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International Socialism, Winter 1960/61


Jean-Jacques Marie

France – The March of Despotism


From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, p.12-15.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Jean-Jacques Marie is young – 23 years – but has been politically active for some time. He joined the Socialist Party’s Young Socialist organization (Jeunesses Socialist SFIO) in February 1956 and became, within two years, leader of its Seine Federation. He worked with Marceau Pivert until that great socialist died in May 1958. Expelled from the SFIO in July, that year, he became joint national sercetary of the Jeunesses Socialistes Autonomes (the Parti Socialiste Autonome’s youth group founded in September). He edits Correspondances Socialistes, started in March 1960 by a coalition of Pivertists and Trotskyists who had refused to throw in their lot with the Parti Socialiste Unifie, on the grounds that it embraced a bourgeois-liberal trend typified by Mendès-France.

Big business and its Gaullist Government are pursuing an unprecedented offensive against the working-class and against middle-class groups: the Algerian War must be paid for; so too the nation’s own Atomic Bomb, and the nuclear ‘strike-force’. True excess profits are on the increase, but it is certainly not the employers who will pay the bill; it is the workers and small farmers, artisans and small traders who see their standard of living attacked on all sides. The recent Rueff Committee report on the problems of economic development completes and crowns the measures directed at the exploitation of the masses. The bourgeoisie is merely confirming and translating into fact the inter-class power relationships, which, since the great defeat of May-June, 1958, have been to the disadvantage of the working-class. Working-class organizations, completely disarmed, have been incapable of offering any resistance to the massive attacks of big business. This is the measure of their success ...

The financial and economic measures of December 1958 proved that the French bourgeoisie was incapable of combining rapid growth of the productive forces with maintenance of the arms program demanded by the colonial war. It was imperative that someone pay for the ‘austerity’ and the ‘adjustments’: this someone was the working class. The fall in the so-called ‘national’ standard of living has been a fall in the standard of living of the workers alone. Since July 1957 their purchasing-power has fallen 10-12 percent while that of the minimum basic wages has fallen by 15 percent. The situation worsened in the summer. On June 14, De Gaulle declared ‘we have all that is needed, to be the land of fine corn, of choicest meat, of pure milk and good wine’. Such is the vigorous optimism imbibed at the Presidential table: but for three months and despite bumper harvests, meat, fruit and vegetable prices have continued to rise: in the Paris area where one-fifth of the French population lives, the price of the weekly Metro ticket has risen by 85 percent, from 160f to 300 f; railway fares are scheduled to rise in 1961; the tax on road transport is to be increased by 30 percent. The working-class now consumes less than it did in 1957. Some of the more significant figures are: wine – 10 percent less; ordinary clothing – 2½ percent less, shoes – 13 percent less. There have also been decreases in the spheres of entertainment – 8 percent less, in houshold equipment and food. ‘Less butter, more guns’ – this was Nazi Goering’s motto. It is also the motto of the bourgeoisie which wants to suck the greatest possible profit from a distribution of forces which is, today, entirely to its own advantage.

The fall in purchasing power, organized under-consumption, is one facet of the bourgeois offensive. The other is rationalization (in individual enterprises), speed-up and the growth of productivity (which has doubled in ten years) – all of which have increased the rate of exploitation of the working-class. Modernization and renovation of industrial equipment allows them to produce more with fewer personnel. Since July, 1957 production has risen by 12 to 15 percent; at the same time, dismissals, cuts in working hours, and factory shut-downs have all become more numerous. Renault has just announced that it is going to dismiss 2,400 workers. This is the natural result of the development of technical forces in a capitalist country; however the Algerian War still ‘employs’ hundreds of thousands of young men.

The economic policy of the bourgeoisie is consistent; exploitation of the worker and European projects – everything fits into place. Everything fits into place too for the various types of capitalists who see their profits mounting – rents have shot up (tenants have been ‘freed’) as have returns to the large industrial corporations (in 1959 they were 15.8 percent higher than in 1958; in 1958, 23.3 percent higher than in 1957). Taking the rising price level into account, in two years the purchasing power of profits has grown by 24 percent; and to this must be added the extra value poured out to the capitalists in other forms: capital values have more than doubled since the beginning of 1958.

The bourgeoisie, more and more concentrated, more and more subjected to its own monopolies, loses no opportunity, gives no respite. This is what is called class politics. The measures of December, 1958 were directed against the working-class. Those of September, 1960, advocated by the Rueff Report, bear most upon the petty-bourgeoisie, on the small independent producers, on the artisans, on the small farmers and the small trade. The most important steps recommended by the Report are restriction on commercial property and revision of farm-rent regulations by raising rates (against, naturally, small traders and farmers), rent-increases in old property, the ending of rent controls and lowering the revenue ceiling below which the fixed duty on traders applies.

The certain and inescapable consequence of these measures is the crushing of the petty-bourgeoisie and its polarization around the two principal classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The petty-bourgeois alarmists, the smallholders, who had voted for the ‘party of order’ in 1958 will now suffer the hardest blows from their god; without doubt, they will gradually withdraw their support. The discontent of the small agricultural producers, the radicalization of the student masses (the most mobile and sensitive section of the middle-classes) mean that the petty-bourgeoisie will soon cease to furnish the Gaullist regime with that ‘popular’ support for which it has shown such concern. The petty-bourgeoisie which, in a period of relative social stability, is a neutralizing and paralyzing element in the class dynamic, will gradually cease to intervene as an autonomous political factor. Of course, the upper strata of the petty-bourgeoisie, in order to improve their defences, will be led to align themselves politically with the Gaullist bourgeoisie. Certain kinds of traders and middlemen see their position strengthened in proportion as the power of the monopolies developes. But monopoly power considers the economic existence of the other strata of the petty-bourgeoisie to be parasitic; and condemns them to increasing proletarianization. Their political orientation is one of the essential determining factors in the development of the power-relations between classes in the period to come.

The Algerian War accelerates this development in proportion as it forces the ruling-class and big business to take extreme measures, whatever their cost, and however risky such a brutal attack against one of the most important foundations of the Gaullist balance of power might be. There is no reason to believe that nationalist fever and prestige politics, intended to caress the chauvinist under-belly of the petty-bourgeoisie will suffice to compensate for the assault on their standard of living, on their very existence. In this way, the Algerian war, like European integration, speeds up the economic development of French capitalism which is driven by inherent laws towards concentration, that is, towards the elimination of small, independent economic units.

De Gaulle’s failure to end the Algerian war with as few clashes as possible has resulted in the regime becoming more and more Bonapartist. A truce or the end of the war. both unlikely in the near future, would bring respite to the bourgeoisie. But the difficulties it faces in the present phase of adaptation ensure that the regime becomes more rigid day by day. The instruments of class control proliferate: profiting from the campaign led by certain intellectuals (the manifesto of the 121) in favour of desertion, the Government decreed (Journal Officiel of September 23) an increase in penalties for incitement to default from the call-up or to insubordination, and for harbouring defaulters. The first article states:

‘Any person found guilty of knowingly having harboured or employed a man being sought for insubordination, or of having aided his escape, shall be liable to imprisonment for one to three years and to a fine of between 200 and 100,000 nf.

‘Any person who, by whatever means, incites those called or recalled to the colours to default, or to return their military identity card or their mobilization order, whether such provocation or incitement be effective or not; and any person who, by culpable activities, prevents or delays the young soldiers’ departure shall be liable to imprisonment of one to five years, and to a fine of 200 to 100,000 nf. ‘If one of the above-mentioned offences be committed with the aid of a crowd, or if the offender is a Civil Servant, employee or agent of the State, Department or Commune, the penalties may be doubled. Moreover the guilty party shall be debarred from public employment of any kind for a period of at least five years, but not exceeding ten years.’

On 28 September a new order decreed that:

‘Article 1: Any Civil Servant or employee of the State, or any employee of any other public institution, organization or subsidiary agency, commiting the serious offence of refusing his obligations to military service, or approving, lending aid or mitigating the consequences of desertion or default, or of provoking soldiers to insubordination, shall, until such time as disciplinary measures or penalties shall be decreed for his offence, be subject to a provisional suspension, to which the provisions of the under-printed Article 2 are applicable, notwithstanding all contrary provisions.

‘Article 2. The measure of suspension entails that three-quarters of any remuneration received from the State be relinquished.’

At the same time apropos a strike of aviation technicians, the Government remembered that ‘prominent Civil Servants’

have no right to strike, and that Civil Servants essential to ‘the maintenance of activities indispensable to the life of the nation’ could only strike five days after notice of intention had been given. As the Federation of National Education said: ‘So vanished the few statutory guarantees which the authorities had left the State employee’.

A framework of stringent repression has now been established which could destroy the few remaining liberties. The Government can in fact strike whom it chooses when it chooses for whatever purpose it chooses as a result of these orders. What demonstration, what article, what slogan cannot be regarded as a means to incite one or more soldiers to refuse to embark for Algeria? For the first time the Government has made us afraid ... And if fear does not suffice, it need do no more than choose the forms and the moment for oppression in order to destroy opposition entirely.

‘A few wrinkles,’ a few shadows’ said de Gaulle, referring to what he called ‘the social malaise’. The great trade union centres and the headquarters of the ‘workers’ parties’ slide from defeat to defeat. The truth is that the working class, demoralized and misdirected (to say the least) has shown no resistance to the bourgeois offensive. This offensive has been conducted under the most favourable conditions because working class-organizations have evaded their responsibilities. It is due to neither whim nor chance but to necessity that the bourgeoisie is increasing its pressure on the masses. The economic policy of Gaullism is bound by its class nature and the general laws of capitalist development. The offensive will therefore continue until French capital reaches a degree of concentration which will permit integration with the Europe of German trusts and Italian monopolies.

French working class organizations must adopt a defensive strategy worthy of the name to struggle tooth and nail against the greed of the bourgeosie. This bourgeoisie is at present in a powerful position; but it is a precarious one maintained only by hard struggle. It knows that the working class, even though betrayed by its organizations, impoverished, oppressed, and bleeding from disparate battles which cannot end, disposes of considerable fighting potential. The parties and the unions, despite their resounding proclamations despise this potential: for example, the Communist Party and the Confédération Generale du Travail (Communist-led trade union federation) have recently refused to align themselves with the nation-wide campaign against the Algerian war proposed by the National Union of Students. The Force Ouvrière (Socialist-led federation) and the Confederation of Christian Workers will thus be able to do the same without appearing to stand to the right of the CGT; and the students, now leading the opposition to the regime, will be exposed to the full brunt of repression if they act alone, or to total demoralization if they draw back.

What is lacking for the French working class is a political program and a powerful organization, determined to take up the struggle with big business, so that workers can fight on a footing of greater equality with the bourgeoisie. In these circumstances the organized proletariat could once again become a vital factor in the French political scene. It would then be possible for it to ally itself with the dispersed and unstable mass of the petty-bourgeoisie, ruined by Big Business. Without such an alliance, the petty-bourgeoisie risks becoming, as a last gesture of despair, the clientele of a new fascism.

This is what is at stake today. But is it only true of France? The working class will only be able to retrieve the initiative when it has before it a precise political perspective, resolutely socialist, and boldly laid out by a determined organization. And it is only when the working class takes the initiative again that the ranks of the proletarianized petty-bourgeoisie will rise and join the struggle. It is the chance for proletarian revolution which hangs in the balance.


At the beginning of October, UNEF, the French Union of Students proposed to the other central unions the holding of a national rally, opposed to the continuance of the Algerian War, in the Place de la Bastille. The will to fight on the part of the students, sidetracked in the case of a minority along the lines of individual protest (insubordination, desertion), brought UNEF to champion a real fight against the imperialist war which has ravaged Algeria and France for six years. After three weeks of manoeuvres and prohibition by the Government, the rally was succeeded by a meeting which attracted 15 to 20,000 people and which gave the government police a good chance of displaying its brutality. Several lessons are to be learned from the manner in which it developed from a forbidden rally into an authorized meeting.

The Communist Party, which has negative control over the large majority of the working class (the workers do not follow the orders of the Communist Party en masse, but they would not do anything which it condemns), has, from first to last, constantly sabotaged positive action: right to the very end it tried to replace the single national gathering which was likely to collect together tens of thousands of workers and students against the war and the government with limited stoppages and local demonstrations. Also, the Communist Party, at the same time that it sabotaged the meeting of the Mutualité on the 27th, while publicly accusing the organizers (union leaders, students and teachers) of collusion with the police, raised their slogans ‘one-hour stoppages’ and ‘local demonstrations’ to coincide with the very time the meeting was taking place. Today the Communist Party is the main ally of De Gaulle in his autocratic policy of building an independent bourgeois state in Algeria.

In the end, the organizers of the meeting directed the demonstrators toward a policy of ‘Hold de Gaulle to his word!’ – a policy which is of little fundamental difference from that of the Stalinists. The impact of this policy is today apparent everywhere and is mainly responsible for the silence of the French left. The struggle against the Algerian war is a struggle against Bonapartist autocracy, and in no way a battle to help the Gaullist government to implement its policies. The Labour movement is only weakening itself by transforming itself into the General’s left wing.

Without exception, the worker leaderships tend towards forming a mere pressure group at the heart of the regime. This was already clear at the time of the national strike on 1 February, organized to support General De Gaulle against the Algerian Ultras. The position is critical. The absorption of the unions in the state machinery (which will be the logical outcome of their current attitude) will eventually transform them into mere transmission belts of power. The Bonapartist state is certainly no bourgeois parliamentary regime: by its very nature it aims at the eradication of all independent expression of conflicting classes.

11 November 1960

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