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Workers’ International News, April 1939



The Middle Class in France


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.4, April 1939, pp.6-7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In the rise of German and Italian Fascism the peasantry and urban middle classes played a very important part. In France, a semi-agricultural country where they are still numerically very strong, they are destined to play just as important a part in the coming events. In these two countries, the middle classes, pauperised by the crisis of the capitalist system, provided a certain mass basis for Fascism which they believed would take them out of their impasse. In France to-day everybody from the Communist Party to Doriot, one of the would-be Hitlers of his country, recognises the importance of winning to his cause the masses of the petty bourgeoisie. The Communist Party cried out (quite rightly) for an alliance of the middle classes and the workers and under cover of this slogan, tied the revolutionary movement of 1935-36 to the Radicals, the classical exploiters of the middle classes’ prejudices. Doriot for his part writes numerous pamphlets and articles destined solely for the middle class. The majority of the workers in Germany have never accepted Fascism and neither will their French brothers; that is why Doriot’s PPF and de la Rocque’s PSF are paying special attention to the petty bourgeoisie.

Only recently the PSF held an “Agricultural Conference” and put forward its plan for the “revitalisation of agriculture.” It is true this conference did not arouse much comment but it is a dangerous warning that unless the peasantry is shown a real way to solve its problems (indebtedness to the banks, machinations of the powerful grain trusts, the disparity between the prices of agricultural products and manufactured goods, etc.) they will turn in despair to Fascism. It is precisely because the various Popular Front Governments did nothing to solve the peasant problem that the countryside remained completely passive during the strikes against the Daladier-Reynaud decree laws in November 1938.

Let us retrace briefly the events since 1934 in relation to the petty bourgeoisie. For years the Radical Party had been the traditional party of the middle classes, which meant that it was the instrument that was best adapted to win the support of the middle classes for the maintenance of the capitalist system. The peasant and shopkeeper, even if he did not believe in his party’s promises of reforms, voted for it through inertia much as many workers vote in England to-day for Labour “because everybody else here does.” However, the financial and industrial crisis that hit France in the early nineteen thirties resulted in the bankruptcy of thousands of small shopkeepers and peasants and drove many more into the arms of the banks who naturally did not hesitate to take advantage of this situation. Under these circumstances the falsity of the Radicals’ claims were laid bare and the middle class began to seek other saviours. Only two alternatives presented themselves – Fascism or Revolution, and we see that in the Municipal Elections the Radical votes drop while those of the Communist Party and Socialists rise, while at the same time, la Rocque’s Croix de Feu penetrates into the villages. The Stavisky scandal, which implicated many leaders of the Radical Party (including Chautemps, Premier of the second Popular Front cabinet) and showed its impotence before the fascist gangs (Daladier’s resignation after February 6th), further accelerated the loss of prestige of the Radicals.

Here was an unaparalleled opportunity for either the Communist Party or the Socialist Party to ally the middle classes to the workers by pointing out that the crisis of the Radicals was inseparable from the crisis of French capitalism which in turn was the cause of their misery. The peasant and shopkeeper if they saw that the working class parties were determined to overthrow the rule of the banks, grain trusts and industrialists whatever form it took (Democratic or Fascist) would have been drawn into the struggle. Instead the Communist Party answered February 6th by calling for an alliance between the workers and the Radicals precisely when the people were turning away from the latter (and this in the name of an alliance with the middle classes!) This is how the Communist Party expected to win the middle classes for Socialism.

Nor are the records of the various Popular Front Governments since 1936 designed to make the peasant or small tradesmen dance with joy. Blum declared on coming to power: “We shall remain within the framework of the capitalist system”, which meant to the small tradesmen “The banks will still be free to bleed you to death” and to the peasant “Sorry, but we can’t help you against the grain trust.” Moreover the rise in the cost of living by which the bourgeoisie took back the extra wages won by the factory workers, hit the middle classes even more as their income had remained if stationary. The reactionary propagandists had an easy job. The middle classes came to identify the Popular Front with the high cost of living. The peasant in the village, gleaning his knowledge of the labour movement from the bourgeois daily press, came to identify the whole labour movement with the Blum and the Jouhaux who lived at luxurious rates (Jouhaux has a chateau at Nantes just like a country squire) and who betrayed the people just as did Daladier and the Radicals. In 1936 the peasant, influenced by the revolutionary sentiment of the workers hoped to a certain extent that his lot would now be improved. He was soon disillusioned.

Fortunately, although the middle classes are to-day very restless, Fascism has not yet won a sufficiently important influence and there is still time for the workers’ organisations to get down to the task of proving to the petty bourgeoisie that only in alliance with the industrial workers can they successfully defend and improve their standard of living. The Communist Party is incapable of achieving this task since it is pledged to the defence of the Empire which puts such heavy taxes and burdens on the backs of the people. In the conferences of the Socialist Party there is usually a debate on agricultural problems, but it is conducted as if the speakers were bourgeois professors at the “Academie” and not socialists interested in supporting the peasants’ demands.

Only the POI (French section of the Fourth International) puts forward a programme that can solve the problems of the petty bourgeoisie. They call for workers and peasants control of the banks, free credit to peasants and small tradesmen, the abolition of the grain trusts that keep agriculture in a strait jacket. The revolutionists call upon the peasantry to join with the workers in the common struggle for the only government that can carry out such measures – a workers’ government based upon tile popular organisations of the masses which must be forged in the struggle – factory committees bound together by a national congress, village committees, housewives’ committees in the populous districts to control food prices – all these must be created and merged in a national body of Workers’ and Peasants’ Councils from which the Government will emerge.

The French middle classes must join up in the anti-war struggle as they suffer from it as much as the working class, if not more. The peasants’ homes in the war zones are destroyed, the land ploughed by high explosives is rendered unfertile for many years to come, as witness the North of France which is still suffering from those results of 1914-18.

The Revolutionary Socialist Youth (JSR) in France are carrying on a courageous anti-militarist campaign among the soldiers for the abolition of the two years obligatory service. One of their members, Steve was recently condemned by the bourgeois courts to six months imprisonment for the JSR anti-war poster of last September which says “This war will not be ours”. Their paper Revolution has been suppressed four or five times already by the “democratic” Daladier Government. Another of their comrades, Suzanne Charpy has been condemned to one years imprisonment for anti-militarist propaganda. In spite of these persecutions the revolutionary youth of France will carry on their struggle in the barracks where young workers and apprentices and peasant lads fight side by side. That is the way to forge the united front of the workers and peasants – by fighting Daladier’s war machine, not by bowing before him as did Blum and Thorez.

Many sceptics will tell us: “All this is very well, but the middle classes will be frightened away by your extremist programme.” Our answer to them is: “Were the Russian peasants frightened away by the programme of the Bolsheviks in 1917?” We would also like our critics to tell us how else the middle classes can be saved except by the expropriation of the banks and trusts that exploit them? They will not answer because there is no other way.

There is still time to avert Fascism in France if the workers regroup themselves for an onslaught against the Daladier Government and lead the peasants and shopkeepers onto a united onslaught against a decaying regime. The POI (French Section of the Fourth International) is agitating for fusion with the PSOP (French ILP) on a Marxist programme and the constitution of a united front of working class organisations as a first step in the organisation of the struggle against Fascism. We wish them success, for only in this way will France be saved from Fascism.


Paris, 22 March 1939

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