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Pierre Frank

France Under the Fourth Republic

(January 1947)

From Fourth International, Vol.8 No.4, April 1947, pp.104-108. [1*]
Originally published in Quatrième Internationale, January-February 1947.
Translated by Margaret Stewart.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Following the collapse of the Third Republic in 1940 and the termination of World War II, the year 1947 was supposed to inaugurate the definitive era of the Fourth Republic, with a Constitution adopted by referendum, with a Chamber elected by universal suffrage, with a Council of the Republic, a President of the Republic, a French Union embracing the colonies with or without their consent, and a Monnet four-year plan for the reconstruction of French economy.

But this “definitive” era has had very precarious beginnings. It is much easier to elect Deputies and Councillors of the Republic than to form a government; the French Union is being realized in life by plunging the Viet Nam in fire and blood; the application of the Monnet Plan presupposes many conditions, none of which is present.

Whither is France heading? On the day after the world war the economic situation is literally disastrous. The material losses are huge, as the most optimistic admit; and the setback cannot be recouped, for the day of small countries with limited national economies is over; the productive forces of the [last century no longer suffice for the maintenance of a colonial world and against the great working class] at home. But with all their colossal resources and power, these

Moreover, French capitalism, in assaying its own perspectives, entertains no illusions about its real capacities. The Monnet Plan — whether it will be realized or not — does not set high objectives; on the contrary, its goals are comparatively modest. In the report submitted by Blum to the United States in order to obtain a loan, it is stated:

France will devote all her efforts to modernize her industry and agriculture in order to attain by 1950 this level (25 per cent above that of 1929, if possible).

Even this will raise the consumption of energy, in terms of tons of coal per capita, only to 2.9 as compared with 4.15 for Great Britain and 5.1 for the United States. This would bring the per capita production of steel only to 240 kilograms as against 285 for Great Britain and 351 for the United States in the depression year 1937!

In brief, French capitalism, feeling too old to plunge into adventures, clings to its “Maginot Line” mentality; it would be quite content if it is able to preserve the larger part of its [inheritance from the previous generations which would enable double-talk was supplemented, a few weeks before the Moscow] Conference, by Stalin’s demonstrative withdrawal from the post scene and which would justify its having a small folding chair alongside the large arm chairs of the “Big Three.”

But even these modest ambitions are far from being assured. The year 1946 was supposed to be a special year, not included in the plan, during which the economy was to be reconverted on a peacetime basis and the levels of 1938 would be regained. (Let us recall that 1938 was a depression year for French economy.) But to obtain these results, a great deal is still required. In an article devoted to the importation of coal, Le Monde, November 16, 1946, arrives at the following conclusions:

... Despite a rather bad situation, which is undoubtedly temporary, our industry, while far from attaining the necessary rate of expansion, will nevertheless be able next year to stabilize itself at an average rate of approximately 80 per cent of 1938; but this effort can probably be sustained only by maintaining severe restrictions on home consumption and by utilizing in large measure the second-grade coal which is being extracted since the war from our mines.

The Monnet Plan pretends to ignore the international conjuncture. But in reality it is based on the hope that there will be no crisis in American or world economy before 1950, and that by that time French capitalism will be in a condition to sustain such a shock. But for several months the economists and business circles in both England and the United States have become rather dubious that American and world economy can avoid a crisis before 1950. There are various ominous signs (declines in commodities such as cotton, accumulation of inventories among manufacturers, wholesalers, and so on).

Monnet Plan

A few weeks ago the English Minister of Foreign Trade declared in the House of Commons that he expected a “crisis of readjustment” in 1947, which, according to him, would be like that of 1921, brief and of no great depth. The price-cutting experiment, introduced by Blum, which is a temporary measure primarily designed to divert the demands of the workers (for higher wages), is itself a speculation in part on an eventual decline of world prices sometime in 1947. But a drop in prices, bound up with a world “readjustment” crisis, would confront France with new problems and would probably entail the gravest consequences.

One of the conditions for the realization of the Monnet Plan is the stabilization of currency. The leaders of world finance, notably the directors of the International Monetary Fund set up at Bretton Woods, apparently consider the exchange rate of the franc as too high. About a week before it hailed Blum’s experiment, Le Monde had the following to say both about prices and currency:

It appears that a rise in the rate exchange can be avoided only by the introduction of lower prices. But no matter from what angle we approach the question, the solution remains unclear. The prices of manufactured commodities, which are virtually the only ones concerned in exports, lag far behind agricultural prices, which are not permitted to decline out of political considerations and because of the impotence of economic controls. Any lowering of industrial prices, assuming this were technically possible, would therefore aggravate still further the imbalance of French economy ... Finally, it ought not to be forgotten that the rise which we have been experiencing without interruption for 11 years and which has recently become accelerated, cannot be checked at a single stroke. A great deal of courage coupled with favorable circumstances is required to curb it little by little.

But the factor that dominates the whole situation in France, both as a consequence of the economic decline and as an element aggravating this decline, is the social and political condition of the country.

The patient’s temperature can be easily charted. There was a succession of elections and referendums. More than a year after the “liberation” and a few weeks after the war ended, in October 1945, the first elections to the Constituent Assembly took place. The majority was gained by the Socialists and the Communists. As a parliamentary force, these two parties were practically equal. The old bourgeois parties had collapsed; the reaction did not dare show its face; the Radicals were in full retreat. In order to achieve the mobilization of all those who recoil from socialism and communism, big capital built the MRP, with any kind of material. This party masqueraded as socially minded (its leaders participated in the Resistance movement, accepted nationalization and announced their readiness to collaborate in the government with the workers’ parties).

Electoral Fever Chart

By means of a referendum held on the same day and thanks to the compliance of the Socialists, the powers of the Assembly were limited in relation to the powers of the government. De Gaulle, still wearing the halo of “liberation,” saw himself entrusted with the leadership of the government. But with the termination of the war, in the struggle between the tendencies of the bourgeoisie, toward a strong regime and the aspirations of the masses after all these years of suffering, the advantage was not on the side of the bourgeoisie. There was a growing clash between de Gaulle, who personifies the tendencies toward a strong regime, and the parties who distort and misdirect the aspirations of the masses. The parties did not bring their differences into the open; they issued no appeals to the country; they showed no militancy. But de Gaulle, finding no solid ground under his feet, walked out himself in January 1946, slammed the door behind him, bade farewell to politics, received the homage of all parties and retired to the provinces, there to wait and prepare, while the existing parties disintegrated, for a favorable moment to install the strong regime.

With the departure of de Gaulle, the three-party coalition continued under the leadership of the Socialist, Gouin. The Stalinists, who secured the disarmament of the militias and the dissolution of the committees, launched an appeal for increased production and extolled the wage-freeze, while the MRP started opposing any measure that might adversely affect capital in the slightest degree. To the right of the MRP there was constituted the avowedly and traditionally reactionary PRL, which is the culture medium for fascist elements, but which is not an actual party of fascism.

The friction within the three-party system kept growing, as the date for the Constituent Assembly drew closer. After obtaining numerous constitutional concessions from the SP and CP, the MRP — without leaving the coalition government or being forced by the other parties to leave it — repudiated the draft, and with the aid of the entire reaction succeeded in the May referendum in defeating the draft of a bourgeois constitution that had been already adopted by the Communist and Socialist deputies. Then came the June 2 elections for a second Constituent Assembly. Big capital, forcing the PRL to withdraw in many electoral districts, gave its backing to the MRP, which succeeded in taking the lead among the three major parties. The Socialist Party — which compromises itself on each occasion in its role as intermediary in the three-party coalition — lost as much on the right as it did on the left, despite the jingling dollars of the Blum loan. The CP made gains in the countryside, but stagnated or lost ground in the large industrial centers, although it came out in favor of removing wage controls three days before the elections.

Henceforward the formation of a government proved difficult. Workers’ demonstrations multiplied and it was impossible to leave the CP out of the government. Following its defeat, the SP tried to make itself as inconspicuous as possible and left the direction of the government to the leader of the MRP, Bidault. The three-party regime was brought back again. In the interval between June 2 and November 10 the crisis of the three-party regime deepened. Prodded by the PRL, by the Gaullist Union and by de Gaulle himself, the MRP became more and more exacting in its demands. The SP and CP made more and more concessions on the Constitution (on the issues of the President of the Republic, Second Chamber, and so on), as well as on the workers’ demands. The discontent of the masses found a pitiful expression at the Convention of the SP where the left wing did not know what to do with its majority. On the other hand, it found a virile expression in the mass movements that rolled over the heads of the trade union leadership (strikes of the postal and Treasury employes, and so on). The CP, while continuing to call for increased production and while continuing to engage in the most systematic class collaboration, resorted to all sorts of artifices in order to unload the responsibility for the three-party system on the Socialists and to pose as champion of the workers’ demands (demonstrations for the 25 per cent wage increase, demonstrations against the high cost of living, and the like).

The Impasse

The draft Constitution, supported this time by the three major parties, was adopted only by a slim majority. In the November 10 elections, despite the repeated elections, the number of absentions, although on the increase, was not, however, very considerable. The polarization became accentuated. The center parties lost while the extremes benefited. In the bourgeois camp the MRP lost to parties on its right, while the leading political circles of French imperialism pushed the petty bourgeois masses toward the MRP. [1] We witnessed a shift of half a million petty bourgeois to the right, but at the same time we saw the inability of the big bourgeoisie to exploit this shift for the benefit of a more reactionary policy. On the other hand, the SP suffered a complete rout, losing about 750,000 votes and being literally ground to pieces between the MRP and the CP. The latter gained 250,000 votes, not only continuing to make further gains in the country as in June, but also regaining the lost ground in the great industrial centers. This is the way in which the desire of the working masses for a change finds its expression; they cast their votes for a party which under the existing conditions appears to them to be in the best parliamentary and governmental position to satisfy their demands.

What have we witnessed since these elections? The party, which in its press and in the Parliament advances demands for the Presidency of the government, finds itself refused not only this post, but all other important functions in the new Republic. This party, whose capacity for action is so great, is made the target of a veto so far as key ministerial posts are concerned. The French bourgeoisie is not powerful enough to hold the working masses in check with its own forces. But since the November 10 elections, the CP has not dared to call upon the masses to intervene even in the same limited way, quite harmless to the bourgeoisie, as it did last June in connection with the decontrol of wages.

Post-Election Developments

The governmental crisis has unfolded solely within the framework of a struggle at the top. It has involved such grave political problems as the defense of the franc, cuts in the budget, new burdens, maintenance of the French Union in Indo-China. But on these questions there were no fundamental differences between the parties, including the Stalinist party. The government crisis, which is officially scheduled to reappear after the election of the President of the Republic, will not involve any basic differences in program. But the tension becomes obviously acute when it comes to permitting the Stalinists in the government and assigning portfolios to them. However, the French capitalists are aware that the presence of the Stalinists in the government has been a valuable asset to them during the last two years; they know that under the existing relation of forces, it would be impossible for them to govern in opposition to the CP and the CGT which is under CP control. Finally, they understand very well that the CP is no longer any threat at all to the capitalist system.

In the Chamber, Jacques Duclos — falsely identifying his party with the class he is betraying — complained that the workers were good enough to die in battle and to produce but not to govern. True enough, the bourgeoisie knows how to assay the ability of the CP to impel the workers to produce or to fight for them, but they will avoid, if they can, giving it places in the government, because they know that the CP leadership, while respecting private property and the capitalist regime, just as the traditional reformists do, is a tool of the ruling Kremlin bureaucracy. In the key international questions, the interests of the Moscow bureaucracy are placed by the CP leadership above the interests of French capitalism. A glance at the international situation suffices to understand how important this consideration is in connection with the composition of the French government. The fact that the CP holds the position of the most extreme chauvinism on the German question counts for little, inasmuch as there is no assurance of the constancy of these views. The SP which holds a much more moderate position toward Germany merits far greater confidence. Blum has just demonstrated that he will not hesitate to hold his own views while preparing the annexation of the Saar as a “loyal director” of French capitalism.

The preparations for the coming Moscow Conference unquestionably are a dominant consideration in the composition of the French government. While she lacks the authority of the three partners by whose side she sits, France can, by casting her vote either on the side of the United States and England or on the side of the Soviet Union, swing the compromise one way or the other. Let us recall how eagerly Thorez sought to reassure the Anglo-American capitalists by his statements in the press and to the British news agencies on the day after the elections when the CP advanced his candidacy for head of the government. Supporting this candidacy in the Chamber, Duclos pointed out that the comments in the English and American press were not “unfavorable.” The United States and Great Britain who follow the developments in France very closely, did not fail to exert considerable pressure to eliminate or reduce the participation of the Stalinists in the government.

Despite the existing difficulties, “national unity” — in one guise or another — is excluded. It must be kept in reserve for much more serious situations. A government simultaneously in opposition to both the CP and SP is impossible; the MRP itself would not countenance this right now. An anti-Communist government with the Socialists participating, is equally impossible, for the SP cannot allow the Stalinists to remain in the opposition. The three-party system or its extension through the inclusion of other “left” parties presents very great difficulties. So far as normal solutions are concerned, the Parliament that emerged from the November 10 elections cannot maintain a government. But if they do not wish to resort to the “strong state” (they cannot do so as yet), if they wish to avert troubles which may in one sense serve Bonapartist ends but which may also develop in just the opposite sense, then they must at all costs find a solution by which some time can be gained. The trick consisted in replacing an impossible coalition of the major parties by the weakest party, leaving nothing of the coalition except its hinge, already considerably worn out, and thus forming a government composed exclusively of the party which emerged the most enfeebled from the elections. This solution, in its own fashion “extra-parliamentary,” presents some advantages for all.

A Tricky Solution

Blum is assuredly favorably regarded by Washington and London, who know that he will not lean internationally toward Moscow. From the domestic standpoint, it permits the two big parties, the MRP and the CP, to avoid the three-party system and all governmental collaboration and this is useful to both of them with regard to their respective clientele: they can offer Bidault without Thorez, and Thorez without Bidault. The bourgeoisie is enabled for a while to have a government without the Stalinists, without its being a government against the Stalinists. As touches the CP, despite its repeated declarations in favor of a “united” Republican government, the Blum solution does not displease it too much; for it is thus enabled all the more easily to pluck the Socialist fowl and to appease the malcontents within. It is likewise enabled the better to retain its control over the masses, by remaining, if not in the opposition then at least outside the government. This set-back may even permit it a little later on to return with even greater demands as the pressure of the masses increases.

But how do matters stand from the standpoint of Moscow’s interests? In the first place, a party wielding such influence over the masses, cannot follow the Kremlin’s directives as automatically as a weaker party which is able to shift positions without any major repercussions. When Moscow executed a certain left turn among the Communist parties in 1945 and 1946, the French CP was actually the last one to engage in it and did so with greater reservations than any other. It is very difficult for it to move leftward, because behind it is the majority of the French working class and while it disposes of a rather large field for maneuvers, it cannot permit itself everything. However, since the end of November 1946 we have witnessed a retreat by Moscow on the international field. Beginning with Stalin’s declaration, it became manifest during the last days of the conferences in New York. It was seized upon by the Turkish and Iranian governments who immediately employed repressive measures against Moscow’s supporters in these countries.

Will this retreat have an effect upon the policy of the Stalinist parties? We have no exact indications as yet, but it is quite likely. Right now, it is already noticeable that while the question of the government is still being posed, how reluctant the CP leadership is — whether directly or indirectly through the CGT [Confederation of Labor] leadership — to put forward any workers’ demands and how it abstains from any demonstrations to force the hand of the bourgeois parties.

As for the SP, up to the last minute of its existence it continues to show itself as the “loyal manager” of capitalism. Defeated at the last party Convention, Blum nevertheless retains the leadership and ignores the program that was adopted. Defeated in the elections, as they were inside their party, the leaders of the SFIO set what the left Seine Federation calls an “example of courage” by adopting the program of Schuman and creating a ministry that one journalist has described “as homogeneous as the SP.” The post of Minister of State was entrusted to a leader of the “left” in order to associate him in all the services rendered to French capitalism.

Is Stabilization Possible?

Can the present unstable situation be ameliorated in the sense that there will be a marked increase in production, an improvement or even stabilization of the franc, and so on? Nobody really believes in such a development which would offer the SP a chance to save itself. On top of all the already existing difficulties has been added the Indo-China affair. It prevents cuts in the military budget, necessitates the use of transports, diverting ships from commerce with the rest of the world, to carry reinforcements and arms against the Viet Nam. And finally, it is not at all certain that French imperialism possesses sufficient military forces to enforce a compromise more favorable than the March 6 agreement, signed by people more compliant than Ho Chi Minh. The experience of the Blum “kiss” may defer for a while the working class actions which are threatening, as Tanguy-Prigent, the Minister of Agriculture, believes. But barring a miracle, conditions do not exist in France for even such temporary results as were obtained in Belgium; there are no stocks on hand and no possibilities of large-scale imports, the Belgian franc was not threatened, nor was the Belgian government at the same time constrained to undertake substantial increases in transport, gas, electricity, postal services and so on.

In spite of all the assistance afforded by the treacherous leaders, the bourgeoisie is in no condition to impose its solutions on the working masses. The bourgeois parties, especially the largest ones, are merely artificial structures doomed to fall apart under strong social tension. Their great man, de Gaulle, after a few brusque remarks, has confined himself to a short declaration in betaking himself to his winter headquarters. The three-party system has been cleverly exploited, the SP has been deflated and will not be reinflated again. But it is still necessary to utilize the Stalinist party and to exhaust the working class before the bourgeoisie, whose champion is de Gaulle, can dream of assuming the initiative.

Neither the bourgeois parties nor the SP nor the CP nor the CGT wish to pass through the experience of a government by the workers’ organization. The leaders who flatter themselves as representing the working class dream only of combinations with bourgeois parties on the basis of bourgeois programs. The Stalinists have insisted in words on a government of “Republican Defense,” a second edition of the People’s Front. But the situation continues to develop in a direction different from the one they desire. They found themselves compelled to take up, and at the same time to distort, one slogan after another advanced by the French section of the Fourth International. After slandering the Trotskyists for months as agents of the corporations for their advocacy of wage raises, the Stalinists were forced on the eve of June 2nd to declare themselves in favor of lifting the wage controls. After shouting that a wage victory had been won, and after issuing appeals to struggle against price rises, they were driven to take up the slogan for a minimum living wage. They set this at a ridiculous figure of 84,000 francs, which, however, was accepted as reasonable by Le Monde. And they did so in face of the fact that the sum of 120,000 francs is far closer to the actual needs and corresponds even to the calculations of the CGT made in February 1945 and adjusted to the official rise in living costs since that time. The Stalinists have denounced the slogan of the sliding scale of wages, but they are now compelled to play cunningly with this slogan by declaring themselves in favor of “re-examining” the minimum living wage in view of changing living costs. For their fictitious “struggle against price rises,” they have set up supervisory committees which have at the most embarrassed a few petty merchants in the local markets. After all the battles that have been waged and all the “victories” that have been won, the living conditions of the working class are such as make necessary the adoption of workers’ control of production, as the Trotskyists advocate.

Two years after the “liberation,” we are approaching an experience with Stalinism, stripped of those circumstances which have hitherto provided the Stalinist leaders with alibis. Parallel with this, or more accurately leading toward this experience, there impend struggles which will tend to pass over the heads of the Stalinist leadership. In 1946 we witnessed only skirmishes (printers, postal and treasury employees).

The traditional organizations and leaderships have been by-passed only to a very limited degree and in isolated instances. But these skirmishes have certainly not been without a profound effect. This is certainly true of the movement of postal employees, with its central and local strike committees, all elected in the course of the struggle, despite and against the official leadership of the Postal Federation.

Revolutionary Perspectives

If from the standpoint of world economy France lags lamentably, then her role in revolutionary politics can be of first-rate importance in Europe. Her working class movement, despite its glorious revolutionary traditions, has known the most abject opportunism. But since 1934 France has once again tended to become the classic country of political struggles, a country where these struggles are carried through to the very end.

Since the victory of the democracies, the European countries are confronted more than ever before with an alternative. They can choose to be engulfed by decaying capitalism, under a “strong state” installed to the detriment of the masses, amid an increasing Balkanization of Europe which would facilitate the outbreak of World War III, ending up literally in the annihilation of the continent. Or they can choose the victory of the masses who, despite their old treacherous leaderships, will smash the iron chains of capitalism and assure prosperity and peace through the establishment of the Socialist United States of Europe. Europe’s choice will in large measure depend on the development of the class struggle in France and on the French proletariat’s ability to reorient itself in the course of these battles around a new leadership, that of the Fourth International. However weak the PCI may still be, the encouraging indication is that the PCI has been able to make considerable progress during the last two years, in spite of the handicap of virtually having to renew its ranks during the war. The unification of the Bolshevik-Leninist ranks in France; the conquest of legality for the Party and its press, despite the Stalinist Ministers; its participation in almost one-fourth of the country in two electoral campaigns within the space of six months; the results gained which attest to the existence of a class-conscious revolutionary minority in the big industrial centers and even in the countryside; the rise of a revolutionary trade union minority that rallied the votes of 1,200 unions at the April 1946 Congress of the CGT; the steady progress recorded by the Party in recent months; the growth of an independent organization of International Communist Youth — all this is evidence that the maturing of the revolutionary crisis in France has not failed to find a conscious expression to a degree unknown in France as well as in other countries since the creation of the international faction of the Bolshevik-Leninists.

January 7 1947

P.S. After this article was already set up, news came of the formation of the Ramadier Ministry, which is predominantly Socialist, and into which the Stalinists, the MRP, the Radicals and independents have entered. The frailty of this combination and the reasons for it are given in the following comments of Le Monde, which at the same time confirm the importance of the international problems referred to in our article:

Everyone knows that one of the reasons, if not the main reason, for the creation of this government, as well as its chance for survival, if not the only chance, lies in the approaching Moscow Conference. The economic experiment could be carried out without the MRP, which, moreover, has great reservations on this score. It could be carried out with far greater difficulty without the Communist Party. But neither the latter nor the former wished or was able to retire from the scene at the hour when the future of Germany and Europe is to be decided.



1. This became even more apparent two weeks later, when on the occasion of elections to the Council of the Republic, everything possible was done to regain for the MRP the position of “first party of France” which it lost to the CP during the November 10 elections.


Note by ETOL

1*. The original from which this text was transcribed is slightly damaged and the words in square brackets in paragraphs 3 and 7 were difficult to decipher and had to be reconstructed from the context. We are reasonably certain that they are correct.

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