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Pierre Frank

The Workers’ Parties and de Gaulle

(June 1958)

From Fourth International (Paris), No. 3, Summer 1958, pp. 15–22.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In its history France has experienced several Bonapartist operations prior to that of de Gaulle, and comparisons between them still offer some interest. From both the bourgeois and the proletarian point of view, the de Gaulle operation presents an extraordinary picture.

It was the war of Algeria following on that of Vietnam which led the French army to bring off its coup de force. This was carried out in an atmosphere unconnected with this political operation. There was no economic crisis as in 1851, no military collapse and exodus as in 1940. The war of Algeria had lasted three and a half years, and throughout that whole time in the metropolis the bourgeoisie had gone on showing an indifference, a really surprising unconcern, about the war. Everyone was occupied with his own business, which was prosperous. Everyone was thinking about his coming vacation. The parliamentary regime had become the least of the worries of the bourgeois.

But if there was really one thing that differentiated the de Gaulle operation from its predecessors, it was the situation of the working class. It was not suffering from a bloodletting, as after June 1848. It was not, as in 1940, mobilized and with the CP in illegality. It had not been pushed into the background of the political scene. It had its parties, its trade unions, its press.

But, just like the bourgeoisie, it was but little concerned with the war in Algeria in the immediately previous years. These years of prosperity had assured it of a limited but unquestionable improvement in its living conditions; it had obtained three weeks of paid vacations. It also looked with contempt on the parliamentary game and the interminable ministerial crises. For this state of mind in the working class, it was the traditional leaderships – of the Socialist and Communist Parties – that bear the responsibility. If, for the first time in French history, a Bonapartist operation could succeed without the prior defeat of the working class and the popular masses, it was owing to those leaderships, and it is not unuseful to point out how they prepared such a defeat.

I: The Socialist Party

The overall line of the Guy Mollet leadership is well known, but his perfidy appears still more in the detailed examination of his various proceedings. Guy Mollet reached the leadership of the SP in 1946-1947 at the head of a left tendency that blamed the Daniel Mayer leadership for too timorous a policy.

But Guy Mollet quickly turned right, anticommunism becoming the fixed quantity in his political variations. He also constructed, for the first time in the history of the SP, an apparatus that guaranteed him control of the party. As French policy, beginning with the Liberation, evolved toward the right, the SP ended up by finding itself in the opposition between 1952 and 1955. It returned to power at the beginning of 1956 after the election victory of the “Republican Front” composed essentially of a combination of the SP and the Radical Party then led by Mendès-France.

Although the latter was the recognized leader of the “Republican Front” during the election campaign, Guy Mollet became the head of the new government, in view of the preponderant place held in the National Assembly by the SP – with the exception of the French CP, to which, at that moment, no attention was paid in the parliamentary world. In the legislature elected in 1956, everything depended on the Socialist group: this was seen in May 1958. During the election campaign Guy Mollet had vigorously criticized the war of Algeria: an idiotic and hopeless war, he called it. The victory of the Republican Front, paralleled by the strengthening of the Communist parliamentary group, meant that the country was expecting from the new parliament a policy of peace in Algeria. Willingly or not, Guy Mollet fell into the traps of the ultras and settlers of Algeria. His first choice for Minister of Algeria had been General Catroux, a “republican” who was saying that he would stop at nothing. But when Guy Mollet was received at Algiers with tomatoes, he persuaded Catroux to resign and in his place named Lacoste, who was to give a full demonstration of his socialism. In proceeding to make this designation, Guy Mollet, who had retreated before the fascist riot of 6 February 1956 at Algiers, considered it something “healthy.”

Beginning with that moment, it was a steady retreat before the settlers and the army. In Algeria itself Lacoste was not directing anything; but he was covering up everything and had become the principal traveling salesman to make France accept the war of Algeria and all the infamies that it brought in its train.

As for the Guy Mollet ministry, it was “special powers,” it was “pacification” by the sending of about half a million draftees, it was the Ben Bella affair. It was also the Suez campaign. It was the whitewashing given the torturers.

This policy (which was nowise countered by that of the FCP) aided the progress of the reaction in France. In the SP itself, there could be observed the development of a fascisizing wing (speeches of Lacoste and Lejeune at the SP Toulouse Congress). But, unlike what happened in 1933–1934, when the Blum leadership was forced to expel the “neos” (Déat ...), the Guy Mollet leadership made a bloc with this current against those who were calling for another Algerian policy, however moderate it might be. The leadership took sanctions against its opponents, going as far as expulsion (Philip) and above all depriving in practice almost the whole minority of its right of expression in the party congresses and conferences.

Overthrown as premier, Guy Mollet became the power behind the throne in the two following cabinets (Bourgès-Manoury and Gaillard) who kept Lacoste on as Minister of Algeria. Guy Mollet also forced his party to swallow the formation of these governments and to support them, although resistance to this policy began to develop in the party. When the Gaillard government was overthrown, Guy Mollet pretended to be angry with the right (”the most stupid in the world,” he claimed) and had the National Council on May 2nd and 3rd vote that the SP would no longer take part in any government, being satisfied to assure it of its support. He thus succeeded in strengthening his authority over the SP, an authority that had been somewhat damaged. At the time the Pflimlin government was formed, the SP was outside the government, and, by this fact, Lacoste was no longer Minister of Algeria. It was then that the Algiers plot took an open form. Lacoste, who was informed about it, let it go on, hoping that he would be the beneficiary from it. He refused to return to Algeria at a time when constitutionally he still had to assure “current affairs,” i.e., public order (against the fascists), and in speeches spurred the ultras on to action.

Guy Mollet and the Socialist Parliamentary Group

As soon as the Algiers coup occurred, there could be noted dissonances between the attitude of Guy Mollet and that of the Socialist parliamentary group. The very day of the Algiers coup, May 13th, Guy Mollet was trying to discourage Pflimlin from going through with his appeal to be invested by the National Assembly. The Socialist parliamentary group, on the contrary, which was not aware of this intervention by Guy Mollet, was pushing Pflimlin to ask for this vote by the National Assembly, which granted it to him.

The next day, May 14th, the Socialist group and the Directing Committee decided on participation in the Pflimlin government. “When the Republic appears menaced, the Socialist Party is always present,” declared Guy Mollet, who was becoming vice-premier, accompanied by other Socialist ministers, among them Jules Moch at the Interior, where ten years before he had distinguished himself by a ferocious repression of the miners’ strike. On May 15th, a joint appeal by the Directing Committee and the parliamentary group:

The Republic is threatened. Civil and military insurrection in Algeria and the manifesto of General de Gaulle are evidence that the assault against the republican regime has been launched [...] To face this peril, the Socialist Party has decided to participate in the government [...] But the Republic is defended not only in parliament and the government [...]

But in face of a declaration by de Gaulle, there were to be noted two different attitudes, that of Guy Mollet and that of the spokesman of the Socialist parliamentary group at the National Assembly in its 16 May session.

Guy Mollet asked de Gaulle to make an effort:

It is true that General de Gaulle has given the Republic back to the fatherland [...] We see that Algeria’s belonging to our national community is brought into question, and we greatly regret that we do not read the slightest phrase of condemnation of this in General de Gaulle’s message. We should need to have the general complete his declaration, clearly insufficient.

Naegelen, in the name of the Socialist group, uttered a condemnation:

We were expecting something quite different from General de Gaulle. His statement is only an accusation harking back to all candidates for dictatorship in all countries, against the regime of parties [...] Over the head of the parliament elected by the nation, over the head of the legally invested government, over the head of the chief of state, General de Gaulle has addressed the country to say that he is ready to assume the powers of the Republic: this plural is indeed an indication that he is demanding dictatorship. To this overweening pretention, we rise in opposition.

On May 18th, Jules Moch made a thunderous declaration on the radio, alluding to his role as a strikebreaker:

The fate of the Republic is at stake [...] Strengthened by former experience, I can give the assurance that the government will not disappoint or fail in its duty.

Following a new declaration by de Gaulle, which was in part an answer to the solicitation of Guy Mollet, on May 19th, the Socialist parliamentary group and the Directing Committee stated:

The SP notes that General de Gaulle has demanded powers that would be conferred on him -as a result of an exceptional procedure whose modalities he would himself determine, and has thus denied the Constitution of the Republic. The SP has confidence that the government will maintain order and legality, resist all pressures, and maintain national unity within the framework of the Republic.

But on this same day, Pinay announced that he had advised Guy Mollet to make contact – either alone, or, better, together with Pflimlin – with General de Gaulle in order to find out his intentions. But, he added, the vice-premier refused to undertake such an initiative ... Indeed!

On May 23rd, on emerging from a meeting of the Socialist group, its president, Deixonne, stated:

The Socialist group would not lend itself to a compromise from which our freedoms would suffer [...] We will not pay for the return of Algeria to legality by the loss of the Republic [...]

At this moment still the Socialist group was unanimous. It is true that Lacoste was not present. But on the 24th an article by him appeared in The new Republic of Bordeaux (Gaullist), in which he wrote: “I am overwhelmed and filled with admiration” (by what was going on in Algeria).

On May 25th, following on the Ajaccio coup, the SP associated itself with a declaration of the “National Committee for Republican Defense” (Radicals, MRP, SFIO, etc.) in which can be read:

[...] calls on the members of the organizations signing this message to be ready for any eventuality and to consider themselves mobilized for safeguarding our endangered national unity and freedoms.

Late on the 26th, the Socialist parliamentary group voted a resolution supporting the strike decided on by the CGT:

The group has expressed the wish that the success of the strike launched by the CGT will be aided to the maximum extent. It furthermore hopes that there will be organized tomorrow in Paris a big mass demonstration. The Directing Committee of the party will meet in order to take an official decision and to plan the modalities. But that did not suit Guy Mollet, and later, on the 27th, the Directing Committee issued the following communique:

The Directing Committee of the SP formally denies the information appearing this morning in certain newspapers according to which it might be taking a decision in favor of demonstrations in agreement with the CP or the CGT. The party’s members are asked to conform strictly to the instructions that have been communicated to the federal secretaries.

But for the first time there occurred a division in the Directing Committee, composed of 43 majority Molletists out of 45 members. This text was adopted by 17 votes against 9.

During the night of the 26th–27th there occurred an interview between Pflimlin and de Gaulle, and on the 27th de Gaulle made a statement according to which he had begun the process of constituting his government. The same day the Socialist parliamentary group adopted, by 112 votes against 3, and 1 abstention, a manifesto in which it was said:

General de Gaulle has just made it known that he is undertaking what he calls the “regular process” in view of forming his government. The Socialist parliamentarians declare: [...] 2. that they will in no case rally to the candidacy of General de Gaulle, which, by the very form in which it is posed and by the considerations that accompany it, is and remains under any hypothesis a challenge to republican legality.

Thus, parliamentarily, de Gaulle seemed not to have a chance. On the 28th the great demonstration from the Nation to the Republic took place. But the same day it was learned that Guy Mollet had got in touch with de Gaulle through the intermediary of a Socialist deputy, Piette, more familiar with certain services than with the class struggle, and that as a result of these relations Guy Mollet (vice-premier, let us not forget) had written de Gaulle a letter, without the knowledge of the premier and naturally without the knowledge of the Directing Committee of the SP. The text of this letter has never been published. The 29th of May was to be the day of the final manoeuvres. Coty was to send a message to parliament. Within the SP Guy Mollet – the bureaucrat – was running the risk of no longer carrying weight with either the Directing Committee or the parliamentary group. So we saw the intervention of the former President of the Republic, Vincent Auriol – the “democrat” – who, in the last previous months, had given his support to the minority against the Guy Mollet leadership. The exchange of letters between Auriol and de Gaulle has been published. It was a manoeuvre in the grand style to pacify the “consciences” of a few Socialists and republicans. On May 30th Le Populaire was still trying to save appearances:

In spite of everything, and having weighed all the risks and dangers, the SP will take a position in conformity with its traditions and its past: it will not disavow itself.

The same day Guy Mollet went to de Gaulle’s home at Colombey, accompanied by the president of the Socialist parliamentary group, who is not usually mistaken for a master-mind, and who returned convinced. Guy Mollet finally obtained the capitulation of part of the Socialist deputies (among them that swaggerer Jules Moch), enough to give a pseudo-appearance of legality to de Gaulle’s accession to power. The powerful demonstration of May 28th brought pressure on the Directing Committee and on the parliamentary group in the opposite direction to the pressures and manoeuvres of the Guy Mollets, Auriols, Lejeunes, et al., who were carrying on a campaign for de Gaulle. It finally ended up in the following votes: Directing Committee and parliamentary group, meeting jointly: 77 for de Gaulle, 74 against. But the figures, broken down, give the following: Directing Committee: 18 for, 23 against; deputies: 40 for, 50 against. It was the Socialist senators who brought about the Gaullist majority.

At the time of de Gaulle’s investiture by the National Assembly, the parliamentary group divided up: 42 for de Gaulle, 49 against, 3 absent. True, the deputies who had voted against de Gaulle were not going outside the framework of parliamentary democracy, but such a vote constituted a very hard blow to the Guy Mollet leadership. Mollet himself, furthermore, at one moment turned in his resignation, but withdrew it again soon afterward. Since then, the Directing Committee has decided to postpone the party congress first set for the end of June and to replace it by a national conference.

The minority – who hope to become the majority – are organizing to demand this congress. They are counting on the support of the Socialist International. It is, however, possible that things will not be pushed to a split before the presentation of the draft constitution worked up by the de Gaulle government, about which any ambiguity will be all the less possible in that it can be answered only by a Yes or a No. Thus the de Gaulle operation was able to be carried out with the complete support of Guy Mollet, accompanied by all his artful dodges as an old manoeuvrer in parliament and at congresses. The SP’s general secretary has a seat in the de Gaulle government, and tries thereby to give it a surety of republicanism and liberalism.

The Meaning of the Division in the Socialist Party

Guy Mollet has not only betrayed the working class (that was done long ago); he has betrayed even his own party, whose natural milieu is bourgeois parliamentarianism. Without such a betrayal, de Gaulle could not have had the slightest appearance of legality, he would not have had a parliamentary majority and would have had to push the coup d’état to the point where it fully took on the aspect of a military intervention against the National Assembly. The resultant situation within the SP, the state of split that has aroused savage rightists against Guy Mollet, has something very surprising about it. But this situation is quite explicable.

The SP, at the Liberation, found itself with a diminished working-class base, especially among the most decisive layers of the working class that went over to the FCP. But the place occupied by the SP on the chess-board of the Fourth Republic guaranteed it (save for a short period) a key position in governments, and caused various currents to converge on this party. In the south of France, it replaced in some areas the Radical Party, with a petty-bourgeois peasant electoral base. In addition, while at the time of the Third Republic it already had a clientele of petty functionaries (schoolteachers, postal employees ...), after 1945 it saw its ranks swelled by high and middle functionaries (prefects, governors of colonies, ministerial administrative assistants ...) who came to it especially to aid their careers.

In this situation it was automatic that the SP tops, already far from the working-class ranks, were going to become even more strongly bourgeoisified. In appearance, the SP had succeeded in winning important positions in the state. The reality was that the state had topped the SP, and the apparatus created by Guy Mollet was often very close to the state apparatus.

The recent crisis tends to break up what was, socially speaking, artificially united. In spite of where it has been led by ministerial participations, the SP, by its origins and by the place it occupies in the political structure of France, had remained the traditional reformist workers’ party, whose existence is fundamentally bound up with that of parliamentary democracy. It would be wrong to claim that the lines of the present division are already unchangeable and that they are of an impeccable class purity. But the resistance to de Gaulle has shown itself there where the SP has a serious working-class base or clientele, whereas the careerists were turning toward de Gaulle. A remarkable example was afforded during the crisis by the Nord Federation. It is, together with that of the Pas-de-Calais, the most numerous in the SP, one of the most rightist and anti-communist. For years Guy Mollet was guaranteed a majority in his party just by the addition of a few votes to those of these two federations. The Nord Federation was at all times one of the most hostile to any united front with the CP, even in the short periods of collaboration at the time of the 1935–1936 Popular Front and the 1944–1946 Liberation. But on May 27th the Socialist Nord Federation supported the strike order given by the CGT miners’ union.

We shall certainly see some comings-and-goings among the Socialist deputies and leaders in the next months; but on the organizational level, the tendency that will stand out is that of the SP appearing as the reformist workers’ party, struggling to defend or restore the parliamentary frame that is its natural working milieu.

Thanks to such a change, essential questions like that of the Communist-Socialist united front will appear in a new aspect.

II: The Communist Party

The policy of the French CP, majority party of the working class since the Liberation, has since that period had a steady line which, in the same way as that of the SP, caused the recent defeat. Thorez claims priority in the conception of the parliamentary “new paths” toward socialism. We shall leave verification of the matter to those whom the question might interest, but there is no doubt that the . whole policy that he has followed since the Liberation was – even during a few leftist jolts – basically parliamentary, and nowise aimed at going on to a society building socialism. In fact, during the whole period elapsed since the Liberation, the FCP leadership has never stopped saying that, the alternative for France was not capitalism or socialism, but democracy or fascism. It would be easy to give several pages of quotations from reports to the Political Bureau. As we shall see further on, the FCP leadership persists in the same conception even after de Gaulle’s arrival at power.

This policy is explained above all by a lining up with Moscow, which constantly seeks a maintenance of the status quo. That implies a bourgeois France in which the FCP tries to aid a bourgeois wing less dependent on Washington, anti-American if possible. Because of this, it can be said without exaggeration that, though the FCP leadership criticized the authoritarian conceptions of de Gaulle, it has long handled him personally with kid gloves because of certain hopes the Kremlin had in him. Let us not forget that Thorez was a minister of de Gaulle, and that at that period – on his return from Moscow – he made the “patriotic workers’ militias” dissolve and give up their arms, in order that there might be “a single army, a single police, a single state.” (Thorez, Ivry Speech, 1945).

When de Gaulle, after giving up power, made a first political incursion in 1947 against the “system,” the then editor-in-chief of l’Humanité was censured because he had allowed himself to engage in a mere irreverent pleasantry against de Gaulle. Even during the last period of the crisis, de Gaulle was never treated on the same level as the Soustelles and Massus. The slogans for the May 28th and June 1st demonstrations were to spare de Gaulle any harsh epithets. And anyone could note the deferential and respectful attitude of the Communist deputies in the National Assembly when de Gaulle presented himself there for his investiture and later for the vote of the project granting the power to prepare a new constitution. The search for bourgeois allies had led the FCP leadership to the worst of betrayals, that of the Algerian revolution. The FCP’s variations in this matter have been numerous, but it has never made a recognition, frank and consistent in application of policy, of independence for Algeria. We refer our readers to the document written on this question by the FLN itself, which we published in our last issue. It is the most crushing indictment, showing that the FCP’s policy was never in conformity with the principles professed by this party in the name of Marxism-Leninism on the colonial question. Since then we have seen – • even during the crisis – the FCP deputies again vote “full powers” to Pflimlin, who was flaunting his intention of carrying out a more intense military action in Algeria and who turned these “full powers” over to General Salan who was then obeying the orders of the “Public Safety Committee” of Algiers and not those of the Pflimlin government.

L’Humanité Day by Day

Let us see how the FCP evaluated the events then taking place and what policy it followed. The main accent was laid on parliamentary action.

On May 13th, the coup de force at Algiers. The same day, investiture of Pflimlin. The Communist group abstained, making the following declaration:

The proposed premier having affirmed the desire of his government to continue the war in Algeria, the source of all the evils from which the country is suffering, the Communist group decides not to grant him its votes. But at the hour when, faced by the riots in Algiers and by generals entered into rebellion against the Republic, the proposed premier declares that he will not yield to the factious coup de force, the Communist deputies unanimously decide on voluntary abstention from voting, thus giving the government a possibility of being formed.

Thus it was above all on the “firmness” of the government and the parliament that the FCP leadership was laying its stake.

The mass meeting at the Cirque d’Hiver planned for the 14th was prohibited by this “firm” republican government. The FCP leadership simply accepted this prohibition and sent its functionaries to disperse those who had come in spite of the prohibition:

The slogan was: “Go back to your neighborhoods, disperse, go find other republicans to prepare the answer to the fascist coup de force.” (L’Humanité, 15 May)

May 15th: first declaration by de Gaulle exploiting and encouraging the coup de force at Algiers. L’Humanité promptly published an extra, in which were recommended, among other things, appeals to Coty: “Multiply, by thousands and thousands, protests to the President of the Republic, for safeguarding the Republic.”

May 16th: the government obtained the vote of the state of emergency (including the Communist votes), which was never to be used against Algiers or de Gaulle, but only to prevent any interventions by the workers.

In l’Humanité of May 17th, an article by Fajon, member of the Political Bureau, the director of the newspaper, presented this vote as a victory for democracy:

In the great combat undertaken to bar the road to de Gaulle and military dictatorship, yesterday was a good day [...] By launching their attack against the Republic four days ago, de Gaulle and his accomplices thought they would win without striking a blow. Their coup did not come off. It is democracy that has won a first great victory.

May 19th: press conference by de Gaulle, who was taking one step forward toward power. In answer to this conference, a Political Bureau statement of the same day affirmed: “Victories have been won. For five days fascism has been held in check.” May 20th: the National Assembly voted special powers for Algeria, powers entrusted by Pflimlin to Salan. The Communist deputies voted in favor. In l’Humanité of May 21st, an editorial by Pierre Gourtade thus commented on this vote:

It was a good day [...] The Republic is asserting itself. It is winning not only time – which was only twenty-four hours ago a dramatic necessity – it is growing stronger [...] We are stronger today than yesterday. And the whole left is with us. So is the Republic which will emerge improved from this test.

In l’Humanité of May 22nd, an editorial by Waldeck-Rochet, a Political Bureau member, who repeated the argumentation of Courtade:

The National Assembly condemned the men of the plot by according immense majorities to the nation’s legitimate government which, despite its weaknesses, has stated that it wants to fight for the respect of republican legality [...] Last Tuesday’s vote on the special powers enabled the government to consolidate its position.

An editorial by Fajon in l’Humanité of May 23rd:

On the parliamentary level, [our party] has given the Pflimlin government the possibility of getting formed, next of obtaining the means it demanded in order to defend republican legality, and finally of consolidating itself as a result of massive votes. Thus the danger has retreated. [Our emphasis]

On May 25th, far from retreating, the danger was expressed by the coup de force at Ajaccio. Beginning with this moment, the FCP’s leadership was to raise timid protests toward the Pflimlin government: it is not energetic enough, it does not turn to the country ...

L’Humanité of May 26th: “The government limits itself to yesterday’s timid decisions.” L’Humanité of May 27th, in a report on the previous day’s speech in parliament by Duclos: “The government has fallen behind the state of mind of the republican country ...”

But on this same day de Gaulle made a new declaration that openly announced that he had made official contacts with members of the government, that he had set going the process that would bring him to power.

At the National Assembly, Duclos spoke up to say to Pflimlin: you want to leave and make place for de Gaulle. But the conclusion to such a quite correct affirmation was just simply: we shall vote in favor of your project of reactionary revision of the constitution.

On May 28th, when Coty turned officially to de Gaulle, the Political Bureau, in a statement, was still counting parliamentary noses: “Yesterday there were only 165 supporters of de Gaulle at the Assembly, whereas 408 votes were cast for the defense of the Republic.”

Thus the emphasis was put on the firmness to be given to the official authorities of the Republic to defeat the plot of the rebels. And, what is more, it was announced day after day that this parliamentary policy was winning successes.

Beginning with May 13th – if we are to believe L’Humanité, directly inspired by the FCP’s Political Bureau – we were going from success to success against fascism, the Pflimlin government and the parliament were growing stronger in their determination to defend the republic, and then suddenly, at the very moment when several hundreds of thousands of workers were demonstrating in the streets of Paris, an accident happened: the government collapsed, the parliament capitulated, and Gaullism carried the day! While the deputies were carrying on the battle “for the Republic” by supporting a government which, in the shadows, was conspiring de Gaulle’s coming to power, what was asked of the workers? The most current term, “vigilance,” in practice meant most of the time immobilization in headquarters. Street demonstrations were cut down, and, when the authorities forbade them, called off. There were work stoppages, strikes, but these were carried out in a sporadic way, without coordination, and never with the perspective of an active general strike that would bring about a conflict with the state forces that were raising de Gaulle to power. On the whole, the workers’ actions were subordinated either to the parliamentary and legalistic tactic toward the Pflimlin government, or to the intentions and decisions of the other “republican” groups.

Toward the Bourgeois Tops

This whole policy, in the opposite direction to the real evolution of the class, found its expression in the mammoth demonstration of May 28th. The coup of Algiers occurred on May 13th. Demonstrations had taken place in various provincial cities, but working-class Paris had not demonstrated in any force. What was going on? The FCP leadership did not dare issue in its own name alone a call for a big street demonstration: it knew that a call – from itself alone – would not have produced much of an echo. Formally there was no joint appeal, there was no united front, for the leaders of the left bourgeois organizations and the Socialist Party, of Force Ouvrière and the CFTC, rejected any agreement with the Stalinist leaders. Granted, there were tacit agreements, and the Radical and Socialist leaders were well aware, when they launched the call for the demonstration of 28 May, that the FCP and the CGT would join in it.

The masses answered on May 28th because for them it was in fact a question of a joint Communist-Socialist demonstration. While all the leaders, from the bourgeois to the Stalinists, were still in agreement that there should be no shout or banner other than “Long live the Republic,” the Paris workers were spontaneously shouting: Popular Front, Unity of action, The left to power, Peace in Algeria. For the workers, Popular Front has another meaning than what it has for the leaders. For the workers, the Popular Front is in fact Communist-Socialist unity in action, for down in the ranks they see only a few Radical shopkeepers to whom they attach no importance, and they do not grasp the role of the bourgeois leaders at the Popular Front’s summit. The FCP leadership, therefore, lined up with some uncertain parliamentary top people, and was way behind the aspirations of the masses. It did not try to correct itself either the next day or in the following days. But, when de Gaulle’s coming to power became sure for June 1st, it decided to cover up its whole opportunistic policy by an operation of a pseudo-leftist appearance, street demonstrations in which only members of the party were in practice to participate, in order to be able to say that only the party had fought to the end and that the defeat was owing to the others.

Like the Bourbons

Soon after the end of the crisis, on June 9th and 10th, there was held a session of the Central Committee of the FCP, in which the leadership showed that, like the Bourbons, it had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The champions of self-criticism found that everything had been very good, that the leadership had been clear-sighted, that the party had showed itself to be a “fine party,” and that it should just go on as in the past.

When Thorez said that he had a “fine party,” he specified immediately what he meant thereby: the apparatus has not experienced break-ups like those in 1939–1940. Thorez perhaps spoke too soon. There are two explanations by the FCP leaders about what has just happened. In his closing speech at this CC meeting, Thorez said:

A crisis of the regime opened and has wound up in the formation of a government of personal dictatorship which opens the way to fascism. The army, in its present composition, has taken on more and more the aspect of pretorian troops, it has been led more and more to set itself above the nation.

The Gaullist plot is the sign, not of the strength of the bourgeoisie, but of its weakness. By having recourse to personal power, to dictatorship, it recognizes that it is unable to guarantee its domination any longer by traditional means. It makes the confession of its impotence to solve the problems of its own decline, by which it is assailed. In an article in the June 21st Humanité, devoted to Algeria, he repeats the same explanation:

The malfunctioning of institutions was not the deep cause of the crisis that France is passing through. It was, rather, the expression and the sign thereof. The dominant reality was and remains [...] the incapacity of the ruling classes to solve the problems posed by our epoch. First of all must be emphasized their impotence in face of the questions raised by the general crisis of colonialism.

Thus the profound cause is capitalism, unable to solve the problems of the period, whose weakness forces it to throw itself into the desperate measures of dictatorship. Quite right.

But here is another explanation in the resolution adopted by the same CC:

The cause of the evils from which France is suffering is neither democracy nor the parliamentary regime, but on the contrary the permanent violation, by anti-communism, of the wishes of universal suffrage and the principles of the representative regime.

It is no longer the incapacity of the bourgeoisie, but the bad way in which parliamentarism is applied. But by whom, if not by the representatives of the bourgeoisie, and precisely because parliament is no longer a good instrument for capitalist domination? And so, instead of calling on the proletariat to solve the problems by the seizure of power and the building of socialism, Thorez declared to the CC: “What is necessary is to correct that bad application that has been made of institutions and to guarantee at last their normal functioning.” And the CC resolution specifies:

The remedy for governmental disorder and impotence does not consist in throwing democracy overboard, but on the contrary in guaranteeing its normal functioning by re-establishing the country’s independence and by giving the working class and its party, side-by-side with the others, the place belonging to it in parliament and in the government. Nothing but its place, but its full place [...]

The choice is not between fascism and communism. It is between a personal dictatorship backed by reaction and militarism leading to fascism, and a regime of democracy so as to carry out the policy desired by the majority of Frenchmen.

What impeccable reasoning! The bourgeoisie is incapable of solving problems by the parliamentary regime. It is therefore necessary to go back to this regime, while asking the bourgeoisie only to give the working class – read, the FCP leadership – the place belonging to it in the bourgeois parliament and also a few seats in the government. At the CC session held some weeks before the crisis, the reporter Servin was explaining that it could not be a question of fighting for socialism because the relationship of forces was not in favor of the working class, which was weak. Now the FCP leadership explains the reactionary coup de force by the weakness of the bourgeoisie. But in any case, whether the relationship of forces between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie be in one direction or the other., for the FCP leadership it is never the moment to put the struggle for power on the order of the day. In fact the situation in France has shown that the parliamentary regime is at its last gasp, and that – as the Communist International declared in its early years – either the working class would go over to the attack on the regime, or else capitalism, savagely defending its domination over society, would not hesitate to go beyond parliamentary forms to install regimes of open dictatorship.

The evolution of the Stalinists on the question of workers’ power is truly significant. At the beginning of the struggle against the Left Opposition in the years 1923–1929, the proletarian revolution was, according to them, on the order of the day in economically advanced countries, but not in underdeveloped countries like China. Thirty years later, when capitalism has been broken as a social system over a third of the globe, including China, socialism is no longer on the order of the day even in the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe!

Now let us see how the FCP leadership proposes to carry on the struggle against the rising dictatorship.

All toilers, all democrats, all adversaries of personal power, owe it to themselves, from now on, to prepare a massive NO by our people at the time of the October consultation. The organization of this great campaign from now on dominates all our activity. (Thorez)

They will fight with all their energy both for peace in Algeria and so that, at the time of the referendum, universal suffrage will say no to the personal and military dictatorship that would open the road to fascism. (Thorez)

Against the violence of the parachutists, against the armed might of the bourgeois state, the FCP leadership opposes ... universal suffrage, in this case by answering no in a plebescite, i.e., a mockery of universal suffrage itself.

The FCP leadership had praised to high heaven the conception of the “new paths,” i.e., the use of parliament to build socialism. But in fact there is no more parliament. How, even if one accepts the perspective of a re-establishment of bourgeois parliamentarism, an illusory perspective, how can it be arrived at without recourse to violence ? The leadership is a prisoner of its parliamentary and legalistic conception just at the moment when its preferred instrument has ceased to function.

The FCP leadership has not brought the slightest criticism to bear on its conception of the “new paths”; it has not even retained a certain reservation which it had introduced into its conception, namely, that violence must be resorted to if the bourgeoisie resorts to it. By omitting, after the Algiers coup, this part of its conception of the “new paths,” the FCP leadership shows that for it what was in question there was just a stylistic clause, without any real value, that it had just plain settled down into bourgeois parliamentarism, and that it was no more concerned about the fight for socialism than the SP leadership was. The FCP leadership believed that it could profit by this period of crisis and the days immediately following, in order to strike blows at oppositionals, engaging particularly in expulsions in the intellectual circles where for so long now it has wanted to strike. This bureaucratic offensive, however, happened to be topped by the bureaucratic offensive of the Kremlin, signalized by the assassination of Imre Nagy and his companions. Soviet intervention in Hungary had much cut off the FCP from other labor and socialist formations of all tendencies. Events in France – the war of Algeria, the reactionary danger, and finally de Gaulle’s coming to power – had not permitted it to surmount this situation, but at least openings had been created. This time its cutting-off threatens to be irremediable, for the feeling of broad layers of workers is: With you? why, that would be worse than de Gaulle. Truly Khrushchev has worked for de Gaulle better than anybody could have done.

A New Stage

A stage in the history of the French workers’ movement, opened at the Liberation, is now closed. After having had the possibility at that moment to set up, almost without striking a blow, a Socialist-Communist government that would have opened the road to the European socialist revolution, that movement was led by these two leaderships of ill omen to see de-Gaulle come “coldly” to dictatorship. The slope to climb back up will be hard to scale. French capitalism has occupied controlling positions from which it can be dislodged only by the action of the working class raised to the highest level. All the old political formations set up in the Third and Fourth Republics will undergo shakings-up, overturns, and disappearances. There must be added to them the old workers’ leaderships which – originating at different periods out of the class struggle – have, under different forms, settled down into the parliamentary political world of French society. We are entering into an era of struggles, of splits, and of regroupments in these old formations. The present background of defeat will generate difficulties during a whole period for the revolutionary Marxist current and for those who will try to find a line of revolutionary behavior again. But at a later stage, that cannot be far off, the exigencies of the objective situation will on the contrary operate in the direction of a pitiless elimination of half-measures, of unfinished ideas, of timorous thinking, and will stimulate the creation of a new leadership capable of leading the revolutionary struggle for the seizure of power.

21 June 1958

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