From New International, Vol. XII No. 2, February 1946, pp. 35–38.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The resignation of de Gaulle was a defeat for the French capitalist class. It was a new proof of the vitality of the French working class which, in spite of the collaboration of its party leaders with the would-be Bonaparte, had managed to put enough pressure on those leaders to make impossible de Gaulle’s plan for a step-by-step establishment of a dictatorial regime. Needless to say, de Gaulle steps out only to attempt at a later stage to return over the broken bones of the French labor movement. Meanwhile, however, the French proletariat will have more than one opportunity to make forever impossible the return of de Gaulle.
De Gaulle’s career since the fall of France, correctly analyzed, reveals the extent to which the French capitalist class has been shattered. It has not yet retrieved its power and can hope to do so only if the French proletariat permits the Blums and Thorezes to ruin this extraordinary opportunity to put an end once for all to French capitalism.
A royalist and a typical product of the Saint Cyr military academy – West Pointers are wild-eyed radicals in comparison – de Gaulle went to England in May, 1940, conceiving of continuing the struggle in purely military terms. But the main sections of the French capitalist class became Hitler’s collaborators and the national resistance movement developed chiefly as a great mass movement of the workers, the youth and sections of the peasantry directed against both the Nazis and Vichy. Faced with this unforeseen development, the royalist donned the red cockade of a new, Fourth Republic and gave lip service to the socialist phraseology of the program of the National Committee of Resistance. In doing so de Gaulle may have often wondered whether he would not end up on the guillotine like Louis XVI, who also in. his time donned the red cockade to keep abreast of the masses, Unlike the Jacobins, who swiftly put an end to the comedy, the Socialist and Stalinist leaders of the resistance assured the French proletariat that the royalist general had become transformed permanently into a democrat, indeed into a socializer of the French trusts. Thanks to the Socialist and Stalinist support, de Gaulle was able to play this risky game and return as head of the government to a Paris controlled by an armed proletariat which at a signal from its leaders would have turned de Gaulle’s triumphal entry into his funeral.
Backed by the great resistance movement led by the Communist and Socialist Parties, de Gaulle was able to liquidate the Darlan deal and other measures by which Anglo-US imperialism had sought to turn French imperialism into a complete vassal of Washington and London. This was the period of the stormy clashes with Roosevelt and Churchill, of de Gaulle’s pilgrimages to Moscow. It was also the period of the great betrayal perpetrated by the Socialist and Communist Parties: their support of de Gaulle’s disarming and dissolution of the resistance militias.
Now came de Gaulle’s reorientation: the pilgrimage to Truman, the end of his honeymoon with the Stalinists and Moscow, the end of the purge of collaborators (i.e., of the capitalist class), the first open attempts to follow up the disarming of the proletariat with its political disfranchisement. But the profound difficulty of de Gaulle’s task lay in the fact that at no time could he free himself of the need of the support of the Communist and Socialist Parties; and these, in turn, were never free of the pressure of the proletarian masses who, full of old and new illusions, nevertheless put no trust in de Gaulle and pressed for the fruits which they had expected from liberation.
Hitler had decomposed the French bourgeoisie, had incorporated it into his “Thousand Year Reich,” had thereby ruined it politically beyond the ability of a de Gaulle to reconstruct it in the short time at his disposal. Not one of the traditional capitalist parties had survived the fall of Hitler and Vichy. The new party of the French bourgeoisie, the MRP – Mouvement Republicain Populaire – was and remains a makeshift surreptitiously backed by the remnants of Vichy and yesterday’s open fascists as well as by the Gaullist bourgeoisie. However, its leaders, signatories of the program of the National Committee of the Resistance, have neither the confidence nor any reasonable assurance that they will not lose their mass following – which in any event includes few workers – if they openly turn away from cooperation with the Communist and Socialist Parties. Without a strong bourgeois party, de Gaulle’s attempts to rid himself of the need of Communist-Socialist support proved futile.
De Gaulle put off as long as possible the elections to the Constituent Assembly but finally had to yield. The results proved a death-knell to his hopes. The Communist and Socialist Parties, the former polling the most votes of any party but with the latter not far behind, together got over ten million votes and an absolute majority of the Constituent – 57 per cent of the deputies. True, with the help of the Socialist Party, de Gaulle was able to get a majority for his “project” limiting the executive powers of the Constituent. What is not so well known, however, is that de Gaulle was compelled to rewrite his original “project” several times, so that the final version, for which he got a majority, unlike his original plan, made his government removable by the Constituent. After a series of crises and threatened resignations, de Gaulle was compelled to resign. In May the seven-months term of the Constituent expires and new elections are to be held. It is certain that had de Gaulle remained until then the elections would have been a resounding defeat for him. Undoubtedly he hopes that he leaves still possessing the prestige of the “first leader of the resistance,” that the masses will forget in the coming months that he headed a government of inaction from August, 1944, to January, 1946, that in succeeding governments of inaction the Socialist and Communist parties will discredit themselves, and that he will be able to return again as a savior but this time with the full powers of a Bonaparte.
So far we have been describing the parliamentary reflection of the situation. It is a reflection of the terrible economic plight of the country. That plight was indicated by the inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly of the new President, the Socialist, Felix Gouin. In their own cowardly and treacherous way, the Socialist and Communist Party leaders understand very well that de Gaulle is banking on their continuing his policy of inaction and they are trying to initiate a new policy which will revive industrial and agricultural production. To do so they are compelled to begin by telling a little of the grim truth instead of continuing de Gaulle’s boasts about “la gloire” of France. After more than six years of war and post-war suffering, Gouin warns the masses that they must “serrer la ceinture” (tighten the belt): “Less wheat, less meat, less wine, less potatoes.” The second great problem is the financial situation: desperate measures must be taken to stop the rise in prices, to end the “inflationary rush which would reduce the working class, civil servants, pensioners and small investors to poverty” – he should have said to even worse poverty than is theirs at present.
What makes the revival of production, so extraordinarily difficult today in France is not only the depredations of the Nazis and the destruction of war, but also – on this all the supporters of capitalism are of course silent – the weakened condition in which French economy stood before the war. France, unable to compete with England, Germany and the United States in mass production, leaned more and more on its luxury industries for export purposes after 1900. It entered the great depression which began in 1929 somewhat later than the mass producing countries, but never got out of it before the war began, not even by the artificial means of armament production. As a result, it entered the war with an outmoded and old industrial plant; the average unit of industrial machinery is something like 25–30 years old! Industrially, therefore, France is at the end of its breath – the expression is current in discussions in France today – with most of its industrial plant, railroad equipment, etc., so worn out that much of it must be replaced before a serious revival of production can begin and adequate transportation of agricultural produce from the countryside to the cities becomes possible.
There is a great and truly glorious French tradition to which the Communist and Socialist Parties could appeal in a struggle to provide an equal share of the available food for all, to prevent inflation and to rebuild the country. For under the Jacobin revolutionists, the French Republic during 1792–94 achieved the aim of feeding the country while draining it of manpower and goods in order to fight victorious wars against all reactionary Europe. The Jacobins provided the example of price-fixing which could serve today to lift France out of its impasse. They did it by revolutionary means: the ruthless control by the masses and their representatives over the whole of economic life, the supremacy of the propertyless masses over the owners of private property. As the great French historian, Albert Mathiez, describes it in part:
In order to feed the towns and armies, and at the same time to support the currency, the great Committee of Public Safety under Robespierre, by an ingenious system of requisitioning, had gained control over the whole of French production, which it distributed through the agency of a central commission. By exercising its right of pre-emption and requisition this Central Commission of Supply in effect dictated prices, which it fixed by means of the law of the maximum ... In order to carry out the requisitioning and ensure the observance of the maximum, strong measures of control and vigorous means of enforcing the law were necessary. The economic terror rested upon the political terror. In spite of all its faults and the vast bureaucracy which it necessitated, it held its own, worked, and to a large extent attained its object.
Nowadays, of course, those who inherit the Jacobin tradition would not nationalize distribution alone but would also nationalize production, as indeed the parties of the resistance committed themselves to do in their program, as the Communist and Socialist Parties promise to do, and as the proletariat demands they do. The fatal weakness of the Jacobin method was precisely the fact that nationalized distribution of goods was in the end broken down by the private owners of production, who are known in history as the Thermidorians. In 1794 that fatal weakness was unavoidable; neither the proletariat nor the forces of production had advanced to a point where nationalized production and a workers’ government was conceivable. But today that fatal weakness is entirely unnecessary, as is exemplified by the fact that an absolute majority of the French people have voted for the Communist and Socialist Parties which are pledged to socialism.
Yet this fatal weakness is now introduced into the new French government in two ways: (1) the participation in it of the MRP, the open watchdog of private property; (2) what logically follows from the presence of the MRP, an avowed cabinet program of rationing, price-fixing and revival of production by methods favorable to the big capitalists: ineffectual police measures against the black market instead of workers’ and housewives’ committees; wage freezing which means wage cutting, since prices will continue to rise via the black market no matter how much they are supposed to be fixed legally; ostensible nationalization of certain fields-electricity and gas, “certain big investment companies,” “certain insurance companies and mining companies, the partial (!) nationalization of the merchant marine” – but in reality such completely free hand to private industry that, Gouin admits, selling government bonds “will become harder and harder because of the trend of savings toward private investment.”
What will be the inevitable results of such a governmental coalition with the capitalists and such a pro-capitalist program? It will not be, like de Gaulle’s cabinets, a government of inaction, but a government of action ... in carrying out the program of de Gaulle and the capitalist class. If pursued to the end, it will so disappoint and demoralize the working class that de Gaulle will be enabled to return without worrying about the resistance of the proletariat and its parties. Economically, it will mean the revival of the French capitalist class at the expense of the workers and peasants, who will have footed the bill for industrial reconstruction without getting any of the benefits of it.
To return to our example from the French Revolution, the present government is simple opening the road to the Thermidorians, who destroyed the rationing system of Robespierre. As the historian Mathiez tells what happened:
As a rule the Thermidorians relied upon the support of the property-owning classes, who were interested in the restoration of commercial liberty. They expelled the lower classes from all posts and replaced them by people in comfortable circumstances. They put an end to the Terror or, rather, they turned it against their lower-class adversaries. The first result was that the economic laws of the Revolution lost their power. They could only be put in force by compulsion, because they were injurious to all private interests, and there was no longer any compulsion ....
The immense purchases for equipping the army and feeding the towns now ceased to be made at the prices fixed once and for all by law. In the future the state had to pay the prices demanded by the owners.
And now we come to the heart of the question. Even the Thermidorians eventually had to try to do something about the rise in prices – they passed a decree restoring the former penalties – prison, fine, etc.
But who (writes Mathiez) was to secure the application of the decree now that all the governing bodies had been purged and the “terrorists” replaced by fraudulent traders or their accomplices? ... It was no use.
The MRP ministers and the numerous pro-capitalist elements in all the governmental bodies are the accomplices of the fraudulent traders of today, the Two Hundred Families. So long as they remain in the government it is obviously impossible to take one step in a progressive direction.
Hence the profound importance of the demand put forward by our comrades, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, French section of the Fourth International: Break the coalition with the bourgeoisie! For a government of the Communist and Socialist Parties and the General Confederation of Labor (CGT)!
This demand serves to center the attention of the workers on the source of the difficulties: the capitalist control of the government and its program. The solution is already at hand: the parties which lead the proletariat have an absolute majority in the Constituent, they have only to will it and they can take the power alone.
Indeed, the well nigh unprecedented character of the present situation is illumined by the fact that the leaders of the Communist and Socialist Parties cannot even pretend that any power in France stands in their way. Until yesterday they still pretended that at present they could not oust de Gaulle and the forces he represented. Now, as an indirect result of the pressure of the masses against de Gaulle’s reactionary policies, he has departed. There is no force that could resist a Socialist-Communist government by legal means. And as to extra-parliamentary means – civil war – what force would politically and economically bankrupt French capitalism have at its disposal compared to the great masses who were steeled and hardened in the resistance movement? Nobody could resist the will of a Communist-Socialist government if it chose to mobilize the masses for the reconstruction of France.
But if the miserable bureaucrats who mislead the labor movement cannot find somebody to halt socialism inside France, they find it outside: Uncle Sam. Not the military might of Uncle Sam: that would be too unconvincing to the European masses who have just seen the American soldiers demonstrating and demanding to be evacuated forthwith from Europe. But the benevolent Uncle Sam, purveyor of the machinery and goods which France needs. During the days of the formation of the present government, when the advanced workers were indicating their desire for a Socialist-Communist government, the Socialist leader André Philip, who is now Minister of Finance, wrote January 23 in Cité Soir:
The food crisis can be solved only by a strong appeal to the outside world, and this appeal cannot be made by a combination having only a small majority in the Assembly and led by a party of the extreme Left.
Put more plainly, Uncle Sam won’t send food if there is a Communist-Socialist government.
It is a very dishonest, but very effective argument. Great illusions about American imperialism still pervade the French masses. They no longer embrace American soldiers, indeed they want to be rid of the last of them. They have learned since August, 1944, that Uncle Sam doles out his bounty at a very niggardly rate. Nevertheless there remains the stark reality that France is short of food and its machinery is worn out, whereas these things are arriving from the United States in some measure. Perhaps Blum, now ambassador extraordinary to Uncle Sam, will be able to speed the trickle into a flood? Still terribly preoccupied not so much by politics as by the day-by-day hunt for enough food to live on and something to warm a cold room, the French worker yields to the argument of André Philip, not so much because he believes it as because he hopes against hope that it will prove partly true.
He yields, however, also because he thinks that meanwhile the government will do something about the black market, price fixing, real equality in rationing, jobs for all. In the coming months he will find that the one immediate reality in the government program is wage freezing. Whatever Blum may get in Washington, the lion’s share of it will go to industrial reconstruction, i.e., to the capitalists.
With each day, therefore, our French comrades will find an ever-greater response to their demand: Break the coalition with the bourgeoisie! For a government of the Socialist and Communist Parties and the Confederation of Labor!
Will such a government actually come into being? No one can say. Obviously the Socialist and Communist Party leaders are resisting it with all their might. They will be forced to do so only by a tidal wave of working class pressure which is still the music of the future.
Are not our French comrades spreading illusions about what the Communist and Socialist Parties would do if they formed a CP-SP government? The reality, however, is that the illusions are already there. Today the main sections of the French proletariat and not a few peasants follow the Communist Party, the rest of the workers and a large part of the lower middle class of town and country follow the Socialist Party, To arouse these masses to demand that their parties take the power, when their parties obviously resist doing so, is the best way now to arouse these masses against the treacherous leaderships of their parties. This policy affords the masses the experiences necessary to end their political impasse resulting from the pre-eminent position of the CP at the head of the proletariat.
But isn’t there a danger that tomorrow the Communist Party leaders, at a signal from Stalin, will decide to take the power and turn France into another Poland or Yugoslavia? If that were so, it would mean that Stalin had decided to extend his new empire to the Atlantic. It is inconceivable for many reasons. Obviously we are now living in the aftermath of World War II, in a period of peace, uneasy, unstable, but nevertheless destined to last for a whole historical period in which Big Three collaboration will go on with ups and downs. Stalin on the Atlantic would mean a complete end to Big Three relations, would immediately precipitate World War III, for Anglo-US imperialism could never permit it. The Kremlin has neither the resources nor the will for such an unequal combat. Even more important, a Stalinized France is conceivable only in one of two ways: (1) Like the Stalinization of Eastern Europe, with the direct aid of Russian military occupation, something which could only happen after the outbreak of war between Russia and the Anglo-US bloc, and that is now excluded. (2) If by Stalinization of France is meant totalitarianization as in Poland – nationalization of industry, Stalinist dictatorship, liquidation of free trade unions, etc – and without the aid of the Russian army, then obviously it would have to be the proletariat which would first have to be called into action to expropriate the French bourgeoisie. But that would mean a Stalinist-led proletarian revolution and the whole history of Stalinism demonstrates the extreme unlikelihood of such a possibility, to say the least. All the instrumentalities which the proletariat would have to create for such expropriation – soviets, factory committees, workers’ militias – would constitute a mortal danger not only to the Stalinist party but to the Russian empire. For a successful proletarian revolution unleashed in France would either be defeated by the bourgeoisie or it would extend throughout Europe. And the proletarian revolution, as we have always said, would mean the deathknell of the Kremlin’s oppression of the Russian proletariat.
What is true is that any considerable measure of Stalinist participation in a government represents a further increase of danger of repressions and assassinations of anti-Stalinist workers and revolutionists, above all a danger to our French comrades. Stalinist cabinet ministers have already used their posts to instigate arrests of Trotskyists. This risk would increase in a Communist-Socialist government, particularly at moments when the great mass of the workers might be preoccupied with big events and Stalinist ministers and assassins might feel free to operate with impunity against their revolutionary opponents. But this risk obviously operates within certain limits – in the first place, the maintenance of bourgeois democracy and a free labor movement. On the other hand, there is the burning class need to push the French proletariat forward by daily agitation for a break of the coalition with the bourgeoisie.
Our French comrades must explain to the French proletariat the danger of Stalinist repressions against their revolutionary opponents. Our answer to this danger is a positive one: a widespread agitation in behalf of our own program for such a government. A Socialist-Communist government is of no value to the proletariat without the widest possible democratic rights for all political groupings within the French working class; unless the government is coupled with elected factory committees exercising full authority in all enterprises; the right of the workers to recall deputies to the Assembly and elect new ones at any time; the arming of the working class under the authority of factory committees, workers’ district committees, etc. Where the great masses of the workers will feel and be masters of France, there will be little risk of the Stalinists, wreaking vengeance against their revolutionary opponents. Rather it will be the Stalinists who will be increasingly called to account, along with the Socialist fakers, for failing to carry out the manifest desires of the working class for a new social order in France.
Last updated on 11 March 2017