a still more monstrous exploitation of the proletariat. The “new order” is only the old capitalist disorder which brings with it nothing but misery and hunger.
The French bourgeoisie entered the second imperialist war side by side with English imperialism, tied to it in common defense of the booty acquired through previous partitions of the globe.
But since the beginning, French imperialism has not known how to get rid of her “ally” who “confiscated the victory of 1918,” imprisoned her in the Mediterranean, and prevented her (with the agreement of America) from totally plundering the Ruhr; besides, an infinite number of common ties of piracy and interests put their seal on this alliance and kept it from dissolving at the first shock. The course of the war re-enforced the tendency toward a rupture, and a fairly homogeneous imperialist bloc was formed on the platform of “non-resistance” and agreement with German imperialism. This bloc, supported by a large section of the French imperialist oligarchy, became crystallized as a result of the defeat.
Directly following the military catastrophe, the politics of this bloc was expressed first of all by support to that pair of lackeys Petain-Darlan, precisely in order to maintain a balance between German and English imperialism. Petain’s was a “legal” government desired by the French imperialists so that, taking advantage of the war, they might crush the working class, reconstruct under the screen of a semi-neutrality the economy of a debilitated country, and find in their close bonds with the “empire” an agreeable solution, propped up sub-rosa by American imperialism. The entry of American imperialism into the war ground this fragile construction of 1940 between the millstones of Germany and England.
From this moment (end of 1941, beginning of 1942) the Petain government was reduced to the level of simple clerk at the head of the bureaucratic and police apparatus in the metropolitan center, with de Gaulle as clerk at the head of the “empire.” The first was supported by German bayonets, the second by English and American bayonets. The French financial oligarchy used both clerks equally without coming out for one or the other, while waiting for the rearrangement of the French imperialist puzzle, and the dressing up of a “legal” government, that is to say, a government enjoying its full support.
The “French state” of Vichy is the product of a senile and vile bourgeoisie; it is the least costly solution for French imperialism. Despite the tribute it pays to German imperialism, despite the blood-letting of the working class, despite the using up of the reserve stocks, despite the meddling of German imperialism, French imperialism is the partner who gets the greatest profits from a country bled white and disintegrating, and in short who has maintained in spite of all reversals the skeleton framework of its power: that is, control of the bureaucratic administrative and police apparatus and the right of supervising its economic set-up.
French finance capital has maintained even after the defeat, the control of the State and its framework.
The two clerks, Petain and de Gaulle, serve one and the same master. One example among thousands will illustrate this perfectly: it is the example of the franc. The stabilization of the franc in Algiers at 200 francs to the pound (15 percent devaluation compared to the franc of 1939) is the same parity as set up in France. The monetary tokens which circulate in both the metropolitan center and the colonies, seem to have an osmotic nature which evens them out, as water finds its level in two communicating vessels. French holdings are frozen in certain places (countries outside Europe where de Gaulle is not recognized) but European accounts nourish French economy as they did in the past, and French capitalism receives its dividends even if the occupier is there. The stock market values – the French “sentinels” – of Suez or Renault are quoted by the ready-reckoners in Algiers and London. The French franc is still “healthy.” French imperialism has not lost its control over it.
The example of France is only one aspect of the decay reached by world imperialism.
The war has definitely relegated French imperialism to the ranks of secondary powers, destined “to facilitate the establishment of a new European equilibrium dictated by the imperialist victors.” (Theses on the Liquidation of the Second Imperialist War, adopted by the European Conference of the Fourth International.)
The artificial “realignment” brought about in the colonial territories of North Africa under the name of the “National Committee of Liberation,” to which the Soviet bureaucracy has just given its full support by the entry into it of two representatives of the Stalinist party, has absolutely no real base.
It is made possible only, by “the prolongation and spreading of the conflict which has allowed certain forces of vanquished French imperialism to get back on their feet and to be thrown back into the whirlpool struggle, thanks to the inter-play of imperialist antagonisms, thanks to the present necessities of war and to the political exigencies of an eventual capitalist peace.” (Idem.)
On the other hand the abject Petain regime is only the sign of decrepitude of a senile imperialism, long since ripe for the proletarian revolution. The stagnation of industry, the decay of agriculture, the financial ruin are only the picture of an over-ripe maturity: private property and national frontiers have become absolute brakes on the progress of the productive forces. “The integration of France in the area controlled by Germany” is nothing but a union of two ruined economies which can find a semblance of equilibrium only in working toward the destruction of the continent.
Contrariwise, the 20 years which preceded the war showed the inability of the English and American imperialisms to “organize” capitalist disorder. Five years of war have led to the bankruptcy of German imperialist “organization.” The lesson is plain: imperialism is incapable of unifying Europe.
Only socialism, the proletarian revolution, can outline a harmonious development for all the peoples of Europe. After five years of the second imperialist war the question of a change in the system is posed today in an incomparably more imperious and urgent fashion than after the war of 1914. The whole world is moving towards a great revolutionary explosion where the question of the victory of capitalist barbarism or of the proletarian revolution will be posed point-blank.
The International Communists fight against all annexations, for the right of the self-determination of peoples. But dying capitalism in its death agony cannot even realize this elementary demand. Only socialism can give independence to the peoples and put an end to all national oppression.
Only the struggle against the occupying imperialism and French imperialism and the French employers and the French policeman can guarantee true independence.
If for the Internationalist Communists of Germany the first task is the overthrow of German imperialism and the liberation of all occupied or annexed countries, then the task of the internationalists of France remains that of implacable struggle against French imperialism, conducted simultaneously with the struggle against the occupier, under the slogans of the proletarian revolution and transformation of the imperialist war into civil war.
To speak today of a so-called “national insurrection” which would be prepared together with the bourgeoisie and under the benevolent eye of the brigands of Washington and London, is to speak as an imposter and a traitor. The task of the struggle against imperialism is that of accomplishing the socialist revolution.
“Fascism and the series of imperialist wars,” wrote Leon Trotsky in August 1940, just before he was assassinated, “constitute the terrible school in which the proletariat has to free itself of opportunist, democratic and adventurist parties, has to hammer out and train the revolutionary vanguard and in this way prepare for the solving of the task (the proletarian revolution) apart from which there is not and cannot be any salvation for the development of mankind.”
1. The industries are organized along the lines of the great German cartels (Reichverein). To illustrate we cite the example of the automobile industry: today it is organized in four cartels: Delahaye plus Bernard, Unic, Simca, and Laffy; Saurer bought up by Hotchkiss plus Peugeot; Ford plus Panhard and Berliet; and finally the group of giants, Renault plus Citroen.
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Last updated on 6.9.2008