Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Comrade Ratner’s letter on the French Resistance (Revolutionary History Vol 2, No 1) serves, in my view, to perpetuate two serious misconceptions about the role of the Trotskyists during the Second World War, and the political aspirations of the resistance in general. In his letter Comrade Ratner argues that; (a) the Trotskyists made “a huge mistake to refuse to participate in the Resistance because it was a bourgeois movement”, and (b) that even if the Trotskyists had participated in the resistance their political influence would nevertheless have been restricted because the movement was “unfortunately more patriotic than revolutionary”. On both counts Comrade Ratner is incorrect!
Firstly, regarding Trotskyist participation in the resistance, it is true that in the early stages of the war strong doubts were expressed about participating in this movement. It was argued that the resistance was merely an appendage of the Allied imperialists’ war machine, and that consequently to support the resistance would be tantamount to supporting one imperialist camp against the other. However, this position was only sustained until 1943. After this date, Trotskyists were in actual fact encouraged to join and participate in the resistance.
The evidence in this change in line is to be found in the documents of the Provisional European Secretariat of the Fourth International. In its Resolution on the Partisan Movement of December 1943 (reproduced in Prager’s L’Internationale Dans La Guerre, La Breche, 1981), the Secretariat argues that because the resistance had by this time transformed itself from small groups of individual terrorists, into a more or less mass organisation, it was now necessary for Trotskyists to participate in this movement. The relevant section of this resolution states that:
Further evidence of Trotskyist participation in the resistance is provided by Andre Calves, who in his book Sans bottes ni medailles (La Breche, 1984), recounts his adventures as a member of the Communist-controlled FTP. Indeed, it would seem from his book that Calves was an advocate of entry into the resistance long before the European Secretariat decided on this line of action.
Secondly, on the question of the political nature of the resistance, whilst it may be true that many resistants were pure and simple patriots who fought for the re-establishment of bourgeois democracy, this is not to say, as Comrade Ratner appears to do, that a powerful revolutionary and Socialist wing did not exist within the movement. On the contrary, historians of the resistance have noted that there was in fact a fairly extensive left current within the movement. This current was motivated by a widespread revulsion against the pre-war bourgeois order, which was held responsible for the horrors of capitulation, collaboration and occupation. Against this background, many resistants therefore felt that not only was it necessary to fight the Nazis but at the same time it was equally necessary to launch a simultaneous struggle for a more just and Socialist post-war society.
Such feelings found a practical expression in the resistants’ opposition to the reestablishment of the status-quo antebellum at the time of the liberation. For example, there was great reluctance within the movement to comply with De Gaulle’s directive to incorporate the popular resistance militias into the regular army and police force. Likewise, there were countless examples of local resistance leaders/committees who opposed the imposition of Gaullist prefects in their particular localities.
The Trotskyists who participated in the resistance orientated themselves towards such developments, and through their propaganda and activities attempted to separate the interests of Socialist resistants from the embrace of bourgeois nationalism. Indeed, it was the French Trotskyists who actually encouraged and led the seizure of a number of factories in the Paris area from their bourgeois owners during the liberation period.
To conclude with, it is my view that the failure of the French Trotskyists cannot thus be explained, as Comrade Ratner attempts to do, in terms of their refusal to enter the resistance, and nor can it be explained by the lack of a left wing within the resistance – both of these factors were present. The truth of the matter is that the Trotskyists and revolutionary Socialists in general failed to advance their cause because of their numerical weakness and the perfidious role of Stalinism.
This fact is attested to by the rô1e played by Maurice Thorez, leader of the PCF. On his return from Moscow in 1945, Thorez used his not inconsiderable personal prestige, and the tremendous prestige and influence of his party to smash and suppress any and all resistance to the re-establishment of the bourgeois state. In fact it was Thorez who in 1945 put an end to any illusions that the Communists would seize power when he declared that “there was only one state, one police force and one army” – the state, police and army of De Gaulle.
Finally, it must also be pointed out that in their efforts to maintain their wartime alliance with Anglo-US imperialism, the Stalinists committed terrible acts of treachery and brutality against Trotskyists and revolutionary Socialists. For example, many Chinese Trotskyists who participated in the resistance struggle against the Japanese were murdered by the Communists, or betrayed to the Kuomintang or Japanese. European Trotskyists who were transported to the concentration camps were subject to similar treatment by their fellow Stalinist prisoners, and one can only assume that Trotskyists who participated in French resistance continually faced the risk of betrayal and assassination by the Stalinists.
Hopefully, these brief points will serve to set the record straight and show that it was not the Trotskyists who were responsible for retarding the advance of revolutionary Socialism during the war, but rather the counter-revolutionary Stalinists.
Updated by ETOL: 6.7.2003