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Workers’ International News, June 1939


France in Transition


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.6, June 1939, pp.4-5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The offensive of French finance-capital against the standard of living and democratic liberties of the masses is being carried out more and more openly. The aim of this offensive is to give French industrial interests the most favourable conditions possible for the piling up of profits and the perfection of the already tremendous war machine with which it is hoped to preserve the booty acquired in the last war from their less fortunate fellow gangsters, the German, Japanese and Italian financiers. This naturally can only be done by placing more and more burdens on the already heavily loaded backs of the French workers, peasants and small tradesmen.

The offensive is being pushed along two fronts, the economic, i.e. the pushing of all new expenditure on to those least able to pay, and the political front, by the gradual suppression of the right of free speech.

Let us first examine the economic sector. The decree loans which have appeared since April profoundly affect the masses of the French people. Reynaud hopes to obtain the fabulous sum of six milliards of francs for the upkeep of the French war machine. Where will the money come from? Not from the Rothschilds, Schneiders, Creusots and the rich for whom the money will be spent, but from out of the very flesh of the impoverished masses.

The 1% sales tax which is applied at each sale of an article is applicable to all businesses who buy to resell, and since before reaching the consumer the article passes through the hands of many middlemen, each of whom increases his price to pass off the cost of the tax on to his buyer’s shoulders, this will mean a considerable increase in the cost of living. The rise in the selling price of state-sold motor-spirit and petrol will also make it harder for many housewives to make ends meet.

Not only does Reynaud wish to increase the inflow of money to the treasury; he also sacrifices the social services to the war machine. The “economies” contained in the decree of laws of April include (a) The reduction in the numbers of the auxiliary staff on the state railways (b) the suppression of credits for public works, etc. (c) the virtual suspension of the Wheat Office. The disappearance of nearly three milliards of credit for public works not only aggravates the already severe unemployment in the building and allied trades but puts a complete stop to the very slow electrification, sanitation and transport measures so far undertaken in the backward rural areas which are suffering from the lack of these things; thousands of villages have never heard of electricity, in many places the schools are so few that children have to walk several miles to the next village; the same applies to drinking water wells; in many parts of France the roads are in a desperate state; the sanitary system in many villages dates back to before the French revolution. By suppressing the already insufficient credits for the remedying of these ills, Daladier and Reynaud have helped to demonstrate once again that under capitalism there is no room left for progress.

By suppressing credits for the Wheat Office from 1940 onwards they have shown that not only is progress impossible but that the trend of imperialism is for the suppression of the very small advantages already attained by the people. The Wheat Office was created by the Blum Government in answer to the demands of the poorer peasants for the solution to the problem of the low prices offered for their wheat on a restricted market. The Wheat Office was supposed to buy up the surplus unsold wheat of the peasants at the average price for the harvest, but as the money with which the State bought the wheat was raised by two taxes hitting producers and consumers themselves the only achievement of the Office was, not to alleviate the lot of the peasants as a whole, but to spread the same burden over the peasants and the consumers. To-day capitalism is in such a predicament that it cannot afford even to maintain this paltry “reform.” The money lent by the Treasury for the absorption of the surplus of the 1938 harvests must be paid back in the first months of the next harvest (most probably by another tax hitting the peasants). Moreover, the new decree states that the peasants whose surplus wheat is bought up by the Office will only get paid after the sale of the wheat by the State out of the net income to the State of that sale.

Besides this, the decrees suppress credits of 118,177,950 francs for public health and 468,987,735 francs meant for educational purposes. The money refused for the education and health of the French children will be spent on the construction of tanks and bombers.

Thus we see that the greater part of the six milliards which Daladier and Reynaud wish to raise will be obtained by taxes and economies hitting particularly the strata of the population having the lowest incomes. “But what about the progressive tax on war profits, the tax on wealth, the tightening of measures against fraud? Are these not measures which hit the rich?” our critics will shout. “What about the 10% cut in license fee to be increased to 20% in 1940; doesn’t that help the small tradesmen?”

Let us examine these measures. First the reduction of license fees. Examination reveals that the 1% armaments tax already mentioned more than nullifies any benefit a tradesman would get out of reduction on license fees. Here is a typical example: the shopkeeper in question sells wines, liqueurs, etc., in the 2nd arrondissement in Paris. His license fees for 1938 were 16,000 francs. The 10% reduction will save him therefore 1,600 francs. But the armament tax on his turnover of 32,000 francs will come to 4,320 francs and therefore he pays to the State in 1939 4,320 less 1,600, which comes to 2,720 more than in 1938 on the same turnover, that is to say, nearly three times as much must be paid over.

As to the limitation of war profits to 10%, Marxists declare that the making of profits on arms should be abolished altogether and that the workers must demand the confiscation of all war profits. As to the tightening up of the anti-fraud measures, they are no novelty. These last few years have seen many such measures but still it goes on. Whereas the worker or peasant cannot escape his taxes, capital, thanks to the levies at its command, usually manages to evade paying a great deal of their taxes.

Let us now examine the political front. There the picture is just as gloomy – Daladier is taking full advantage of the present state of apathy and despair that reigns in the labour movement since the averted general strike of November 30th last year, and is aiming by police methods reminiscent of the Poincare-Clemenceau period after the war, to prevent any regroupment around a fighting programme. It is therefore natural that those most hit should be the Trotskyists, PSOPists and anarchists. These last few months all meetings organised by the Union Anarchiste have been forbidden. An important meeting of the SIA (Solidarite International Anti-fasciste) called to support the struggles of the French colonial people for independence, at which Marceau Pivert and Fenner Brockway were among those scheduled to speak, was forbidden. The paper SIA was seized by the police as well as Libertaire, Anarchist organ. Three leaders of the UA, Vintrigner, Fremont and Francier have been sentenced to 18, 12, and 6 months respectively. The “Trotskyists” are also the objects of police pursuit; Comrades Molinier, Brausch, and P. Frank have been brought up before the courts for propaganda against the increased hours in National Defence industries (made punishable by the decree of 12th November, 1938); Jeanne Martin has been similarly accused as writer of an article against the “integrity of the territory of the French Empire” which appeared in the last (December 1938) number of La Commune. The 12th May issue of Juin 36, PSOP organ, has also been seized by the police. Many secretaries of the local sections of the PSOP report that they are visited by detectives who try to find out the names and addresses of members. Other arrests include those of Comrades Duvernet and Jourdain of the “Syndicalist Class Struggle Circles” (Left wing group in the CGT).

But the reaction in its triumph is not content with hitting out at revolutionary elements of the working-class movement. It has even felt strong enough to forbid the pink Communist Party meetings. In April, a CP meeting to be addressed by Thorez and the Stalinist deputy for the region, was forbidden; the CP changed it into a private meeting and sent out personal invitations to thousands of militants this hoping to get around the interdict, but on arriving at the place of the meeting they found that a company of Senegalese Troops had been installed there. Similarly a CP meeting scheduled for June 3rd at Grenoble was forbidden, “in view of the present international situation” said the prefect of police! The right of assembly in the department of the Pyrenees Orient has been withdrawn; excuse given the Spanish refugees!

Just as reactionary are the means whereby the French bourgeoisie hopes to solve the problem of the Spanish refugees. Notices have been put up in the concentration camps harbouring the refugees proposing to the soldiers that they go and build roads in French Equatorial Africa. The climate in these regions, Congo, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, is so unhealthy that even the South Algerian labourers now refuse to go there. To the Spanish soldiers it means yellow fever, dysentery, sleeping sickness. They might as well go back to face Franco’s tribunals; at least it would be a quicker death.

And yet with the freedom of the press, the right of free speech and assembly rapidly disappearing, the Blumites and Stalinists beg the Daladier Government to unite with Chamberlain and Stalin for the defence of a fast vanishing democracy. In the face of this repression the Socialists and Stalinists are completely inactive in even sphere except the verbal. The leaders hope, no doubt, that Daladier will not notice them. That’s what the German social democrats thought – before Hitler came to power!

Last year, as a reaction against the opportunist and cowardly policy of the Socialist Party, the left wing separated and formed the PSOP. Although this party is composed of heterogeneous elements it holds out the hope for a regroupment of the dispersed revolutionary elements. That is why the majority of the “Trotskyists” have joined it. While the leadership pursues a hesitating policy (alliance with petty bourgeois pacifists, etc.) the membership pushes for a firm Marxist policy. Recently, the Paris region of the JSOP (youth) passed a unanimous minus 2 votes resolution condemning the signing by the party of a leaflet on the war danger got out by a united front of bourgeois pacifist and reformist organisations because of its lack of concrete directives. The JSOP is actively organising the vanguard of the youth in preparation for the coming war. Their slogan is: “Turn the imperialist war for profits into a social war for the liberation of mankind and socialism.” We English revolutionaries hail the JSOP’s struggle and hope the PSOP will follow their example. Meanwhile, we will pay our tribute to the militants in Daladier’s prisons by struggling in England against those political doctrines and organisations that aim at turning the struggle of the working-class into sup-port for imperialist war and capitulation to the bourgeoisie.

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