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Ian H. Birchall

Loyal Opposition?

(Autumn 1963)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.14, Autumn 1963, pp.37-38.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & thze late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Communism and the French Left
Charles A. Micaud
Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 42s.

Professor Micaud believes that democracy needs a ‘consensus’ on basic political principles; in France, the lack of a ‘loyal opposition’, accepting these principles, has opened the way to Right-wing extremism. Revolution is for him only a chimerical solution which appeals to workers when ‘the channels of individual and group promotion appear blocked,’ and which would fade away before the concrete reformist gains made by a party of the moderate Left.

Nonetheless, Micaud’s survey of the French CP especially in the post-1945 period, contains much useful and interesting information. He deals at length with the nature of the CP’s support. His treatment of the intellectuals (who join the Party out of ‘collective neurosis’ and a religious desire for an eschatological Absolute) is somewhat sketchy, and adds little that is new for anyone who has read some Sartre. But on the far more important question of working-class support for the CP he gives more valuable information. He starts off by showing the ‘atomistic’ nature of French society; and to this general picture of fragmentation he adds the results of interviews with Grenoble metal-workers. He concludes that they are ‘decidedly not revolutionary’; nonetheless three-quarters express resentment at social injustice, and nine-tenths feel indifference towards politics (while still voting). Their attitude to the CP is ambivalent; they recognize it as a workers’ party, but are distrustful of the leaders, and of the USSR.

Perhaps the most salutary effect of this book on an English Marxist is to make him thank God for the Labour Party. He is left to wonder in despair where he would turn if he lived in France. Certainly the CP is, in a sense, a workers’ party; its cells are vigorous and active at rank-and-file level, and achieve considerable popularity. But Micaud leaves us no illusions about ths leadership; the CP, participating in the French Government in 1945, helped to, dismantle workers’ committees that had been set up in 1944.

But what else is there? In a section entitled The Non-Communist Left; An Essay on Futility, Micaud shows how the rest of the French Left is inadequate for his objectives – how much more inadequate for ours are the romantic Christian Mouvement de Liberation du Peuple, the middle-class SFIO, out of touch with the workers, or Mendès-France’s advocacy of neo-capitalism. Only the PSU seems to Micaud to have any hope of success, and that only in the long-term. He omits to mention France’s nine Trotskyite factions, but they offer little consolation.

Nor does there seem much prospect of inner-party opposition. Micaud points out the undemocratic structure of the CP, the strong position of the leadership, the intensive recruiting and training of paid officials, the pervading atmosphere of discipline and loyalty, which meant that the French CP suffered comparatively little from the Hungarian Revolution. Nonetheless, we can only hope that both de Gaulle and Thorez will receive an increasing amount of ‘disloyal opposition’.

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Last updated: 25 March 2010