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Labor Action, 23 May 1949


Pierre Colin

American Apologists Get Cold Reception from Crowd at Huge Rally

RDR Holds ‘Anti-War Day’ in Paris

(6 May 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 21, 23 May 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


PARIS, May 6 – One week after the Stalinist “Peace Partisans” conference held in this city, an “International Day of Resistance Against War and Dictatorship” was held on April 30 on the initiative of the French RDR – the Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Democratic Assembly).

The title selected for the conference betrayed in advance that it would be vague in character and confusing to those who looked ahead to some sort of clarification and inspiration. Who on earth professes to be FOR war and dictatorship?

The “Day” consisted of an afternoon session at the Sorbonne Amphitheatre and a large mass meeting in the evening held in the Madison Square Garden of Paris, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The aim of the RDR sponsors was to provide a free forum for an interchange of ideas and attitudes on the war among the various currents of the “democratic Left.” Their idea of reinstalling democratic discussion within the French labor movement, in order to counterbalance the corrosive totalitarian practices of Stalinism, is praiseworthy; but to do this effectively requires a clear posing of the specific problems of the Left and a clear-cut defense of one’s own position. As we shall see, this was not entirely the case during this RDR rally.

Tout le Monde et Sa Femme

Pre-conference preparations were impressive: hundreds of giant posters were placarded through Paris; thousands of handbills were distributed; the Franc-Tireur, third largest Paris daily, devoted a special page to the conference for a week preceding the conference.

The heterogeneity of the conference’s participants and supporters were enough to arouse an uneasy feeling even prior to its convocation – they ranged from Ingrid Bergman to the French Anarchist Federation and from the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of Ceylon to William Green of the AFL, etc. Supporters from the U.S. included Reuther, David Dubinsky, Harold Urey, Sidney Hook, James T. Farrell and Karl Compton.

The Spanish delegation represented all anti-fascist currents excluding the Stalinists. From England came representatives of the Labor Party, the Independent Labor Party, the Commonwealth Party, Betrand Russel, several scientists, etc. From the Italian socialist movement came Ignazio Silone, Carlo Levi, Faravelli and Garosci. The German trade unions of the bizonal area were officially represented by their leader, Tarnow.

Numerous international organizations also supported the conference, among them the Socialist Movement for a United States of Europe and the anti-imperialist colonial Congress of the Peoples. The French delegation was particularly extensive, encompassing almost everybody

from liberal-center to the extreme non-Stalinist left. It included the . four non-Stalinist trade-union federations, the left wing of the MRP [Popular Republican Movement, government party], the Socialist Party, the Anarchists, non-CP intellectuals, etc.

Almost on the eve of the conference Jean Paul Sartre, member of the National Council of the RDR, and Richard Wright withdrew their active participation in the conference declaring that the character of the conference and the beliefs held by a number of the participants indicated a danger that it might appear as a “pro-American bloc.” They later modified their attitude and sent a written declaration to the conference expressing their views.

Farrell Raises the Flag

The afternoon session at the Sorbonne heard short talks on the question of war and democratic liberties by 30 delegates. Violent pro-Atlantic-Pact speeches were given by Sidney Hook, Farrell, and DeKadt, Dutch Social-Democratic deputy. Many gave sentimental, ambiguous talks about liberty, humanity, and peace (Depreaux of the French SP, Tarnow of the German unions, LaCroix and several others of the Catholic Left, etc. Varying versions defending the third-camp position on the war were presented by Racine, leader of the French Autonomous Trade Unions, Claude Bourdet, editor of the daily Combat, Paul Fraisse of the RDR, Bob Edwards of the ILP, Marceau Pivert for the Paris Federation of the SP, and a declaration signed by Sartre, Wright and Merleau-Ponty.

The American delegation which actually was present at the conference was composed of Sidney Hook, Farrell and Karl Compton. Reuther and others who had been invited failed to show up because of prior personal commitments.

Farrell’s ten-minute speech could easily have been given before a Rotary or Democratic Party rally. After an attack on Stalinism he gave a violent irrational defense “of my country” where people are free to think, write and express themselves as they wish. “I declare myself a partisan of the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Pact because I am convinced that the principal danger comes from behind the Iron Curtain.” He added further that the Marshall Plan is a means of satisfying the needs of the people (that’s news to Europeans; since the institution of the Marshall Plan the cost of living has mounted). Nowhere in his speech could one find a word about socialism or about the need to recognise Europe on a socialist basis, which even the most incorrigible of social-democrats in Europe insist upon.

Hook presented the same line more intelligently. After denouncing the suppression of the right of the artist and scientist to freely express himself in the Stalinist world, he stated that the Atlantic Pact was the only means of protecting the Western world from Stalinist expansionism and that the pact gave progressive and socialist forces in Western Europe the necessary time to construct a socialist Western Europe. (In other words we can build socialism under the protective cover of the planes, tanks and atomic bombs of Democratic America.)

Sartre, Wright for 3rd Camp

Hook and Farrell had undertaken a difficult mission – the rallying of the socialist forces of Western Europe under the banner of American imperialism. For them the war had already begun; the only choice possible is to don an American uniform and to shoulder an automatic rifle. Anyone who tries to convince Europeans of such an approach to the problem of war and peace might as well give up before trying. It is no exaggeration to say that all Europeans regard the Atlantic Pact as a warlike step – they know it, they feel it in their bones. It is true that they are more sympathetic to capitalist America than they are to Stalinism, but such an attitude also includes a consciousness that United States foreign policy also is leading the world to war; they feel offended when someone tries to sell them a “peacemaking” Atlantic Pact.

The crowd’s reaction to Hook and Farrell was a mixture of stunned astonishment, polite applause and open booing. By the time DeKadt got up to speak, he was drowned out by indignant booing.

All speakers who rose to defend a policy of “Neither Washington nor Moscow” were met with enthusiastic applause. Those who spoke far this concept varied from the confused left liberal like Bourdet and double-talk hokum from Marceau Pivert, to those like Racine and Sartre, who presented the third-camp idea in a more lucid fashion.

The declaration made by Sartre, Wright and Merleau-Ponty denounced the Stalinist totalitarian world as the antithesis of all aspirations of free men and socialists. Both America and Russia today play the role of warmakers. America is far from being the mythical democracy that it is portrayed; today Negroes continue to be treated as subhuman; a hysterical campaign is taking place against not only the Stalinists but also the progressive and socialist world. American democracy is degenerating and faces the possibility of developing into another form of anti-democratic tyranny. To fight against war is to fight against totalitarian dictatorship and international capitalism.

Racine came the closest to putting forward the independent socialist attitude on the war: The working class is endangered by the war psychosis being built up by the two blocs. The struggle against the war is one of the forms of the class struggle today. Workers refuse to choose between the “financial dictatorship” or the “bureaucratic dictatorship”; “for them the problem is above all a social one in fighting against economic inequalities and for workers’ control, which would lead to a real economic democracy.”

Compton’s Bomb

At the mass meeting in the evening, over 10,000 people attended, including a large percentage of workers. The first speaker was Ignazio Silone who stressed the moral value of the socialist struggle and the necessity for a federated socialist Europe. After him followed the socialist atomic scientist Francis Perrin who for 15 minutes rambled about on liberty, Stalinism, and humanity.

Up to this point the meeting seemed to be going along in a sort of placid fashion and the audience settled down expecting to hear more concrete ideas about the state of socialism and the war. The crowd was a mature left assembly from various parts of the non-Stalinist labor movement.

At this point Karl Compton, member of the Atomic Energy Commission of the United States government, was given the floor. Compton justified the use of the atomic bomb against Japan and explained that the United States government is doing a great deal of research on the use of atomic energy for PEACEFUL pursuits – but that if necessary it can convert quickly into war needs, etc.

The audience was shocked, dumbfounded, as were the organizers of the meeting. (It would seem that no one had bothered to find out beforehand what Compton thought about these problems!) Murmuring arose from the crowd and was quickly transformed info a wave of booing. Compton fitted into this meeting as aptly as Churchill at a Communist Party rally.

At the conclusion of Compton’s speech, the French Anarchists made an organized assault on the platform in order to present one of their own speakers. (They had had a speaker at the afternoon session but they had been denied one in the evening meeting.) For about 10 minutes pandemonium broke out as the Anarchists clashed with the RDR corps of sergeants-at-arms. In the meantime the French group of orthodox Trotskyists [PCI – Internationalist Communist Party] also demanded a voice. The chairman finally agreed to give each five minutes and peace was restored.

The Anarchist speaker, Fontaine, brought the house down with a slashing denunciation of Compton and his government’s atomic policy: “If Compton is sincere in fighting for peace, what is he doing on a ‘national defense’ commission?” The crowd roared approval. This was definitely a third-camp audience.

Rousset Wobbles

Privas, secretary of the PCI, then was given the floor and demonstrated in classic fashion what the word “sectarian” means. In the form of a litany he started to explain why workers should defend the Soviet Union ...! He didn’t last two minutes before he was drowned out by a wave of booing from the audience. Many were so disgusted that they began to walk out.

There followed a short speech by Garry Davis, whose appearance on the platform was greeted by acclamations. Davis is the American who tore up his passport and papers in Paris and has started a “World Citizens Movement.”

Then David Rousset, the featured speaker of the evening and leader of the RDR, took the floor. In sweeping phrases he castigated and rejected the “totalitarian anti-capitalists” as well as the capitalist system. Our hopes, he stressed, lie in an international reorganization of the world on a socialist foundation. The largest part of his speech was spent in delivering an attack upon the Stalinist conception of socialism and democracy.

“It is not enough that the state become the owner of the economy in order that everything be resolved. It is necessary to know who is owner of the state. The workers can be masters of the state only if democracy rules, only if the trade unions are independent of the state, and only if the parties are independent of the state; and – I say this clearly – it is essentially this which makes us reject the Communist solution, the Russian solution.”

The part of his speech devoted to America was another matter. In America, he said, despite the existence of blemishes, there do exist certain basic democratic liberties ..., etc. In passing he stated that the RDR is opposed to the Atlantic Pact because it only serves to feed the flames of the cold war.

In view of the political program on which the RDR was founded – against both imperialist war blocs – the worst thing about Rousset’s speech was its almost complete failure to mention the role of U.S. imperialism in the world today. Indeed, in articles in the Franc-Tireur several days earlier, he had waxed especially eulogistic about democratic liberties in the U.S., with only incidental reference to war hysteria, anti-democratic persecutions, etc.

One must also ask why Rousset did not consider it necessary to make clear in his speech, to every soul in the audience, that the position of the RDR is in complete contradiction to that of the “peace-lover” Compton.

More Harm Than Good

Llopis, former Spanish Republican premier, John Hynd of the British Labor Party, and a representative of the French trade unions also spoke. Given the length of the meeting and the aftermath of the Compton speech, people began to leave after Rousset’s speech; only about 500 were left when the conference ended.

This meeting has done more harm than good to the prospects of the RDR. The ambiguous theme of the meeting, the degree of disparity in the views of the participants and its bad organization all contributed to weaken any possible effectiveness. But what was worse was the absence of any clear-cut presentation of the RDR’s reason for existence: the rallying of the left tendencies in France who hold in common the aim of building a movement against both imperialist war blocs and for a third camp of socialism. That was and is undeniably its attractive force, and those who joined the RDR or were drawn to it did so because they see no salvation in either Moscow or Washington.

It is therefore understandable that numerous active workers of the RDR are thoroughly dissatisfied with the manner in which this rally was organized and with the lack of clarity in the presentation of the RDR position on the war. A national conference of the RDR is being called for the latter part of June to discuss this matter and the general political and organizational problems facing the RDR.

The RDR has been and is the most hopeful movement on the French political horizon, despite mistakes committed by its leaders. It still remains the hope of thousands of French workers of the anti-Stalinist Left, despite political and organizational weakness and unclarity. Criticism of the RDR in relation to this latest development is especially necessary precisely because of a deep concern with its healthy development as a revitalizing force in French socialism.

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