Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, July 1943

Notes of the Month

Democracy and the War for Democracy


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 7, July 1943, pp. 199–201.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Second World War for Democracy is not working out so well for democracy. We have the word of the democrats themselves for this, the word of the Liberals (the reader will please note the respectful capital L), in so far as words can be distinguished in the heartripping moans they utter periodically over the “French situation.” Listen, for a typical example, to the sobbing of Mr. Edgar Ansel Mowrer, partisan of the “Free French” who, it appears, are not free at all:

We said we were in French North Africa as “guests,” not as occupying powers. But we refused to let the French Committee of National Liberation take over control of the entire administration on the ground that this would “endanger our communications.” Therefore either we are “guests” who have usurped power or we have ceased to be “guests” and become “occupying powers.” Why not say which?

The French Committee of National Liberation was set up largely with our help as the “trustee” of French interests throughout the world. So long as it did just what we wanted, fine; once it started to look after French interests by putting General de Gaulle rather than General Giraud in full command, we announced we would not recognize this decision.

To defend this we had to deny the existence of any real French “sovereignty,” which – we stated – will not exist again until it is restored by the Americans, the British and the Russians. (Does Washington care? Remember the poppies in Flanders fields?)

This is disgraceful ethics, poor politics and probably bad international law ...

If the French have no sovereignty, then the Committee is nothing but an “instrument” of American and British leaders. But since the Committee was set up to be the trustee of the French people, then France itself is being treated as an “instrument.”

Most of the French feel this and resent it keenly. So – we may hope – would Americans under similar conditions. So do the other conquered peoples; suppose we one day decide that Norway, the Netherlands and the rest of them have no “sovereignty” and are going to be allowed no say in their own reconquered countries ...

Final – and worst – is the fact that Generals de Gaulle and Giraud have no real status. Since the Committee of Liberation is subject to our orders, then the co-chairmen are just agents, to be cherished when they carry out orders satisfactorily, to be broken and thrown away when they refuse.

Is this the way to enlist French enthusiasm for the United Nations’ cause? (New York Post, July 8)

The answer to that question (if our opinion is solicited) is No. But a more important question at the moment is: Who are the “we” that are doing all this to the Honorable Generals of Not Very Free France? Who are the people who are, according to the Post of another date, “conspiring to make of post-war France a neo-fascist, vassal state”? The Liberals are nothing if not straightforward. They come right to the point. The “we” are “certain anti-democratic elements in the U.S., centering in the State Department.” (New York Post, June 29)

Who are these “certain anti-democratic elements”? A couple of clerks in the State Department? a bookkeeper perhaps? or maybe the second receptionist of the Northwest African Division of the Department? Or dare we go higher up, as high, let us say, as Robert Murphy, the State Department’s representative in North Africa? Yes, blurts out the Liberal, he is the man! But go no further, go no higher!

What about the President who, it is said, actually determines American foreign policy and keeps close watch on its execution?

The President is a dope! cry the Liberals. The President is a dupe! The President doesn’t know what is happening! The President has been taken in! Someone ought to tell the President how he’s being played for a sucker!

Here, lest we be cited for lèse majesté, the attention of our vigilant FBI should be called to the fact that this is what the Liberals say, not we. Our view is quite different.

After the collapse in France, only one figure of any prominence, de Gaulle, with a small and inconsequential retinue of military and civil functionaries, could be found to associate himself with the seemingly hopeless Allied camp. The British exploited this fact to the utmost: de Gaulle was their only Frenchman and consequently their best Frenchman. He was put on the Downing Street payroll and given a little paper to play with.

The Americans, however, had access to France which was denied the British: Vichy and its North African outpost. The flapjaw Liberals still think that Washington’s Vichy policy was wrong and stupid, but that is only because they know nothing at all about politics and prefer to delude themselves into thinking that this is a war for democracy. The fact is that the Vichy policy yielded American imperialism pretty close to the maximum success that was possible under the circumstances, especially the circumstances of German understanding of the policy and German vigilant surveillance. Britain got de Gaulle and a few discredited French political time-servers who joined him. The United States got Darlan; it settled the question of the French fleet at Toulon (at least to the extent of preventing its employment by the Germans) and finally managed to get full use of that part of the fleet stationed in Dakar, Alexandria and now the Antilles; and, above all, it got comparatively easy access to North Africa and its subsequent occupation, and the bulk of the not insignificant French military machine on that continent.

A triumph for democracy, for the four freedoms or any other freedom, for French sovereignty? Of course notl But a genuine triumph for American imperialism and imperialist policy. Only a man fit for nothing but editing The Nation can fail to understand this simple fact.

To make the best of a bad situation, the British for a time sought to play up their protégé, de Gaulle, against the newly-acquired protégé of the United States, Giraud, for each of our inseparably united Allies works with might and main, under the rose, to protect his own imperialist interests – who else will protect them? But it did not work, and it could not. The United States held the real trumps. The bulk of the French military and civil bureaucracy available to the Allies centers around Giraud, depends upon Washington (and Detroit!) and is intensely hostile to the British.

Matters were made worse for de Gaulle when his preposterous National Committee gained the adherence of the remnants of the French trade union movement, the Socialist Party and the Stalinists, or at least of the official representatives of these movements; and when, as a result, de Gaullism became associated, in the public mind and to a certain extent in actual fact, with the genuinely democratic and even revolutionary underground movements inside France. To have these movements slit the throats of Nazi officers, or blow up a munitions train, is one thing. To do anything to encourage them in the notion that they and not their “liberators” will be the France of tomorrow, is another thing entirely. The French masses must not be allowed to liberate themselves from the fascist yoke – and from all other oppression, French included! – they must be liberated by reliable liberators. Who is more reliable, from the standpoint of Anglo-American imperialism, than the sturdy fascist, quasi-fascist and proto-fascist elements represented by Giraud, and dependent upon Washington for everything from bread and cigarettes to uniforms, bullets, mortars and airplanes?

De Gaulle was therefore told – such, alas, is gratitude in politics! – to do as ordered, or else. After Casablanca, Roosevelt told congressmen an oh-so-funny story about how he got Churchill to force de Gaulle to come to Africa for the conference. Who pays him? asked Roosevelt. Why, we do! replied the King’s First Minister. Well, then? said our President archly – de Gaulle arrived in North Africa twenty-four hours later. Several months later the British informed de Gaulle – was this idea also suggested by our clever President? – that it was no longer necessary to publish La Marseillaise, “the authentic voice of Free France,” “the clarion call of Fighting France,” so that the great de Gaulle, the noble de Gaulle, de Gaulle the arm and buckler of anguished France and her John of Arc, de Gaulle the beloved of the Allies, doesn’t even have a paper now in which to print his greetings to the French on Bastille Day. As we hinted, there is no gratitude in politics.

And really, of what use is de Gaulle now? How many of the handful of military men he had on his side to begin with have now gone over to Giraud, we do not know. But we do know that he no longer has such men as General Catroux, the hero of the reconquest of Syria for French (or is it English?) imperialism, and Admiral Muselier, the hero of the world-shaking expedition against the St. Pierre and Miquelon Islands. The military bureaucracy of France, the officers’ corps, utterly reactionary, Papist at its heart, fiercely antagonistic to labor, fascist or as bad as fascist, will not lightly forgive this frondeur for having broken ranks at any time, for having attacked their idol Pétain, who merely incarnates everything they stand for, and for having associated himself with the old “Popular Frontists,” whom they regard as canaille to be dispersed with a whiff of grapeshot.

The United States? It wants to enter France spearheaded by reliable military men who are, thank God, authentic Frenchmen capable of giving orders to the people, of “preserving order” (that’s the most important thing!) and ... of taking orders from the all-powerful dispenser of food and money and judiciously weighed-out francs. For Washington, that would be a real victory for the Four Freedoms: it would have nothing to fear; it would want for nothing in France; it would have a press that can be, as every Frenchman knows, bought freely; and the French would have the right to free worship of their liberators!

But what, a reader may ask, has all this to do with democracy? Why, my poor bewildered friend, nothing, absolutely nothing! Don’t you understand yet? Democracy is something you talk about in the war, but what you really fight for has as much in common with democracy as, let us say, Mr. Churchill has in common with the independence of India.

But perhaps we will get democracy in France when our victory-crowned legions march proudly under the Arc de Triomphe? Perhaps all these deplorable trifles are the overhead expenses of military necessity?

Poor friend, you are talking like a Liberal. Our victory-crowned legions have already marched through a score of Victory Arches from Dakar to Bizerte. Where is democracy for the people of North Africa? The population is not made up of Giraud, Catroux, Peyrouton, Eisenhower and Montgomery. In addition, there are its real inhabitants, millions of Arabs. One of the first acts of “liberation” that “we” sanctioned was the nullification of the Crémieux decree, which deprived 40,000 to 50,000 Algerian Jews of their French citizenship and of the vote. That was done to “equalize” them with the Arabs. You may well scratch your puzzled head and ask, Why couldn’t it have been done the other way around – let the Jews keep the vote and give it also to the Arabs? The answer is available. It is perfect, there is not a flaw in it, it is magnificent and authentic and above suspicion, it is a jewel of candor. It comes from the respected foreign editor of the New York Times, Mr. Edwin L. James. It should be read, re-read, memorized and repeated ceremonially On all fitting occasions, for it is a classic of its kind and enough to rescue Mr. James from otherwise deserved oblivion. He writes:

It is a good enough argument to he advanced by Jews in this country that a nation like ours, fighting for the preservation of democracy, should not approve an action which deprived Algerian Jews of their citizenship. And that argument was made. But the argument cannot now be carried to its logical conclusion. To give all of the Algerian Arabs full French citizenship, in the name of democracy, would bring a situation which certainly neither our War Department nor General Eisenhower would approve. It would give the Arab vote a two-to-one predominance and if and when an election were held would bring confusion worse confounded.

To be sure! Give the Arabs the vote and the first thing you know they would elect whomever they wished to represent them, as if they were in a democracy. What would Hitler say to such an absurdly outmoded idea? But we are rudely interrupting Mr. James.

And so the matter is one to which common sense rather than theory must be applied. It was perhaps an unwise and unjust move to try to placate the Arabs by pulling the Jews down. The thinking of those in authority appears now directed in the sense of giving the Algerian Jews back their citizenship and at the same time trying to give new privileges to the Arabs in local politics which would cause them to think that they had bettered their position.

Bravo, bravo! There is a statesman of the new democratic order for you, and in the best tradition. Theory? Bah, it’s a matter of common sense. Democracy is a nice thing, of course, but with Arabs (that is, with “our” North African “niggers”) all you have to do is give them a few baubles (glass beads, perhaps?) “which would cause them to think that they had bettered their position.”) Just get the benighted Arab to think that, and the danger of being outvoted two-to-one is averted, while the miracle of two (in actuality, a thousand) being outvoted by one will be performed. We are not on good terms with Herr Göbbels, but we recommend to his attention the advantages of reprinting the editorial of his co-thinker, Mr. Parteifäiger James, for distribution among the population of North Africa.

And the Liberals, not like Mr. James, but with a capital L? They are as interested in the Arabs as they are in last year’s snow. What is Hecuba to them? They are still looking under a desk in the State Department for the clerk responsible for preventing Democrat de Gaulle from disfranchizing the Arabs instead of Not-So-Much-of-a-Democrat Giraud. Granted that Arabs are human beings; granted that they are the majority there. But – really now – would you go so far as to say that they are as mature for the enjoyment of the dangerous delights of democracy as, for example, an editor of the New Republic, or of the New York Times, to say nothing of a professor of

Philosophy at New York University? Besides, how the devil are you going to win the war for democracy if you continually demand that democracy be made a reality? As Mr. James explains:

Naturally, there still exists the purpose of keeping the Arabs in good humor. It goes without saying that the French are not going to give simply full citizenship to the Arabs in the two French departments which constitute Algeria. That would mean that at the next general elections the Arabs would win a sweeping victory. Whatever might be said for the theoretical democracy of such a step it would scarcely help win the war.

All this appears in the New York Times on the anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence. How appropriate! Arabs, take note.

He is priceless, this Mr. James. Keep the Arabs in good humor, by all means, for whatever else Mr. James is, he is not a kill-joy. But give them the vote? Idiot! First thing you know they’ll win a sweeping victory, and if that’s the kind of thing democracy is going to produce, to hell with it. Let us be done with such fol-de-rol, and get on with winning the war.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 16 June 2015