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The New International, October 1945


The Politics of the International Working Class


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 7, October 1945, pp. 194 & 223–224.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“Oui-oui; Oui-non; Non-oui et Non-non”

General de Gaulle may not have much food or international diplomatic successes to offer the French nation, but of politics and parades he has no shortage. By “politics,” we mean the word in the traditional French sense – confusion, corruption, demagogy and a surplus of soul-stirring but empty slogans.

A shining example of the confusion now reigning in France, after more than a year of liberation and de Gaullist floundering, is the general referendum or plebiscite to be held on October 21, together with the election of the Assembly. The referendum is to decide the powers of the Assembly and the authority of the de Gaulle government in relation to it. The referendum poses two questions:

  1. “Do you want the Assembly to be a ‘constituent’?” (i.e., have the authority to write a new constitution). If the majority vote “no” on this question, the old constitution of 1875 (Third Republic) will be in effect.
  2. “If the majority has voted Yes on the first question, do you approve that – until the new Constitution goes into effect – public authority should be organized in accordance with the Government’s project?” (i.e., shall the de Gaulle government remain in power independent of the Assembly).

The two questions are posed before the voters with no less than four possible ways of voting. It is the proud boast of Figaro, the newspaper of the organized Right, that nobody in France understands what it is all about – which is precisely what the Right desired to accomplish and, apparently, has. However, the ability of the French worker to see through de Gaulle’s maneuvers is not aided by the confused picture presented by the three Left parties that continue to function in a loose version of the 1936 Front Populaire – the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the Radical Socialists. They present the following positions:

It is the aim of de Gaulle and the conservatives generally to continue to rule France under the constitution written by the Versailles Assembly under the reactionary Thiers and triumphantly proclaimed over the ruins of the defeated Paris Commune of 1871.

However, the French workers and lower middle class are not reconciled to going back calmly to the pre-war Republic. The conservatives have little hope of defeating the popular sentiment for a new constitution. What is more, they also realize that the Assembly elected to write the new constitution will reflect the moods of the people and will, consequently, be a “radical” one.

De Gaulle, therefore, prepares “his second line of defense, formulated in question two. This is intended to maintain the executive authority of the government while the Assembly is permitted to debate abstractly a new constitution. With no actual and direct power in its hands, the Assembly will sit removed from the actual political life of France until it has finished its labors and presents a constitution. This may take longer than the seven months provided for. Meanwhile de Gaulle remains in authority.

If, however, the Assembly has jurisdiction over the government, every problem facing the French people today will force its way into the debates of the Assembly. Under certain conditions the Assembly can become the focal point of mass actions of the workers with mass delegations, demonstrations and demonstration strikes carrying the voice of the people into its deliberations as in the early 1790’s. It is this which the conservatives fear. It is this which makes question two the crucial one in the referendum.

The Socialist Party, under popular pressure, has found it necessary to support the demand for a new constitution. But as befits a party led by lawyers and parliamentarians, it, like the de Gaullists, prefers a constitution written in seclusion from the white heat of political struggle. It, too, prefers that the “Socialist” lawyers work undisturbed by the tread of marching masses from the Parisian industrial belt. It therefore supports de Gaulle on question two.

The Radicals have long waxed fat on the politics of the Third Republic. They have been the traditional mass base for French imperialist rule, drawing their support mainly from the lower middle class of the cities and the peasantry. They have suffered great losses during the war. Actually, the trend away from the Radicals began as long ago as the depression of the early thirties. However, the Popular Front threw the Radical politicians a life rope and recouped their failing fortunes. Now the desertion of the Radicals by their voting support is unmistakable. The bulk of it is going to the Socialist Party. Its more conservative elements have drifted to the de Gaullist parties and the “radical” Popular Republican movement which emerged out of the Resistance. Seeking once more the fleshpots of the Third Republic, the Radical politicians ask their supporters to vote “No” on question one, i.e., against a new constitution. However, their stand on question two is more difficult to understand. Should the Assembly have constitutional powers, the Radicals ask that their supporters vote that it also have immediate governmental power. It may be based upon the calculation that the emergence of a cabinet based upon the political balance in the Assembly would necessarily have to be a Left-Center government in which they would take a leading role, as in the post-Blum Front Populaire cabinets. It may also be prompted by demagogic considerations of competition with the Socialists for the support of the radicalized lower middle class, since their stand places them to the left of the Socialist Party on this question.

The position of the French Stalinists in the referendum is dictated by the fact that de Gaulle is once more drawing away from Moscow and toward an understanding with the Anglo-American bloc. At present it appears that the Americans are willing to consider at least a partial restoration of the French Empire for reasons of their own, of course. The need for gestures toward Moscow on de Gaulle’s part has consequently lessened. The opposition of the French Stalinists has consequently stiffened. This is bolstered by an immediate political consideration within France. The first great wave of support for the French CP, based upon its role in the resistance movement, is receding.

The trend toward the Left continues in France but it is the Socialist Party, not the CP, that is gaining strength, as shown by the cantonal elections. Much of the SP gain, as has been indicated, comes from the former Radical support in the middle class. But, nevertheless, the pro-de Gaulle policy of the CP during the height of the French-Soviet flirtation, had the effect of diminishing its attractive power among the masses, above all among the workers who still support the SP.


ILP Members Sit on Opposition Benches

The three Independent Labor Party members returned to the House of Commons in the last election – Maxton, McGovern and Stephen – continue to occupy their old places on the opposition benches.

They explain their position as one of general support to the Labor majority but desire to remain in a position from which they can oppose and criticize. That they will have plenty of occasion for the latter becomes obvious with each passing day of the Labor government, above all as Bevin unrolls Labor’s foreign policy. But it will take more than the humanitarian zeal and oratorical prowess of James Maxton to pillory effectively the imperialist policy of the Labor Party leadership. To do this the ILP would require a consistent and thoroughgoing program of international Marxism. But every issue of the New Leader, ILP weekly, continues to reveal the theoretical confusion and programmatic formlessness which has, over the years, made this state of affairs and ILPism synonyms in the dictionary of politics.

The London Daily Worker has sought to capitalize upon the oppositionist position of the ILP by proclaiming with malicious glee that “the ILP members sit among the Tories.” William Gallacher – Stalin’s personal MP – and his newly elected co-worker have, of course, crossed the floor to the government benches. The British CP can make good use of the cloak of respectability afforded by membership in the government majority. We predict, however, that it will not be long before the CP will have less in common with the Attlee-Bevin cabinet than either the Tories or the ILP. The growing antagonisms between Russia and the British Empire will find the British servants of the Kremlin in opposition to the Labor government straight down the line on foreign policy and, in order to gain political support, in “radical” opposition on most matters of domestic policy.

Whatever the political meanderings of the ILP may be, they reflect the pressure of proletarian Glasgow and the Clydeside. The politics of Gallacher reflect the latest cable from Moscow – and nothing else.


The Political Press in the Russian Zone of Germany

German Social Democratic émigrés in this country have been complaining that the Anglo-French-American occupation authorities have not permitted the organization of political journals in their zones while the Russians have shown the way toward democracy by giving such permission. As justified as they are in their protests against the lack of a free press in Western Germany under the Allies, the Social-Democrats choose a poor example in pointing to the “liberalism” of the Russians.

The first samples of the Berlin political press put out under the Russians have reached our hands but recently. They all bear the same political stamp, “Made in Russia.”

There are four dailies published by the four parties which Marshall Zhukov has “permitted” to be organized: the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Christian-Democratic Union, and, the Liberal-Democratic Party. From a careful reading of them one can detect differences only in the degree to which they outstrip each other in servility to their “liberators.” The German Stalinists, being old hands at the game, find no difficulty in carrying off the honors in this competition. The so-called Social Democrats, whose traditionally flexible spines have grown none the firmer under the Nazi whip, outdo themselves to press close upon the heels of the CP. The “Christian” party politicians, composed of the old “Center” party, find their long practice of bowing to the hierarchical authority emanating from the Vatican now stands them in good stead as they bow to the hierarchical authority emanating from the Kremlin. The bourgeois liberals, of course, find flunkeyism to the GPU a little more exacting than their past practice but with an effort will acquire the necessary skill.

In addition to their political line, the newspapers achieve a surprising degree of uniformity in make-up, format and – unrelieved dullness. The CP’s Deutsche Volkszeitung (the very choice of this name in place of the historic Rote Fahne speaks volumes) is the only one to rise somewhat above the common level. Because it can apply the Russian political line as its own party line without subterfuge or camouflage, it achieves a more vigorous political tone.

The Social Democratic Das Volk managed to scrape the ground with its chin in a bow to the Russian “liberators” in its V-J Day edition. Its banner headline read, “Red Army Still Advances.” A small type head over another story announced “World Peace.”


French Buchenwald Victims Call for Freedom for German People

The Socialist Appeal, organ of the Revolutionary Communists of Great Britain (Fourth Internationalists) reprints along with a photostatic reproduction, excerpts from a paper published by a group of French Communist prisoners released from the Buchenwald concentration camp. The paper was published on April 22, shortly after their release. They write:

They have lost no time, the journalists who came to visit the camp and who yesterday were interned with us; they fled at great speed and marketed their stuff. They lost no time in flooding the ether with their impressions and recollections. And what impressions! What recollections! ...

Yes, we denounce before the world the nameless horrors of murderous fascism – we who for years before the war were alone in denouncing the crimes of Hitler. Yes, we will explain how necessary it is to do everything to ensure that such a regime of shame and filth shall never again see the light; we who alone since 1933 have fought against Hitler the war-maker; but we will not permit another VERSAILLES to be prepared, we will not permit the conditions for a new world war to be prepared which in 30 or 50 years will come to spatter the world with blood.

In accord with the solemn declarations of President Roosevelt and Churchill, we demand for the German people – we the Communists who have had most to suffer from fascism – the right freely to decide its own fate.

The reference to the effects of the Versailles Treaty are here combined with reference to the “solemn declarations of President Roosevelt and Churchill.” These communist militants show the political confusion of the constantly shifting line of the Stalinists but also reveal their basic internationalism. What has happened to this particular group upon their return to France is not known. We can only speculate upon what effect the rantings of an Ehrenburg or the cold and murerous language of the Potsdam agreement may have had upon them.


The Effects of National Oppression Upon Class-Consciousness

Ralph Parker, reporting in the Nation, Sept. 29, tells of the effect which occupation by the Germans has had upon the Czechs:

In others it has created a cruelty that was rare among Czechs. When I visited the Sudetan [sic!] areas German anti-fascists told me how shocked they were to find Czechs using brutal methods against the German population. “We did not know these Czechs before the war,” they said, “they have a hardness that is new to their character.” “We have been deeply disappointed,” a German Communist said to me in Usti-na-Labem, “to find the Czech Socialists have forgotten that we are their comrades.” ... “Do you trust German Communists?” I asked Josef Weiner, tight-lipped Communist chairman of a Czech commission at Decin. “Not one of them,” he replied.

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Last updated on 16 November 2016