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Pierre Frank

New Tendencies in French Politics

World Crisis Reveals Long Latent Contradictions Between Social Classes

(March 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 14 (Whole No. 110), 2 April 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Paris, March 9, 1932

The parliamentary elections are approaching. They are especially important, as they will take place in a period in which the equilibrium established at Versailles is about to topple over, in which a decisive solution is imminent in Germany, in which French imperialism stands at a turning point of its development. When the crisis had already been raging in a good many other countries, France still appeared to be spared from it. The bourgeois press attributed this to the ancient “French virtues” of order, harmony, etc. The socialists followed in its footsteps. A disenchantment became necessary shortly afterwards. With a somewhat different rhythm and with a different amplitude, the crisis spread out over France.

But, many of the causes which made possible the great resistance to the crisis will tomorrow become the causes of a tremendous aggravation of the situation. In the first place, there is the existence of quite large intermediate classes, despite the fact that the war made France a highly industrialized nation. These intermediate classes – the peasantry in particular – formed an important domestic market. The tariff walls, rising like in England; the efforts of other nations, like Germany, to develop their own agriculture; the fall in prices have considerably diminished the resistance of the domestic market. On the other hand, the intermediate classes, their eyes turned to their prosperous past, constitute a curbing factor. French industry, which works for the export trade, having certain advantages in the period of “prosperity” through the low wages, has not pushed rationalization as far as Germany has. Thus, with the general decline, French industry is not in a very advantageous position to preserve its place in the world market. The colonial empire, though it is important, does not by far offer any resources similar to those of the British empire. Finally, the reserves of one of the greatest French industries, the tourist industry, which has declined enormously despite the existence of the Colonial Expedition, are no doubt going to diminish even more in the future, depriving French capitalism of millions of francs.

The defeat of Germany and the achievements of the Versailles Treaty gave France a political importance internationally, entirely out of proportion with its economic strength. The crisis is revealing this contradiction more and more every day, and the French bourgeoisie, so proud of its stability in the past, is uneasily expecting dark days in the future. That is, in part, the reason for its desperate struggle for the maintenance of the Versailles Treaty, which is a diplomatic instrument of its past supremacy, as well as for the preservation of its military strength. On the other hand, it is redoubling its offensive against wages and it intends, by inflation or by some other modification of its financial system, to increase its exploitation of the laboring masses and to expropriate the intermediate classes.

These are as yet only its intentions, for the elections have not taken place. Serving as a sort of barometer, they permit us to judge with more or less precision, the realignments of the classes, the general orientation of the toiling masses and of the proletariat in view of the situation. In so far as they present a factor in the class struggle, they should permit the Communist party, with a correct analysis of the existing tendencies and with correct perspectives, to employ a tactic which will hasten the development of the masses in the direction of the Communist solution. There is already, indisputably, a trend toward the Left. At present it is being exploited by the Radical and the socialist parties in a broad campaign “for peace, for disarmament” and touches those masses who are disquieted by the Laval-Tardieu policy that is “isolating” France from the rest of the world and who are anxious to cast off the heavy burden of taxes imposed upon them by the expenses of the monstrous military apparatus of French imperialism. Just to what degree this leftward trend will be transformed into ballots, depends largely upon the events of the movement. The result of the presidential elections in Germany will play its part in one sense or another. But the fact remains that in any case, the leftward trend of the .masses will clash with the imperious needs of the French bourgeoisie. This opens up perspectives for great class struggles. The “left” parties and the socialist party will be unable to keep their promises to the proletariat and the intermediate classes. But only to that degree to which the Communist party will be able to reach the hesitating masses and gain their attention, find a bridge to them, will their development take the revolutionary road when the bankruptcy of the other parties will become manifest in the eyes of all. If this does not take place, they will be derailed and used as a mass support for the maneuvers of the worst brand of reaction, of Fascism itself.

The Seventh Convention of the C.P.F.

Where is the party in this situation? What is its orientation? The Seventh Convention of the French party is going to take place in a few days, after a lapse of three years since the last convention. It will be devoted to the policy of the “third period”. The balance of this policy is completely negative : loss of membership, loss of influence, deep-going disorganization. Several months ago, on the occasion of a turn, the leadership admitted all this quite unambiguously in documents, of which The Militant has published important extracts. Now, at the time of the convention, nothing of the sort is allowed. This time, it is necessary to “shut their mouths”. One huge thesis is the only document presented by the leadership for pre-convention discussion. The entire activity of the past period is skimmed over in less than twenty lines. “Self-criticism” is reduced to its most barren expression. As a perspective for the future, nothing is offered that is not contained in the last general theses of the C.I. A few scanty phrases are devoted to Germany, the word “Fascism” does not even get any mention in them. Discussion has been as restricted as possible. The press has published a few resolutions of approval and several articles by leaders ... against the comrades in the sections who dared to think on their own hook. Articles have appeared in L’Humanité in which party members are denounced as enemies. In order to remain within the Stalinist line, the French party bureaucrats are shouting about the “Trotskyist” danger, accusing everyone who opposes them as a “Trotskyist”. A real campaign of terror was inaugurated in the Parisian region, where discontent is particularly great and where whole sections are hostile to the leadership, although no clearly different policy has been put forward. The leadership published the names of the more daring comrades in the press. It demanded publicly that only members approving the party policy without any reservations be elected as delegates. Expulsions are being prepared.

The convention will constitute a victory for the apparatus and a defeat for the party in which the crisis can only continue to develop. The policy that has been pursued, is that of the C.I. It has turned its back to the united front, it is opposed to trade union unity. In the question of the elections, the vanguard of the working class is divided under the cover of the formula “class against class”, by maintaining systematically the party’s candidate on the second ballot even if that is to the advantage of the candidate of the reactionary parties as against the candidate of the socialist party. This so-called tactic of “class against class” repels the socialist workers, strengthens their parliamentary illusions and serves the reformist apparatus of the bourgeoisie. The continuation of this policy – another can hardly be expected from the Convention – will only keep on accumulating defeat after defeat.

Progress for the Left Opposition

Nevertheless, there are some germs of regeneration in this situation. We have mentioned above the discontent in the Parisian region of the party. The criticism expressed has often been confused, narrow, but in most cases it was not a reflection of opportunist tendencies, but of healthy proletarian sentiments. For the first time in years, non-oppositionist militants have pushed their criticisms as far as the leadership of the C.I. Thus, one unit speaks against the “policy of Stalin”: other comrades speak of the “responsibility of the C.I.” Some comrades refuse to vote against the “Trotskyists” as counter-revolutionists in Sections 3 and 15 of the Parisian region: in Section 4, others declare that “it is not sufficient to tell us that they are counter-revolutionists. It must be proven first.” We only cite a few facts among many which the party press itself is publishing.

But all these are only transitory manifestations, very feeble and very unstable ones. But a great unrest is taking place in the party. Theses are voted on, but no one takes any stock in them. A great deal of attention is being paid to what is said about the party, especially to what the Opposition has to say. In the meetings that we hold in various places, in the party meetings in which we participate, we find an entirely different atmosphere from that of last year. There are still many fanatics, of course. But, the majority of those attending wants to listen: they follow our words attentively, party members take part in heated discussions with us. We have been able to extend our contacts, to establish contacts with many party members and to gain sympathizers. In the provinces, we have also made contacts and our influence has grown considerably.

The Ligue Communiste (Left Opposition) has not, unfortunately, as yet been able to transform this gain of influence in an organizational way. We are suffering first of all, from a shortcoming that the French party itself has been inflicted with: the extremely weak conceptions of organizational forms. Then, there are our internal difficulties: we have not as yet benefited from a test of great struggles, so as to be able to distinguish between the various tendencies in the organization. These are the obstacles in the way of an active crystallization of the germs of regeneration within the party. The Ligue is at work, striving to overcome these obstacles.

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