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Albert Goldman

Where We Stand

(21 June 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 25, 21 June 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Lesson of France’s About Face

So. Vichy is now at war with the British. Only in Syria to be sure, but it is a war nevertheless and the tendency must be for the war in Syria to develop into a full-fledged conflict between the erstwhile allies, taking in many fronts.

And does this mean anything to the gentlemen who have been considering the war from the very beginning as one of democracy against fascism? Are the middle-class democrats and those in the ranks of the labor movement who saw in France, when it was at war with Germany, one of the champions of democracy, capable of learning a lesson from this sudden about-face on the part of the men who were leaders of the French nation at the time it was fighting on the side of Great Britain?

I am referring only to such people who are sincerely devoted to democracy and are really anxious to defeat fascism. There are many many thousands of these people who have convinced themselves that they have no course to follow except to support the democratic imperialists against the fascist imperialists. These people are oblivious to the obvious lesson that can be drawn from the fact that Vichy is now on the side of Hitler. To the democrats the “collaboration” of Vichy with Hitler simply means that the bad antidemocratic people have succeeded in obtaining control of the French government and the French people and thereby brought to a halt the fight for democracy.

The important thing to remember is that the leaders of Vichy – the Petains, the Darlans, the Weygands – were fighting for France against Germany and were extremely important cogs in the French “democracy” before Hitler’s conquest of France.

And it is foolish to assume that these people wanted a Hitler victory. For they knew that they were not fighting for democracy but for French imperialist interests. They may have been responsible for the French defeat; they may have been incapable of leading the French to victory but it seems to me to be absurd to say that they preferred a Hitler victory.

Same Men Support Hitler Who Fought Him

If anything proves that the French government under Daladier and Reynaud was not fighting for democracy but for French imperialist interests it is the fact that the French army and French navy were officered by men who are now willing to fight on the side of Hitler against British and American “democracy.” The Darlans and the Weygands are the same type of men and with the same ideas and sympathies now when they are collaborating with Hitler and fighting in Syria against the British as they were when they fought against Hitler. Since no one is so naive as to believe that they were transformed into fascists because France was defeated the conclusion is inescapable that an army allegedly fighting for democracy was officered by men who, if they were not completely fascist, had no interest in democracy.

Absolutely certain is the proposition that the British and American armies and navies are no different, in the type of generals and admirals commanding them, than was the French army. The higher officers of the British and American armed forces are just as little interested in democracy as are the Darlans and the Weygands. Not even the middle-class democrats with their colossal capacity for self-deception would contradict this assertion.

The Case of De Gaulle

Is the case of De Gaulle proof to the contrary? Every one of De Gaulle’s statements proves that it is not democracy he is fighting for but the French empire. He simply believes that it is necessary to support Britain to the end in order to save French imperialist interests. And De Gaulle, by the way, is only an exception. The vast majority of the higher officers are solidly behind Vichy. They are not and never were interested in democracy.

That the army and navy are subject to the authority of the government and so long as the government is democratic the armed forces will be fighting for democracy regardless of the fascist sympathies of the higher officials is about the best argument the democrats can produce, But what a miserable argument that is! Even assuming that this is true, it means that a democratic government is willing to take a chance on being stabbed in the back by an army controlled by officers whose sympathies are with fascism.

It is absurd however to claim that a reactionary army can be fighting for a progressive cause. The army reflects the actual relationship in society much more accurately than Parliament or Congress. If the higher officers all come from the upper class or are connected with the upper class, if in their mode of thinking and acting they show no sign of democracy then it is as certain as anything can be that the army can not be used for a war for democracy.

The Red Army Under Trotsky

In the Red Army under Trotsky officers of the Czarist Army were used but the real power was in the hands of the political commissars. The officers were simply technicians following out orders. In the armies of the British and American “democracies’’ the officer caste is supreme.

To those who are convinced that this is a war for democracy against fascism we say: Look at Vichy, gentlemen, and you will see that an army led by such men is not an army fighting for democracy. And the generals and admirals of Vichy are no different from the generals and admirals of London and Washington. Only a democratic socialist state can create an army which in structure and ideas is capable of fighting for true democracy.

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