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George Breitman

French and Italian June Elections
Record Slight Shift to Right

(15 June 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 24, 15 June 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A slight shift to the right took place in the French and Italian elections of June 2. In both countries, for the first time since the end of the war, a capitalist party came forward as the largest in the electoral field. But in each case this capitalist party still remains a minority. France and Italy remain in the grip of a political crisis; in both countries the parliamentary scene will be marked by instability for the coming period. The decisive battles still lie ahead.

In the elections to the French Constituent Assembly, which will prepare a new constitution, the Communist Party held its own, even adding slightly to its popular vote, but losing 4 or 5 seats in the Assembly. The Socialist Party lost both seats and votes, falling back to the position of third party. Together the two parties still represent a majority, but now by only one or two seats; their combined relative strength has declined.

The chief gains were made by the Popular Republican Movement (MRP), which added over a million votes and about 15 seats in the Assembly. The MRP, whose strength was an unknown factor only last October, has emerged as the main party and rallying center of the French capitalist class.

In the Italian referendum on the monarchy and election of a Constituent Assembly, a similar trend was revealed. The House of Savoy was rejected by roughly twelve million to ten million votes. The Christian Democrats, who resemble the French MRP, received over one-third of the votes. The Socialist and Communist Party each got about 20 per cent.

What is the explanation for the rise and growth of the MRP (and its “Christian Socialist” counterparts not only in Italy, but in Germany, Austria, and several other countries in western Europe)?

It must be remembered, that the capitalist parties on the continent were completely discredited and lost all semblance of mass support during the war. When the German occupation ended, the capitalists did not have a single party of their own. They had to begin all over again and build them. Capitalism remained dominant not because of the strength of the capitalists, but because the Communist and Socialist Parties, supported by the masses who wanted a revolutionary change, refused to overthrow it.

Capitalist Aims

But the capitalists were not and are not satisfied to rule through these workers’ parties, subservient though their leaders are. For the continuation of rule in this manner implies some concessions to the masses; furthermore, it contains the danger that the workers’ organizations, under a different leadership, may move toward the overthrow of capitalism. The stabilization of the ruined French economy under capitalism can be achieved only by further attacks on the masses’ living standards and rights. To carry this out completely, the capitalists must have agents more trustworthy and less subject to mass pressure than the Stalinist and “Socialist” leaders. For the perspective of French capitalism is not rule by “democratic” forms but by a dictatorial regime which can repress all independent activity of the masses.

Of course the capitalists could not make this change overnight – the political conditions were not ripe for it. First of all they needed a party of their own. So, while they were rebuilding the shattered structure of the capitalist state with the aid of the workers parties’ leaders, they began to prepare for the future by organizing the MRP. To help it secure a mass base, even among the lower middle class, they had to give it a radical hue. The MRP declared for nationalization of industry, for example, and in many other ways took the coloration of the workers’ parties.

October Election

The MRP made a strong beginning in the first postwar election last October, but it was still only the third largest party. De Gaulle, who represented one wing of the MRP, thought the time had come early this year for beginning the anti-labor offensive, but the capitalists generally judged more time was required. De Gaulle was compelled to step down from the government until a more favorable occasion.

The MRP got all the help the ruling class could give it, but no one aided it more effectively than the leaders of the CP and SP. Instead of exposing the true aims of the MRP, the leaders of these parties – who constituted a majority of the government – entered into a coalition with the MRP and thus helped to build up its authority. Instead of offering a truly revolutionary program to inspire the workers, peasants and middle class, the CP and SP sponsored measures which the MRP could support and go along with.

As the Republican columnist, Walter Lippman, points out with satisfaction: “The Communists have no social program for the reconstruction of France which is more advanced or more radical than that which the MRP and the Socialists offer.”

Furthermore, the CP and SP vied with the MRP, and even surpassed it, in such measures as disarming the workers, prohibiting strikes, increasing the speedup, maintaining wage-freezing, etc. Little wonder, therefore, that large sections of the masses have become confused, discouraged and even fallen into apathy.

MRP Benefits

That the MRP was able to benefit from such conditions was shown in the next balloting – the May 5 referendum on the constitution. Here, by cleverly seizing on a secondary though important difference with the other two parties, the MRP was able to get credit for being an opposition to the Gouin government, thus partly obscuring the fact that it shared responsibility for all the unpopular measures of that government.

As a Paris dispatch to The Militant two weeks ago indicated. the MRP was able to win in this test of strength because of “the abstention, if not the direct opposition, of a considerable section of the lowest strata of the population.” In four of the industrial departments, the vote in favor of the constitution was more than 200,000 less than the vote cast for the CP and SP together last October. (A typographical error in the June 1 Militant made this read 2,000,000 instead of 200,000; but this does not alter the significance of the decline in the CP-SP vote.)

The June 2 election shows that this trend, in a modified form, is continuing.

The capitalists in Italy and France can thank the CP and SP not only for maintaining capitalism in its darkest days, but also for assisting in the creation of strong and growing capitalist parties.

As a result the political forces of French capitalism are today stronger comparatively than at any time since the collapse of Germany. But even now they are not in the position they aim to secure. The social crisis remains unresolved.

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