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The New International, December 1946


Editorial Comment

France’s “No Exit” Sign


From New International, Vol.12 No.10, December 1946, pp.295-296.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Jean-Paul Sartre, France’s famous playwright and exponent of the existentialiste school of philosophy, is the author of a new Broadway play, No Exit. This sign might well be applied to the present French impasse, more strikingly than ever revealed in the elections of November 10. France now has a government, but the French people have “no exit,” no way out, under “the present regime. The revival of democracy in France after the liberation could have been, at best, limited in nature. Bourgeois democracy requires at least some flourishing of economic life, some health in the body politic, if it is to be anything but a formality. France has a new Constitution, a newly elected National Assembly, a renovated Luxemburg Palace for the Assembly’s gathering hall, but it lacks the vitality and nourishment essential to feed these institutions of bourgeois democracy in its prime. Within one and a half year, and after no less than three elections and two referendums, it is clear that French democracy suffers from pernicious anemia.

Of all the “victor” nations of World War II, France is the most paralyzed, the most entrapped in the new world relationships. On the one hand, almost entirely economically dependent upon the good graces of American imperialism for any measure of recovery, the country is almost as entirely politically dependent upon the actions of the quisling column of Russian imperialism, the French Communist Party. In essence, the freeing of the French nation from its present bondage could only come about through its winning freedom equally from American economic dependency and from Russian-Stalinist internal political domination. The whole question of France is thus, in the broadest sense, lifted to the international arena; more accurately, to the rewinning of national independence in the European and world framework. Clearly, neither the democratic, pro-capitalist parties (leaning on America and England), nor the totalitarian, Stalinist party (leaning on Russia) is – by definition – capable of leading the nation toward such goals. The dwindling and pathetic Socialist Party (drooping and graying as Leon Blum’s mustachios) is merely a symbol of the hopeless waning of “pure” bourgeois democracy and “pure” reformism.

Just as the two mighty monsters of world imperialism, Russia and America, effectively paralyze French national independence, so does the internal division within the country effectively paralyze the revival and resurrection of the country. True, there has been a certain recovery in economic and industrial production, but entirely inadequate to lift the country even toward its 1939 standards. Black marketing, coal shortages, lack of housing, unemployment, absence of fuel for homes, monotonous and bleak diets, inflation, absence of commodities – all this plagues France in the winter of 1946-47 as profoundly as it did last winter. The same fundamental problem that has been driving French capitalism downward since the First World War – the narrow market straightjacket imposed upon the nation by the monopolistic ownership and control of the means of production – is still in operation. The country rots, while its political parties play with empiric solutions, driven forward by forces they are only half conscious of, toward actions they neither understand nor foresee.

Keep Eye on Each Other

At this writing, the uneasy three-party coalition exists and will doubtless continue indefinitely. But this is no coalition of partners or collaborators. It is a coalition of parties which hate and mutually distrust one another to an inconceivable degree. The coalition form is only a means by which the Catholic-bourgeois party of Bidault (MRP) keeps an eye on the totalitarian, power-seeking Stalinist party, while both carve hunks of flesh off the dying Socialist Party. As the New York Times (November 17) expressed it:

“The three-party coalition ... may be described as a general conspiracy to conceal the gravity of the French political division so long as the principal antagonists agree the time has not come for a show-down.”

But there is a more positive reason for the temporary continuation of the coalition. That is the question of nationalizations, partly carried out but momentarily halted due to the hesitations of the MRP. In this coalition government, as the Times reports, “... a given party holds several Cabinet posts, which it tends to regard as branches of the party rather than as coordinate parts of a unified administration.” This explains how the present coalition differs from prior ones, that of the 1936 Popular Front, for example. The coalition parties seek to root themselves deep into the state apparatus, to penetrate everywhere in preparation for an ultimate show-down. Since the state, under the already achieved nationalizations (coal mines. Bank of France, four largest deposit banks, etc.), exerts a direct power over important areas of production and credit, the control of the instrumentalities of the state (through ministerial portfolios) becomes highly important. Naturally, the Stalinist party, through its domination of the CGT (trade unions), has the inside track in this game of political, state-apparatus penetration. No party will willingly abandon this strategic struggle – thus, the coalition reveals an endurance far beyond legitimate expectations.

Into this intensely confused situation, fraught with the most tragic possibilities for the French people, only a party with clean revolutionary banners can penetrate. A party that grasps the impasse and the causes of the stagnation; a party whose strategy and tactics is not the mouthings of formula; a party that can clearly explain to the French workers the nature of the situation in which they find themselves, and the fact that only the utmost exertion, leading toward a regaining of its independence of class action and class initiative, can save the French proletariat from bourgeois reaction or Stalinist totalitarian entrapment.

Correct as it is, it does not suffice for the PCI (French section of the Fourth International) to demand of the Socialists and Stalinists that they break the coalition bloc with the bourgeois parties. The French Trotskyists must make Trotsky’s judgment that the Stalinist movement represents the greatest danger within the rankt of the working class – that it is, to use his words, “the syphilis of the labor movement” – the inviolable principle for their political strategy and tactics.

The tactic of calling for a CP-SP government or, as today, of calling for a CP-SP break with the coalition government must not be carried out in such a manner as would associate the PCI as part of a CP-SP bloc or, even worse, as a “better edition” of the French CP. Offers of electoral blocs with the CP or endorsement of CP candidates cannot but result in the PCI appearing in this light before the French workers. The aim of the slogan “CP-SP government” or of “Break the coalition” is not to identify the revolutionary Marxists with a Stalinist-reformist coalition. Quite the contrary. Its aim is to distinguish the Marxist class program of the PCI from that of the Stalinists and reformists. The false position of the Fourth International in calling for the “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” already, unfortunately, compromises the role of the PCI as a party equally opposed to Russian as well as American imperialist domination of Europe. The PCI must bank, not upon the pro-Russian prejudices of the French workers today, but upon the anti-Russian feelings which disillusionment with Stalinism will create tomorrow. The PCI will grow, not by trimming its sails to avoid offending the pro-Stalinist worker, but by becoming the magnet which attracts all who begin to question and doubt the socialist character of the CP.

The continued growth of the PCI, the nomination of over 100 candidates in the elections, the increase in its total vote by nearly a third, are all factors that indicate that the revolutionary cadres of the French proletariat are far from completely dissipated. The gains of the PCI to date have but been the necessary preliminary nibbling at the outer edges of the Stalinist and reformist dominated masses. Out of these slowly but steadily accruing forces can be built the party which, with the proper tactics, can become strong enough and widely enough known to become the rallying point overnight when the masses shift toward a revolutionary solution.

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