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Joseph Carter

The Tradition of Jacobin France Will Not Die!

(July 1940)

From Labor Action, vol. 4 No. 15, 22 July 1940, p. 4.
transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One hundred and fifty one years ago on July 14, the Great French Revolution broke out when the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, that gruesome prison symbol of the rotten system of feudal terror and oppression. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – these were the watchwords of the history-making masses who shaped the entire future development of mankind.

Today France is under the iron heel of barbaric Fascism. In agreement with Hitlerism, French big business has established its own totalitarian dictatorship, while the German fascist hordes occupy two thirds of the country. All democratic rights have been abolished; labor organizations suppressed; the right to strike outlawed.

The new French Fascist state has “renounced” the principles of the French Revolution. What a fraud! When was big business ever loyal to the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity? While in France itself the masses had compelled the plutocrats to maintain a parliamentary system and democratic rights of the people, the French rulers, particularly following the last World War, established the second largest and most valuable empire in the world; exercising a dictatorial oppression over 65 million people in Africa and Asia.

Afraid of working class revolution which would put into practice for the first time the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, which would take away the banks and factories from the present rulers, and free the colonial peoples from imperialist oppression, big business came to terms with Hitler at the expense of the French people.

At every crucial period in French history when the masses sought to establish their own rule, the wealthy bankers, the big financiers and industrialists, the plutocratic military officers united with the reactionary rulers of a foreign power in order to prevent a society and government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Jacobins Fought Democratic War

So it was in the early days of the French Revolution when the feudal monarchy, the rich bankers and aristocratic officers conspired with England and Prussia and Austria against Revolutionary France. It was the plebeians – the peasants, artisans and shopkeepers – who put an end to feudal servitude, separated church and state, and defeated the reactionary coalition of the mighty European powers on the battle field.

They organized their own government against the wealthy classes, the glorious Jacobin regime of 1793–94, and showed how a genuine and successful democratic defense of the nation, could be conducted. For the first time in history, the armed people replaced the mercenary army; the officers were controlled by the revolutionary representatives of the people; the rich were forced to bear the financial burden of the war. They fought on two fronts: against the internal enemy and the foreign foe who threatened to destroy the Revolution, for liberty, equality, and fraternity; for land, bread and security. They defeated the technically more qualified and experienced troops of the reactionary powers of Europe. But their revolution was destroyed from within by big business and middle class forces who feared the growing movement for real economic and political equality and freedom.

So also when following the Franco-Prussian War, the workers of Paris established their own rule in the famous Paris Commune of 1871, the French government of Thiers and the German Bismarck government cooperated in the bloody suppression of the Communards. This action was hailed by the ruling class press of England and the United States as a crushing blow to “barbarism” and “anarchy”; for whatever the differences among the economic royalists in the various countries they are united in their opposition to working class revolution since it spells the doom of their common system, of wage slavery and oppression.

Working Class Independence or Bloody Defeats

The great lesson of history that the working class must be organized independent of, and in uncompromising opposition to the capitalist class can be forgotten only at the cost of continued and greater defeats. The unpardonable crime of the French Socialist and Communist Parties was that they destroyed the independent workers’ movement, particularly at a time when the masses took over the factories and were ready to establish their own rule. The real gains of the inspiring general strikes and street demonstrations of 1934, the great sit-down strikes of 1936, the tremendous growth of the trade union movement were all shattered by the “Peoples Front” coalition of the workers’ organizations and capitalist parties.

The French workers, whose revolutionary traditions are second to none, have shown great recuperative powers in the past. Despite the barbaric domination of Fascism, they will once again arise in the struggle for national freedom, liberty, equality and fraternity. In irreconcilable opposition to all those who defend or compromise with capitalist imperialism, they will in united action with the workers of other countries establish the Socialist United States of Europe, as the first step to the World Socialist Federation.

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