From Fourth International, Vol.4 No.7, July 1943, pp.199-202.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The events in Algiers are worth watching closely. We are witnessing there an attempt at the political regroupment of the French bourgeoisie. The difficulties that are arising in the process tell us much about the future of Europe.
Crushed militarily in June 1940, the French bourgeoisie went, under the leadership of the Petain government, along the road of “collaboration.” But with Germany’s military difficulties this road has led to an impasse and the Vichy government has no perspective to offer for the future. The atomized French bourgeoisie has to regroup itself around a new political center.
An important step in this political rebirth of the French bourgeoisie was the formation at Algiers on June 3, after lengthy negotiations between Giraud and De Gaulle, of the French National Committee of Liberation. It is true that this new regime did not appear in France proper, but in the very special conditions of a colonial milieu. Nevertheless, the history of its formation offers us, to a certain degree, important indications for forecasting what will happen in the countries of Europe after the collapse of Nazi rule. Although distorted by the colonial conditions, the picture, if we know how to read it, is of great help for determining our political perspectives.
In December, Giraud succeeded the assassinated Darlan, to whom Washington had entrusted the job of “freeing” France. Darlan had done everything to remain faithful to the legality of Vichy. Under his regime the entire administration installed by Vichy remained. His replacement by Giraud brought no change.
Giraud’s program was ostensibly of a purely military character: to collaborate with the Allies for the defeat of Germany. His sole political slogan was a negative one: “an end to factional fights.” The reasons for this were obvious. Aside from Washington, Giraud’s principal support was, and still is, the upper and middle cadres of the French army in North Africa. These cadres had actively supported or passively tolerated the Vichy government. They had nothing to offer the people of France for the future except a government as reactionary as that of Petain. They could scarcely shout about this program. In addition, their greatest desire was to have everyone forget the recent past of “collaboration” in which they had been more or less implicated. Hence their care to avoid the slightest political discussion. Giraud expressed this belated modesty in the slogan “One aim – victory.”
How far the Vichy influence had remained in the Giraud administration can be judged by a few lines, buried without comment in the pages of the New York Times on June 7. It reported from Casablanca that “The Bank of Morocco attempted to send almost $75,000,000 worth of gold to German-occupied France last February.” This was four months after the American debarkment, and we must not forget that the Bank of Morocco is an official institution in the hands of the French administration.
Washington’s deal with Darlan had alienated much of the sympathy for the Allies: the North African population had fallen into apathy, distrust and cynicism. Seeking popular support, Giraud was forced to sacrifice some of the most compromised administrators and to make a few speeches on “democracy” and the “Republic.” This did not change much of anything, as we see in the case of the Algerian Jews, whom Giraud deprived of French citizenship. However, these gestures did give Washington some kind of answer to the critics of the American policy toward Darlan. Indeed, Giraud was presented as a great “democrat.”
However, Giraud, a newcomer in politics, could not do this too well. The “democratic” mask could not hide his aspiration to play the Bonaparte. In a speech at Constantine on April 15 Giraud said:
“At that time [after Germany’s defeat] 40,000,000 Frenchmen will say what they desire, but I have no wish to revive the follies that led to the catastrophe in 1940.”
The “follies” are the revolutionary upsurge of the French workers. The very construction of the phrase smells of Bonapartism: “but I have no wish to ...”!
Giraud’s regime in North Africa remained extremely precarious. His staunch supporters were compromised by their past; their only program was to keep quiet. The timid renewal of political life led to the growth of the Gaullist movement. The information which comes to us from North Africa, outside of reports of the official gestures, still remains very scarce. Nevertheless the case of Tunisia permits one to judge the situation fairly well. When the Allied troops entered the Tunisian cities, the press dispatches were of one accord in reporting that popular sentiment was very much in favor of De Gaulle, while the prestige of the Giraud regime was nil. When De Gaulle arrived in Algiers on May 30, all his factional emblems were abundantly displayed by the populace, even though expressly forbidden by Giraud in a decree a few days before. “Even soldiers and policemen displayed the Fighting French emblem,” the Associated Press reported.
Gaullism represents extremely diverse and vague aspirations.  Beginning as a purely national-military opposition to Vichy, it has developed, especially through its ties to the underground movement, toward a left-democratic program. For as long as possible Washington and London insisted on Giraud’s exclusive control of Algeria. But to avert an ever increasing political cleavage, Giraud, and behind him Washington and London, found it expedient to look for a compromise to bring De Gaulle into the North African government.
The discussions between the two generals began with the very nature of the new power. Giraud had named his regime “Civil and Military High Command,” thus revealing its essentially military character. De Gaulle demanded the creation of a political power independent of the military command. In the present condition of the French bourgeoisie, the specific weight of such a political power in face of the army can be only very weak. Even this, however, was enough to worry Giraud. He rejected all idea of a political power distinct from the military command and hastened to announce that De Gaulle meant to impose a ready-made government on the people of France. Washington and the American press echoed this accusation. That De Gaulle’s aims in the France of tomorrow will be far from pure democracy is very likely. But it was comical to see democracy suddenly become the principal care of the Bonaparte-apprentice Giraud.
The discussions between Giraud and De Gaulle, from March to the end of May, were centered around whether the new regime would be simply a “High Command” or if it would be a political body. To De Gaulle’s program of restoration of republican legality Giraud could counterpose only a negative program of remaining silent over a past too compromising for the majority of his supporters. Therefore he found himself in an extremely difficult position in the discussions and had to take up the fight on points where he was beaten in advance.
Thus a small episode illumines the unfolding of the negotiations. At the end of April, Giraud proposed to De Gaulle a meeting at a “lonely place” outside Algiers, obviously for fear of popular demonstrations. De Gaulle insisted on a meeting in Algiers and, in the middle of May, in an insulting answer to Giraud, declared that De Gaulle was well able to assure order in Giraud’s capital. At the end of May, De Gaulle, in the midst of mass ovations, made his entrance into Algiers.
The result of the negotiations was a great defeat for Giraud. A central political power was formed on June 3rd, in essentials according to the original plan of De Gaulle. The situation of the most compromised supporters of Giraud became untenable. Peyrouton, former Petain minister, brutal persecutor of the opposition in France, brought by the Allies from his Vichy Embassy in Argentina on the advice of Darlan to rule Algeria, had to resign. Bergeret, former Vichy minister, Giraud’s close assistant, was dismissed. Nogues, governor of Morocco, strong supporter of Petain, resigned June 5th and even left North Africa. Boisson, whom Washington insisted on keeping as an “able administrator,” finally had to resign at the end of June.
Giraud was left so isolated that the British, hunting for figures to give his faction prestige, brought out of France the old and decrepit reactionary General Georges. Giraud’s other assistants in the new Committee are direct representatives of big business: the railroad magnate René Meyer, and the financiers Couve de Murville and Jean Monnet.
De Gaulle’s victory, though important, soon revealed its limitations when the question of control of the army came up. De Gaulle had insisted successfully on the formation of a political power; but then arose the question of subordination of the military power to the political power.
Doubtless Giraud had not abandoned Peyrouton and Nogues with a light heart, but that was, after all, an inevitable concession. Of entirely different scope, however, was the question of control of the army. Here the very source of Giraud’s power was at stake. Thus a crisis broke out as soon as De Gaulle posed the question.
Rumors of a Gaullist coup de force spread through Algiers. A dispatch from there in the June 3rd New York Times informs us that:
“... the factional strife in the twenty-four hours before the committee met today was strong enough for General Giraud to redouble the guards around his radio station. Late last night, a French tank rumbled into the grounds of his residence.”
On June 4th, the Office of War Information issued a statement in the name of its head, Elmer Davis, denouncing “the cheap political maneuverings” of the Gaullists and even going so far as to say they were no better than the Vichy men, “Nogues, Peyrouton, and so on.” This official declaration was undoubtedly only a small public sign of less public but more substantial actions by Washington’s representatives in Algiers.
For weeks the crisis continued in the Committee, with threats of resignation by De Gaulle. He did not have enough military forces to attempt a coup, and moreover would immediately encounter Anglo-American opposition. On the other hand, Giraud cannot break with the Gaullist movement without seriously discrediting his regime and dealing a great blow to the prestige of the Allies in the underground movement in France. Thus the new regime leads and will likely lead for some time a chaotic existence of unstable compromises.
The first of the compromises was the division of command of the French armies, decided by the National Committee on June 22. Giraud kept command of the troops in strategically-important North Africa and the Dakar region. The far less numerous and extremely dispersed forces in the other colonies are under the command of De Gaulle. It was not concealed that Washington would not have permitted any interference with Giraud’s command of the French forces in North Africa and Dakar.
It has often been said that the conflict between De Gaulle and Darlan-Giraud reflected Anglo-American friction. There is only a very small grain of truth in this interpretation. Before the debarkment in North Africa, London, unlike Washington, had entered into military conflict with Vichy (Mers-el-Kebir, Madagascar, Syria) and was thus led to direct support of the Gaullist movement. But after the Anglo-American Occupation of North Africa, and once Darlan was eliminated, there appeared to be a close understanding between Washington and London to utilize Giraud. Thus at the Casablanca conference between Roosevelt and Churchill at the end of January, it became clear that they had decided to shelve De Gaulle for an indefinite period and that the support of Washington and London was entirely behind Giraud.
Peyrouton was brought to Algiers while Roosevelt arid Churchill were still there.
Thus Giraud’s defeat, when he finally had to receive De Gaulle in Algiers and accept the formation of a joint political body, was also a defeat for Anglo-American diplomacy. A particularly clear sign of this was the resentful ridicule which the administration and the American press tried to throw on the negotiations throughout their course. The tone was set by art unnamed Washington official who was quoted in the press as characterizing the whole affair as a “farce.”
There is an important political lesson in this situation. The United States now militarily dominates North Africa more completely than it can ever hope to dominate Europe. Nevertheless, its inability to give political stability to this domination has been made obvious by the events in Algiers. The weakness of the Giraud regime in the face of De Gaulle is Washington’s weakness, and the Algiers events, on a small scale, help us to foresee how unstable a world pax americana will be even though backed up by thousands of airplanes.
In the December 1942 Fourth International, I wrote: “The militant patriotism of the De Gaulle movement would risk entering into conflict at one time or another with American interests.” At the time this was merely a hypothesis, based on the nature of the Gaullist movement. The latest events have verified it.
The Anglo-American forces in North Africa, even though “friendly,” are occupying forces. They enjoy, among other things, the right of requisition, full use of harbors and control of communications. They billet their soldiers in the homes, etc., and we can easily imagine that there are many daily incidents. During the first period of the fight in Tunisia, the French troops were hastily sent against the Germans without up-to-date arms; of a total of less than 65,000 French troops, 10,000 were killed, and about 30,000 taken prisoners or wounded – these are Giraud’s official figures. Such facts easily stir up anger against the “friends.” Finally, behind” all the incidents is the fundamental question of the future of France, of her power in Europe, of her place in the peace negotiations, and of the fate of her colonial empire.
In contrast to the docile servility of Giraud, De Gaulle has made political capital out of this situation, and is already drawing interest in increasing influence. As early as the 1st of June, the day after De Gaulle’s arrival in Algiers, the New York Times correspondent was cabling:
“The point emphasized by General De Gaulle is the reassertion of French sovereignty throughout the empire, a procedure that would have many difficult results for the Allies.”
On June 4th the Washington correspondent of the same paper described the condescending “indulgence” with which the official milieu of the American capital regarded the Algiers events, and added:
“It was noted that General Charles De Gaulle, according to dispatches from Algiers, apparently desired to assert complete French sovereignty by taking over communications and ports now in the hands of the Allies, and it was indicated that this suggestion would not be taken seriously, since it would go beyond the bounds of the indulgence mentioned, as General De Gaulle well knew.”
On June 21, the New York Times correspondent in Washington indicated in some detail the reasons for Washington’s alarm:
“Meanwhile reports from more than one source say that, in the opinion of recent visitors to Algiers, the Fighting French leader has acquired a substantial following in North Africa, especially among the youth, whose intense nationalism shows more than a trace of xenophobia. One Frenchman reported that all the army officers below the rank of major were De Gaulllsts.
“General De Gaulle ... [has won] the ardent support of many younger men.
“He appeals to their nationalism, which is all the keener because of the defeat and humiliation of France, it is said here. He tells them that General Giraud and his aides are puppets of the Allies, that France is treated worse than Luxembourg because, although her army fights with the Allies, there is no French flag among those of the United Nations, no French government represented in their councils, not even full French sovereignty in North Africa. The implication is that France is being humiliated by the Allies as well as by the Germans.”
The following day, June 22, the same correspondent returned to the same subject, extremely important not only so far as France is concerned, but also for the whole post-war policy of the United States. He wrote:
“Six months ago the French political controversy was to a great extent an Anglo-American one, since London and Washington were in effect backing different French candidates for leadership. It tends today toward another alignment – the British and Americans on the one side and a resurgent French nationalism on the other.
“Nobody represents that nationalism quite so definitely as General De Gaulle. He has taken a very independent stand toward the British in spite of the fact that they largely (financed his organization and fighting forces. Lately he has appeared in the role of a champion of French rights against both the British and the Americans. That revived nationalism, according to all the evidence here, has also permeated the ranks of General Giraud’s followers, some having been much impressed by General De Gaulle since meeting him in Algiers and hearing him speak.
“This nationalism inspires particularly the youth ... It represents a reaction to the renewed hope of liberation of France and resentment toward her liberators for appearing to interfere in French affairs. Of this feeling the Allies must take account in North Africa and in France, in the opinion of some observers who know France well.”
In the light of these facts, the question can be raised in which of the two camps is to be found that section of the French bourgeoisie which has abandoned the perspective of “collaboration” with Hitler. Shouldn’t it be with De Gaulle, who represents the most intransigent bourgeois nationalism? Apparently not, if one is to judge by the character of Giraud’s three principal assistants: René Meyer, Couve de Murville and Jean Monnet, all representing big capital. This indicates that the big bourgeoisie still tends to regroup itself politically around Giraud, that is, to lean completely on Washington and London. Economically debilitated by the military defeat of June 1940 and politically discredited by the period of “collaboration” with Hitler, the French bourgeoisie, at any rate the men who speak for it in Algiers, still feel extremely weak. Their present collaboration has the same reasons as that with Hitler. They feel no confidence in their ability to restore by themselves their rule over the masses of France.
Giraud’s surest support is the top ranks of the army, discredited by their old-school military incompetence and compromised by their Vichy period. They have nothing but hostility for De Gaulle, who as a young colonel had dared to oppose to their senile ideas his modern theory of mechanized warfare, who broke the discipline of the army to flee to London and attack Vichy. These cadres are relatively numerous – the press reports 108 generals and admirals In North Africa which implies several thousand higher officers. This group is Giraud’s surest bastion.
The Gaullist movement in North Africa is much more variegated and undoubtedly includes various tendencies which will rapidly diverge once political life becomes more active. On the basis of an intransigent patriotism, De Gaulle gathers together the lower cadres of the army, the youth, the students, the “left” petty bourgeoisie. It is difficult to say whether his influence extends among the workers, but he has the support of the Stalinists.
The quarrel between Giraud and De Gaulle shows us how difficult it is for a ruling class which has been crushed militarily to re-create its political unity. The policy of “collaboration” broke the traditional national axis of the French bourgeoisie and created divisions which will not easily be erased. Finally, the new “collaboration” with Washington produces new conflicts. The Giraud group, too servile toward Washington, is rapidly losing ground to the benefit of De Gaulle, who is thereby encouraged to come forward to defend French bourgeois interests against Washington and London. This is the most important political lesson of the events in Algiers. No, Hitler’s defeat does not give much promise of bringing cohesion and stability to the ruling classes.
1. On the character of the Gaullist Movement, see my article in the March 1943 Fourth International.
Last updated: 19.6.2005