Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
I am happy to accept Ian Driver’s factual correction in the last issue of Revolutionary History to my letter in the previous issue (Volume 2, no 1). This letter was not intended for publication but was an off-the-cuff observation in a longer letter on other matters to Al Richardson. Al, on his initiative and no doubt with the commendable intention of generating discussion in the letters page of the magazine, extracted this part. If I had known I would have been more careful in its formulation. What I should have said was that some (though not unimportant) currents in the movement did take an abstentionist attitude to the Resistance. Ian Driver is quite right to point out this error. I would only take exception to his last paragraph: “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 but rather the counter-revolutionary Stalinists.” If he looks again at my letter he will see that in no way do I imply this.
Ian Driver mentions that the French Trotskyists encouraged and led the seizure of a number of factories in the Paris area. Rodolphe Prager also refers to this in the article in Revolutionary History Volume 1 no.3, and observes: “The Stalinist trade union officials occupied themselves with obstructing this movement and ended by ordering the Western suburbs committee to wind up on pain of exclusion from the CGT. The evidence suggests that despite the favourable symptoms which numerous mass initiatives revealed, this was not the irresistible explosion on which they could have counted. A spirit of patriotism was fed by the fact that the war was still going on, and this was accepted as a justification for exceptional controls. obstructing the class struggle. The Trotskyists' denunciation of the imperialist war placed them against the stream and isolated them in the face of enthusiasm for the war ...”
This tallies with my personal experience. I was in the British Army that landed in Normandy. In August 1944 I managed to get attached to a unit of the FFI (Free French Forces) that was making its way into Paris with supplies for the Resistance Forces that were fighting in the city. Many of the armed Resistance groups were already being incorporated into the Gaullist Forces, and the unit I was with had originally been an independent Resistance maquis. When I attempted to put forward Trotskyist arguments, in particular, that the local Resistance committees should exert power and not allow de Gaulle to replace them by appointed officials and Prefects, the general reaction of the resistance fighters was: “But we haven’t beaten the Boches yet. We mustn’t start fighting among ourselves. When the war is over we’ll have elections, and settle all that then,” I can also attest to the difficulties and dangers that Trotskyist work in the Resistance entailed. Though I was originally welcomed into the unit (“an extra rifle is always useful”) the captain commanding the column and others became extremely hostile, and I think I was only protected by the fact that I was in British uniform. Ian Driver’s comment that Trotskyists who participated in the French Resistance risked assassination by the Stalinists is an understatement. We now know that they were. So I do not underestimate the difficulties.
I agree with Driver that there were many instances of ‘dual power’ and of tension between the local resistance groups and the Gaullist authorities appointed from Algiers. But nevertheless, on the whole, with the help of the Stalinists, the incorporation of the resistance into the Gaullist state machinery was accomplished fairly speedily.
Incidentally, there is an interesting account of ‘dual power’ in Italy by James Cameron in Special Operations Europe. Cameron was in the SOE, and worked with the Italian resistance. He describes how the Resistance Committee in Milan, which included Stalinists, Socialists and Christian Democrats, ignored advice by the Anglo-American Military Command, organised an insurrection in Milan and controlled the city for several days. When they greeted the advancing American forces at the outskirts of Milan, the American officer drawled: “Well guys, you can take it easy now. We’ve come to liberate you!”
Updated by ETOL: 6.7.2003