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Fourth International, July 1946


Review of the Month

Lessons of the French Elections


From Fourth International, July 1946, Vol.7 No.7, pp.195-198.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Election Results And Social Trends

Parliamentary results are important for evaluating trends in social processes within a given country, especially in periods of acute crisis. To get a clear picture of the meaning of the recent French elections, it is necessary to juxtapose the latest results with the two preceding nationwide polls since the “liberation.”

First, let us take the camp of the working class, which in its overwhelming majority desires the introduction of socialism and which has throughout this period supported the perfidious Socialist and Communist (Stalinist) parties in the mistaken belief that they represented genuine working class organizations. The table below gives the total votes cast for these two parties in all three elections:

of Election




Vote for
SP and CP


Percentage of
Total Vote Cast


October 1946




May 1946




June 1946



The total SP-CP vote, it will be observed, has remained more or less at the same level, attaining its peak at the outset and then tapering off slightly. The decline is most noticeable in the relative proportions: whereas in October 1945, the combined SP-CP vote amounted to 49.5 percent of the total number of electors, nine months later it dropped to approximately 47 percent. The drop is slight but it is highly symptomatic nevertheless.

It denotes that moods of disorientation and stagnation are beginning to penetrate the ranks of the workers because of the policies pursued by the old official leaderships. The reciprocal relation between the SP and the CP tends for the moment to mask this trend.

The Stalinists have been gaining votes as against the Social Democrats. For this reason the CP has succeeded in registering even a slight increase in votes. But this gain was made primarily among the petty bourgeois and moreover the most backward layers of the population that have just entered the political arena. Thus, the most striking Stalinist gains have been made in such traditionally backward peasant regions of France as Vendee, Calvados, Cotes-du-Nord, Illes-et-ViIaine, Maine-et-Loire, etc. Simultaneously the CP suffered losses in many districts of the Seine department which embraces Paris and its “Red Belt” of proletarian suburbs. The CP vote likewise declined from the previous levels in the Nerd mining region, in Lyons, Loire, Bouche-du-Rhone and other heavily proletarian districts.

The Socialist Party, on the other hand, appears to have held its ground so far as the absolute number of votes is involved. In this respect it suffered comparatively minor losses. But this is only the appearance. The SP losses, too, are masked by recent accretions from the rural and urban petty-bourgeoisie whom this party predominantly represents. The Social Democrats, at the same time, lost not only to the Stalinists but also to the parties of the French bourgeoisie.

Proletarian Camp Is Stagnating

While the proletariat camp is stagnating or even losing ground, the camp of reaction has been scoring steady gains. This camp is represented by the Popular Republican Party (MRP), the avowed reactionary Rightist parties and the splinters of the Radical-Socialists and other discredited bourgeois “left” formations. The support gathered by this camp shows the following growth:

October 1945


Constituent Elections



May 1946

Referendum on the Constitution


June 1946

Constituent Elections


In contrast to the workers’ parties, the growth of the bourgeois camp while not decisive is quite marked. The Right is scoring its gains not only at the expense of the SP, for it is also attracting those backward peasant sections which in the beginning remained apathetic to parliamentary struggle, but who are now resuming their political life.

The resurgence of the political strength of the bourgeoisie is most strikingly illustrated by the growth of the MRP, a party which was built virtually from scratch, with the aid of the Catholic Church.

In the September 1945 cantonal elections this party was able to win only 234 seats out of a total of 3,000 in the country, or less than ten percent. By October of the same year the MRP rallied enough support to win 143 deputies out of a total of 585 to the Constituent assembly, or almost 25 percent. (The SP-CP had at that time 299, or a working majority). Nine months later the MRP supplanted the CP as the single strongest party in the country, gathering almost 6-million votes and more than 160 deputy posts.

This increasing power of the MRP in particular and of the bourgeois Right in general comes from only one source, namely: from the petty bourgeoisie. A period of nine months has sufficed to prove to the hilt that the bankrupt and treacherous policies of the 5P and CP not only fail to rally the support of the middle classes but, on the contrary, drive them into the arms of reaction.

In the epoch of the death-agony of capitalism, developments among the petty bourgeois masses are of exceptional importance for understanding given political situations. Caught up by the grave social crisis, the petty bourgeoisie casts about uneasily for new roads. Its development is spasmodic and feverish in the extreme. This is an ABC of Marxism.

In May 1935, in his book Whither France, Trotsky wrote:

The political crisis of the country is above all a collapse of the confidence of the petty bourgeois masses in their traditional parties and leaders. The discontent, the nervousness, the instability, the fluidity of the petty bourgeoisie are exceptionally important characteristics of a pre-revolutionary situation. As a sick man, burning with fever, tosses from the right side to left, so the feverish petty bourgeoisie can turn to the right and to the left.

Petty Bourgeoisie and Revolution

The petty bourgeoisie swings readily from one extreme to the other: from hope in the working class to despair and mad fury which can be swiftly turned by bourgeois reaction against the working class. It is only necessary to recall the tragic lessons of the triumph of Fascism in Italy, in Germany and elsewhere in pre-war Europe.

It is unquestionable that the French urban and rural bourgeoisie, after the “liberation,” either remained watchfully expectant or rallied to the support of the labor movement with its five million organized workers in the CGT (the French Confederation of Labor) and its powerful political parties. The French petty bourgeoisie gave labor the majority in the Constituent Assembly, raising the CP to the position of the strongest party in the country and the SP – the second strongest. What did the CP and SP do with their victories? They prostrated themselves at the feet of the capitalists. They did not raise a single demand that transcended the framework of capitalism. As a matter of fact, the Stalinists came to the forefront as the most rabid agents of capitalist restoration. And the Socialists aided as best they could.

We need only refer to their joint policies which permitted the French bourgeoisie to restore its completely shattered state apparatus, to rebuild its army (with Vichy officers and American equipment), to reconstitute its police and secret service, to organize new political instruments best adapted to the traditions and prejudices of the war-maddened French petty bourgeoisie, etc. etc. We refer especially to the role of the Stalinistsin shackling even the elementary urge of the workers to improve their fearful living and working conditions. The CP as a whole and its representatives in the ministerial posts (Air Force, Ministry of State, Labor, Reconstruction, Industrial Production) pressed for increased production and kept wages frozen. Only on the very eve of the June elections did the CP finally announce that it would come out in favor of wage increases.

The role of the Stalinists as the main prop of French capitalism is so crassly obvious that even such a reactionary commentator as the Republican Walter Lippman affirms with glee:

The Communists have no social program for the reconstruction of France which is more advanced or more radical than that which the MRP or the socialists offer.

Is it any wonder that under these conditions the working class in France finds itself being driven into a state of passivity and stagnation? Is it any wonder that the masses of the French petty bourgeoisie flock in ever increasing numbers to the standard-bearers of the bourgeoisie?

We see the very same process taking place in Italy where the Christian-Democrats (a counterpart of the “Christian-Socialists” of the MRP) likewise emerged as the strongest single party, with the SP next and the CP, third. Nor should it be overlooked that the neo-Fascist Qualinquist movement has been able to rally more than one million supporters in Italy. To be sure, we are only in the initial phases of the struggle. But in periods of crisis events move with great rapidity. In such situations loss of time helps reaction. If in a revolutionary situation, a revolutionary policy is not carried through, then the pendulum begins to swing in favor of the counter-revolution.

To be sure, one of the necessary prerequisites for successfully carrying out a revolutionary policy is to gain influence over war veterans, civil service employees, functionaries, artisans, small merchants and small peasants. But only those completely ignorant of the laws governing the movement of revolutionary masses can believe that the support of the middle classes can be won exclusively on the plane of struggle for immediate demands and democratic rights.

Program Of The Revolution

The struggle today for immediate and democratic demands has revolutionary significance only as part of the struggle for the program of the proletarian revolution. Such was the course of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917. Any other course kills the faith of the masses in the revolutionary way out and drives them into the arms of reaction, as was demonstrated time and again in the decades before the war.

Trotsky long ago pointed out that no cruder mistake could be committed than to expect the bourgeoisie in our epoch to remain passively dependent for its rule upon the collaboration of the reformist working class parties. On the contrary the bourgeoisie intervenes forcibly at the first opportune moment to free itself of this dependence. This moment arrives when the petty bourgeoisie breaks with parliamentary politics. Such anti-parliamentary tendencies create a favorable situation in which the middle classes may directly and immediately support a coup d’etat on the part of the military or neo-Fascist formations.

“The big bourgeoisie,” Trotsky reiterated time and again, “does not register passively the evolution of the middle classes, but rather prepares tentacles of steel, with which to seize these tortured and despairing masses at the opportune moment.”

There is a profound lesson to be learned, in this connection, from the Italian experience of 1921. The country as a whole then voted against Giolitti’s government and against Fascism which at the time of the coup d’etat had only 25 out of 500 deputies. In other words, only a small section of the Italian petty bourgeoisie had broken with parliamentarianism, but this minority expressed the trend which was brought to a head and fully exploited by Mussolini and his Black Shirts.

The history of the Spanish revolution from 1931 to 1936 offers no less instructive lessons.

Let us not forget, besides, that under de Gaulle the French bourgeoisie from the beginning moved toward the establishment of a “strong government,“ i.e., a Bonapartist dictatorship. De Gaulle had to desist. The pressure of the labor movement proved too powerful. The time was as yet inopportune. This shows, among other things, that the bourgeoisie, despite all its long experience and craft, despite its disposing of all the agencies of the state, is not always capable of estimating precisely mass trends and moods. It, too, makes mistakes which it then corrects in practice. At the same time this shows that the bourgeoisie will strike again – with de Gaulle or some other convenient figure when it judges the moment propitious.

The sharpening of the class struggle in France on the economic plane – with the resumption of strike struggles and with the inevitable further discreditment of the parliamentary farce may precipitate a showdown much more quickly than now appears. The power of Anglo-American imperialism can be quickly brought into play on the side of reaction, especially in the case of Italy. In any case, it is certain that the sharpest and most decisive battles lie ahead.

The unfolding crisis offers the greatest possibilities for the revolutionary vanguard and simultaneously imposes upon it the greatest responsibilities.

Trotskyism In France

The most heartening demonstration that the fighting capacityof the French proletariat is far from exhausted lies in the fact that the small Trotskyist party, Party Communist Internationaliste (International Communist Party) found sufficient mass support to run candidates’ lists in 11 electoral districts. The Trotskyist program received 45,000 votes, of which over 15,000 were obtained in the Paris area. Thus for the first time in contemporary history, Trotskyism enters the European arena as a political force.

In its growing influence – still small numerically but with vast potentialities – lies the real hope of France and of Europe as a whole.

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