Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, September 1948


Jean Paul Martin

French Foreign Policy


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.7, September 1948, pp.197-200.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The desperate domestic political crisis which today convulses France can perhaps be best understood in the light of her foreign policies, which are in essence an extension beyond French frontiers of the policies pursued at home. In following the current French developments the reader will find extremely illuminating the analysis which appears below. It is a translation of an article published in the June-July issue of Quatrième Internationale. – Ed.

* * *

French imperialism pursues those policies which are in accordance with its available means. Judging by France’s balance sheet from the last war, these means have been drastically reduced. In the interval between the two world wars, France was able to profit by the antagonisms between other imperialisms of relatively equal strength, and she was in this way able to maintain an international position out of all proportion to her actual industrial and financial power.

Following World War II, which resulted in France’s losing the bulk of her foreign investments and her merchant marine along with the destruction of her productive apparatus in the amount of 470 billion francs (1938 currency), French imperialism saw itself relegated to a position similar to Italy’s after 1918. But the disposition of the pieces on the international chessboard is entirely different today from what it was in the first postwar period. Today the world is divided into the Soviet bloc and the American bloc, within which there is an enormous disparity between the US and the other imperialisms.

Immediately after the war, France mapped out a policy of relative independence with regard to American imperialism. This assumed two forms.

At the outset, there was a rapprochement with the Soviet Union, concretized in a pact concluded by de Gaulle himself. This move answered the twofold preoccupation of the French bourgeoisie at that time: to safeguard themselves against a settlement of the German question in con-formance with English and American views, which even at that time did not appear as firm as those of the Russians; and to sustain at home the policy of class collaboration which the Communist Party sponsored and which was absolutely indispensable, for a relative rehabilitation of the shattered capitalist economy. This orientation was in practice abandoned by all the parties of the bourgeoisie to the extent that the antagonism between the US and the USSR sharpened and the plight of French economy made American aid all the more urgent.

Thereafter, French foreign policy revealed itself highly sensitive to London’s attempts to throw off the stranglehold of American aid through the creation of a Western European bloc under Anglo-French auspices. But this orientation, too, has proved a failure to date, for lack of an adequate basis.

And so France finds that her policies implemented by her actual means turn out, in the end, to be just what they are today, namely, the policies of a capitalist power absolutely at the mercy of the United States. France’s dependence on the US is primarily economic. Up till now American aid has enabled France to satisfy the immediate food needs of her population along with the needs of her industries; and to avoid a full-fledged economic catastrophe with all its political and social consequences.

American and German coal alone, which France cannot obtain anywhere else, gives the United States an effective control over one-third of French industry. At the same time, although France has cut to the minimum the imports her economy must have, while raising her exports as high as today’s conditions permit her trade balance, nevertheless, continues to show a growing deficit, amounting to 63 billion francs in the first quarter of this year (as against 36 billion francs deficit during the same 1947 period).

The total 1947 deficit reached the sum of 1,120 million dollars (in 1938 it amounted to only 45 million dollars) and has been covered only thanks to American credits. If we assume that this year’s unfavorable trade balance will be the same as last year’s and if we further assume that American aid to France, through the operation of the Marshall Plan, will amount to $1,131,200,000 for the first 12 month period, then it is obvious that this aid will barely cover this deficit. But if we take the figures issued by the Monnet Commission, which has calculated that the development of French economy in 1948 would require, in addition to all other resources, a supplementary sum of 365 billion francs, or, at official rates of exchange, some 1.7 billion dollars, then we must conclude that aid under the Marshall Plan to France, important as it is, will cover only about two-thirds of the deficit of France’s national economy.

At all events, the foregoing figures show that in the present condition of French economy, American aid is an indispensable capital contribution which literally shackles the French bourgeoisie to the chariot of Yankee policies in Europe and throughout the world.

How extremely feeble is the international position of French imperialism has been graphically demonstrated in recent days in two different instances: the Viet-Nam affair and the German question.

The Viet-Nam Imbroglio

Viet Nam is today the weakest link of the French empire. Cognizant of the obvious decline of French rule of this rich country, whose position in the Far East is so highly strategic, Moscow and Washington, to say nothing of China, have been vying to inherit it. Bollaert, Commissioner of the Paris government, has conducted elaborate behind-the-scenes machinations among Viet-Nam “collaborationist” circles in order to set up a “federal Viet-Nam government” of puppets and to eliminate Ho Chi Minh, who is correctly considered to be under Stalin’s orders. But these laborious efforts have yielded, after several months, very meager results. Expressed here is the the fact that on the real field of battle, that of military operations and armed force, French imperialism has been unable to reach any decisive results.

In Indo-China an unstable equilibrium has been established: the French troops occupy the cities and certain vital communication centers, while the Viet-Nam troops control the rural areas and thus render impossible the economic exploitation of the country for the benefit of the imperialists. This is graphically illustrated in another way – by the precipitous decline of all Indo-Chinese exports since 1946.

The recognition of the “independence of Viet Nam within the framework of the French Union” and the setting up of a “Vietnamese central government,” presided over by Nguyen Van Xuan, citizen of France and general of the French Army, palmed off as the incarnation of the “free” spirit of the Vietnamese people – all this demonstrates to what sorry expedients the colonial administration of the Paris government has been reduced. For there is very little chance that this Indo-Chinese Quisling government, offered by the ex-Emperor Bao Dai (who appears rather to be playing the game of the Americans), will be able to dupe the Vietnamese people and pacify the country in the interests of imperialism.

The Viet-Nam imbroglio drags on, but the prosecution of the war, disregarding the human sacrifices, is a drain on the French budget, completely out of proportion to the results achieved or anticipated. In reality, the Indo-Chinese war merely represents a venture to safeguard France’s colonial prestige. An outright abandonment of Indo-China or very important concessions in this part of the French empire, entail the risk of dangerously compromising the position of Paris, already so delicate, in all the African colonies, especially in Algeria and Morocco.

Settlement of the German Question

But it is, above all, on the German question that the extreme enfeeblement of France’s internationl position has manifested itself most crassly. French policy on this issue is motivated by the following two considerations: to exploit the plight of Germany, conquered and occupied, in order to extort the maximum profit of all kind for the benefit of France’s own economy; and to prevent Germany from recovering and becoming capable again of competing with France on the world market.

These considerations have determined the two principal points of France’s German policy on the method of exploiting the Ruhr, the arsenal of German and European economy, and on the form of government for Germany. On the first point, France’s policy has been to try to increase, her share and to diminish Germany’s; as for the second point, she has sought to avert the rebirth of a centralized German Reich.

By taking as our gauge the recent London Conference, April 20 to June 1, which decided the fate of Western Germany, we may measure the long road of concessions travelled by French diplomacy, so far removed from its initial positions.

As regards the Ruhr, the original position, obstinately defended by de Gaulle, was for lopping off this key area from Germany and internationalizing it. In face of the unanimous opposition to this extreme position, de Gaulle himself has had to yield and to recommend, together with the whole French bourgeoisie, international control of the Ruhr. Russia’s participation in this control was naturally implied. But this position, too, soon had to be abandoned and France had to be content with control limited to the Western powers exclusively, i.e., the United States, England, France, and the Benelux countries.

France demanded that control be extended to management as well as to the redistribution of the Ruhr’s output. The London Conference stripped France of the last possibility of any kind of effective control on her part, by deciding that control should be limited to redistribution of the Ruhr’s coal, coke and steel. Furthermore, this control itself will prove illusory and will not obstruct the progress of rebuilding Germany which has been undertaken under American control. On this point, American interests have prevailed completely. Actually, the seizure by American capital of the large Ruhr enterprises has already been accomplished on an enormous scale and dictates the whole American policy in Germany. After compelling the British to abandon their plans to “socialize” the Ruhr enterprises, the Americans succeeded in placing responsibility for the management of these enterprises in the hands of the Germans themselves, that is, in the hands of their junior economic partners.

So far as Germany’s form of government is concerned, France has up to now held the position of setting up a German Confederation, i.e., a loose collection of small German states, each enjoying utmost autonomy. The London Conference has just decided otherwise: The Constituent Assembly for Western Germany which is to convene next September 1 and thereafter must be elected in conformity with a system chosen by the German states themselves. It is more than likely that they will adopt the system of universal suffrage, opposed by France who fears the unification of Germany from below.

Thus on the main issue in the settlement of the German question, the cause jointly defended by the English and the Americans (there was a previous behind-the-scenes agreement between the English and the Americans, arrived at in order most effectively to exert pressure on their most recalcitrant partner), prevailed all along the line against the French resistance.

The scope of these concessions has been so great that all the adversaries of the incumbent French government have not failed to exploit it, particularly the de Gaullists and their closest partners in the matter of German policy, the French Stalinists. Their protests are countered by the official organ of Quai d’Orsay, Le Monde, June 3, by two kinds of justification:

  1. the crushing superiority of the Anglo-American consortium, the US in particular; and
  2. the security guarantees granted to France.

The Anglo-American bloc, according to Le Monde, has been a reality for 18 months – since the setting up of the Bi-zone (this is an exaggeration in our opinion) – and it is clear that France no longer commands the force necessary to oppose it. Under the Bi-zone’s command are 40 million out of the 45 million inhabitants of Western Germany; it is the master of the Ruhr; and the rebuilding of France depends on the Marshall Plan, and hence on the United States.”

On the other hand, to the fears expressed several times by Quai d’ Orsay to the effect that setting up a Western German government might provoke a violent Russian reaction, Washington has replied by pointing out that “the London agreement is one part of a whole series of interdependent agreements and adopted positions which form an indivisible whole – the Marshall Plan, the Five Power Pact, support extended to this pact by President Truman’s March 12 speech and by the Vandenberg resolutions adopted May 20 by the Congressional Foreign Affair Committee (Le Monde, June 5). In plain language, this means that France can get security guarantees only to the extent that she becomes a component part of Washington’s European and world policies.

On the first point (made by Le Monde), all the pro-government newspapers in France echoed this same argument that French resistance could only be in vain, and that in any case, it would not prevent the Anglo-Americans fiom proceeding further. This argumentation of the pro-“Third Force” press was necessary in order to counteract the propaganda of the opponents of government policy and in order to obtain the ratification of the London agreements by Parliament.

Who indeed is protesting against this policy which is being dictated to the French bourgeoisie by its actual position on the international chess-board? As we have already remarked, the protests come, on the one hand, from de Gaullists, and on the other, from the French Stalinists. Since they bear no governmental responsibility, and consequently run no risk of being subjected to an immediate test, both sides can boast of their ability to serve the French bourgeoisie by means of an international policy different from that of the existing government.

De Gaulle represents the ultra-nationalist aspect of French international policy, which meets with approyaj among the most reactionary French bourgeois circles: The monopolists who fear American competition and dread lest the rebuilding of Germany, financed by Washington, will deprive them of their own base and their own markets [1]; the large-scale farmers of North Africa and Indo-China and the wealthy peasants. On the other hand, de Gaulle seeks his following among the petty bourgeoisie, who comprise the bulk of his troops and who are sensitive to slogans of imperial “grandeur” and of traditional hatred of the “Boche.” His reactionary movement with its Fascist tendencies needs nationalist provender along with the illusion that France is still a great world power, guarding her empire and playing the leading role in continental Western Europe,

De Gaulle believed that by resisting America he would, be able to bring her to entrust France rather than Germany with the pivotal position in European reconstruction, under Washington’s control. That is why he withdrew for a while, assuming an attitude of haughty reserve toward the US. But when the conflict between the US and the USSR became the dominant factor on the world arena and raised the specter of a dreaded advance by Moscow into the West and of a new world conflict, de Gaulle was, owing to France’s extreme economic weakness, obliged in his turn to choose the American game and enter into it without reservations. He acclaimed the “strength” and “generosity” of the US, emphasized for his part the need of a Western European bloc, as a shield against new advances by the USSR and by “communism,” and revised his policy toward Germany.

On this last point, he agreed to renounce his original proposal of separating the Ruhr and adopted instead the proposal to place it under “international” control. And in his recent Compiegne speech he, too, greeted, in his own fashion, the plan for Germany’s entrance into the Western family. His current reservations concerning the decisions of the London Conference, and even his criticism, so bitter in its tone, do not alter the fact that in order to carry out a policy different from the one dictated by the Anglo-Americans it is necessary to have the means to implement it.

De Gaulle has now the choice between a policy of blind submission to Washington or of adopting an attitude of abstention and protest, which is, in no sense, a policy. Such an attitude can be of use to de Gaulle only as demagogic pap to feed his petty-bourgeois troops, so long as he finds himself in an opposition, but it will never serve him as a governmental program.

The position of the French Stalinists is symmetrical to that of de Gaulle, provided we always bear in mind that the Stalinists have the advantage of being the highest bidders. In fact, it was the Political Bureau, of the French Communist Party which first raised a “solemn protest against the policy of national default.” (Report of the June 3 session, l’Humanité, June 4.) And in order to forestall de Gaulle from exploiting the issue, the Political Bureau recalls that this policy of “abandonment” is only a natural outgrowth of the “policy unceasingly defended by General de Gaulle.” According to the French Stalinists, “national default” consists in the fact that the rebuilding of Germany is taking precedence over the rebuilding of France, and that the latter is abandoning reparations.

The anti-German attitude of the French Stalinists is in sharp contrast, but in form only, on the one hand, with the current policy of the Kremlin, which has become the champion of German unity and independence and which has Marshall Sokolovsky for its spokesman in Germany; and, on the other, with the policy of the German Stalinists. But this attitude of the French Stalinists serves exclusively for attacking the whole pro-American foreign policy of the French bourgeoisie. “A settlement of the German question in conformity with the interests of France implies necessarily a total revision of our country’s foreign policy as a whole.” (P. Courtade, l’Humanité, June 4.)

It would, in fact, be erroneous to believe that the opposition of the French Stalinist Party to the London decisions means that this party is wedded to the same views on the German question as those held by the French bourgeoisie concerning the Ruhr and the political regime for Germany. The Stalinist Party will in practice defend only the position defended by the USSR on these questions; its present opposition is kept deliberately vague and remains content with an anti-German attitude whereby it appeals to the nationalist sympathies of the urban and ‘rural petty bourgeoisie. It is at bottom a demagogic and opportunistic attitude, completely subordinated to the current interests of Soviet foreign policy. Should an agreement be reached between the USSR and the United States on the German question, the French Stalinist Party would direct all its fire against the disrupters of “Allied agreement and solidarity,” with the same fierce indignation it is evincing today against those responsible for “national default.”

What Will Be France’s Role?

Caught between American “generosity,” as it has been so elegantly termed (that is to say, the indispensable Marshall Plan aid) and American “egoism” (that is to say, conditions attached to this aid, corresponding to the interests of Yankee imperialism), France is forced, in the final analysis, to accept American policy “as a whole,” i.e., to capitulate all along the line. The blows dealt France by the last imperialist conflict have deprived her of any real basis for an international policy which can remain in the least independent.

Her main future preoccupation is to safeguard the remains of her empire, in order to still be able to appear as a great power and by means of super-exploitation of the colonies, to maintain the equilibrium of the mother country, to which is tied the very fate of the social regime of the French bourgeoisie. So far as her European policy is concerned, France can have no ambitions other than to carve out the best possible share of American aid for herself and to secure the best possible position in “European reconstruction,” under American control, in the expectation that the war against the USSR and the latter’s defeat, which has been proclaimed as certain by all reactionaries, will open up better perspectives for her.

In the interval between the two wars, France played the role of policeman over Europe, in a large part for her own account. Today her ambitions do not transcend the role of mercenary in the service of so powerful a master as Yankee imperialism.

To fulfill this honorable mission, which serves at the same time to safeguard “law and order” at home and to impose obedience upon colonial slaves in revolt, France must maintain a powerful army. Required above all is ar army of great manpower. Thus, of a total of 1,500,000 men, which the Western Bloc would have at its disposal, France has subscribed a “provisional” force of 757,000 men, which requires 310 billions of francs, that is to say, almost as much as the deficit of her national economy for the year 1948, and more than the total American aid for the same period- This is, moreover, equally true of the entire Western Bloc, whose military expenditures for 1948 amount to some 4,500 million dollars, or almost as much as the American aid.

By this we may measure the utter, monstrous absurdity of a reactionary social regime. But it is naturally Utopian to expect the French bourgeoisie to listen to reason. In order to smash its policy on this question, as on others; in order to bring France out of the swamp of decay and mediocrity into which she is sinking deeper and deeper, nothing less than a revolution will avail. It is the revolution of the proletariat setting up its power by means of committees, following the immortal example of the Commune.

June 1948


1. “A picture is being vigorously painted in Paris of the ‘fearsome’ character of an American proposal, which would, in effect, extend the projected control of the Ruhr to certain industrial networks in our own Lorraine (i.e. the French steel industry).” – From a leading article in the periodical Une Semaine dans le Monde, May 29.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26.2.2009