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R. Fahan

World Politics and North Africa

The Conflicts in the Allied Camp

(January 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 1, January 1943, pp. 14–17. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The major preliminary consideration to an understanding of the significance of the North Africa affair is to establish the deliberateness, the premeditated character of the behavior of the Allied forces. This we must do in order to dispel the last fluttering illusions of those pathetic few who still wish to believe that the entire affair was accidental, the work of a politically naive general, the result of some unique situation; and also in order to make clear that this situation is part of a general political tendency.

When the invasion of North Africa was announced and the news of the Darlan deal subsequently broken, the first authoritative comment from American governmental sources came from Secretary of State Hull. With great glee he pointed to the Darlan deal and the ease with which the Allied troops took over the North African ports as proof of the correctness of his policy of placating, or, as the liberals put it, “appeasing” Vichy. Hull, however, spoke too soon and said too much.

It was only after the assassination of Darlan and Giraud’s assumption of power that there was some response to Roosevelt’s embarrassed statement urging freeing of political prisoners. For it was obvious from his statement that he considered the American policy in North Africa to be premeditated, deliberate and couldn’t see that there was any moral or political duplicity involved. He boasted that America had maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy in order to keep a spy system both in France and North Africa. He did not bother to answer the question, however, of why it was necessary to keep spies in France and North Africa if his appeasement policy was so effective that it could win over the Darlanists to the Allied side without a struggle. Or perhaps he was merely being reticent about the fact that, in imperialist diplomatic relations, it is almost as wise to spy on one’s partners as on one’s enemies.

After this one outburst of gleeful spite in which Hull took revenge on the liberal critics of his State Department, he never had another word to say. And those newspapers – especially the Hearst and Scripps-Howard chains – which seized upon his statement as grist for their editorial mills, also lapsed into silence. For it was the anxious policy of the Roosevelt Administration to make it appear as much as possible that the deal was not premeditated, that it had not been carefully worked out in the State Department, that it was a “temporary military expedient,” as President Roosevelt said, based upon immediate military necessity and made at the spur of the moment by the military leader in charge of the expedition, General Eisenhower. It was for this reason of basic policy that all the publicity which had been begun in the press glorifying the rôle of Robert Murphy, FDR’s representative in North Africa, was suddenly stopped. For it is clear that the fact that Murphy had been in North Africa, haggling with the French fascists and preparing the groundwork for the deal, was but another proof of the invalidity of the Roosevelt attempt to disclaim responsibility.

Even this disclaimer of responsibility, however, was worded in typically ambiguous Roosevelt fashion. After all, what does “temporary expedient” mean? Does it mean that Darlan was to rule until the North African campaign was over? Or does it mean that he was to rule until the war was over and thereby be entitled to sit at the peace table at which Henry Wallace’s brave new (airplane protected) world was to be constructed? The latter interpretation was apparently adopted by Darlan himself, who hinted that he expected to remain in power until the French people had an opportunity to democratically choose their own government. In other words, he was to be the dictator until a democracy would somehow be established in the vague and indefinite future.

Roosevelt was here playing a diabolically clever game. He knew of and had in advance approved the Darlan deal, but in order to maintain his liberal and labor support at home he was placing the responsibility upon the unfortunate General Eisenhower, who, it was obvious enough, was hardly the person who could either conceive or execute this masterful piece of diplomatic intrigue.

Even if there were not testimony to the contrary, even if every newspaper man were sufficiently discreet to keep his mouth shut, even then it would be clear that by the very nature of the circumstances the deal was worked out in Washington, it was the handiwork of the Administration. But there is a remarkable bit of testimony which buttresses this contention. This testimony is an article which the head of the Washington bureau of the New York Times wrote in that paper on January 3. With callous frankness he therein revealed the major motives and mechanisms of the Darlan deal. This article deserves extensive quotation: “When General Eisenhower landed in North Africa he had two sets of orders, with the privilege of using that which seemed more likely to further his objective. One was to set up a military government and break the chain of French sovereignty (on this latter sentence, more later. – R.F.). He chose the other – to leave civil government to constituted authorities.” It is dear from the above that Eisenhower was given two sets of orders, but that both of them were variants of action within the general framework of the idea that a deal was to be worked out with Darlan and the other Pétainists.

The Meaning of the Deal

Why the deal? Certain military reasons are obvious enough. It made possible a rapid advance for the British and the green American troops. It brought forces of some importance to the Allied side. Behind these motives was the political attitude that what counted was guns and not ideas, that it mattered not if one’s partners were democrats or fascists so long as they shot in the same direction; the political attitude that is demonstrated in the report of Newsweek magazine’s Washington correspondent who quoted an anonymous high official of the State Department as saying that if Goering brought enough airplanes with him he too might be welcome on the side of the Allies, who were, it is well known, fighting for the Four Freedoms.

But in addition to these military reasons there was one political reason for the deal which is of extraordinary importance and which is revealed in the article by Arthur Krock referred to above. Krock reports that a basic motive which the Allies had in making the deal with Darlan was a desire for continuity of civil government in North Africa.

“If,” he tells us, “North Africa had been formally occupied by the United Nations, with military government superseding civil (as necessarily it would), then the continuity of French sovereignty would have been suspended and interrupted. The claims of the native irredentists would attain a legal validity which otherwise they could not, and a most vexatious problem would afflict the peace conference, as well as a threat of valuable loss of territory to post-war France and disturbances in the Moslem world.

“It was to avoid the rise of such a situation that General Eisenhower was instructed to seek, and found, a legitimist government in North Africa with which, through the offices of the late Admiral Darlan, he was able to collaborate. That legitimacy has now passed to General Giraud ...”

It is impossible to be more frank. Roosevelt was interested in preserving the integrity and continuation of the French Empire; he feared that the abolition of the prevailing colonial governments would put ideas into the heads of the native Moslems; and therefore he was ready to collaborate with Darlan, yesterday’s partner of Hitler, in order to preserve the imperialist status quo in North Africa.

Krock doesn’t hesitate to admit that

“previously the French forcibly took away those very freedoms from the natives of North Africa ... A historian of French expansion in Africa had said that ‘it had to be wrested from the natives, literally yard by yard.’ And there are native irredentists in those lands whose aspirations have been stimulated by the advent of war and the war-induced collapse of French metropolitan power.”

Therefore, if, during the peace conferences that will begin with a long armistice – assuming the victory of the United Nations – native majority elements demand the restoration of their sovereign rights and self-government, an issue might be presented under the Atlantic Charter that would greatly embarrass the peace-makers of Great Britain and the United States.

“Should such a demand be made, and get the support of the Moslem world to which the vast majority of the North African natives belong, embarrassment might develop into the threat of a holy war, with the green flag of Islam raised on both sides of the strategic Mediterranean.”

These remarkable paragraphs underline with great clarity the predatory character of the war in general and the North African campaign in particular. Rather than face the possibility of a wave of movements for national independence in North Africa, rather than face the possibility of the disintegration of the French Empire (which, remember, might some day be useful to the United States as a counterweight to the British Empire!) the Roosevelt government chose to deal with Darlan.

Problem of Native Rebellion

Nor is Krock the only journalist who attributes a good part of the deal with Darlan to a fear of possible native uprisings. William Phillip Simms, foreign editor of the Scripps-Howard chain, says much the same in a dispatch of January 6. And Edward Bing, in an interesting article in the American Mercury, gives many details on the antagonism which exists in the Arab world toward the Allied imperialists. It is this situation which makes comprehensible the military raid, reported in the New York Times of November 16 by Frank Kluckhon, launched by American troops against an Arab village near Oran whose purpose was to disarm the Arabs “who had been picking them (guns) up in the confusion around the recent battlefields.”

Once the deal had been effected, the Darlanists continued to rule the colonies in practically the same fashion as they had before the Allied invasion. In his statement, Darlan declared that all those anti-Jewish decrees which had been put into effect as a result of the pressure of the Nazis (notice the “clever” ambiguity in this formulation) would be abolished. Yet two weeks after the invasion it was still possible for the military district of Oran, acting under the orders of Admiral Darlan, to publish a decree for military mobilization in the Oran Republican which specifically ordered Jews to report to a separate mobilization center, the Camp de Bedeau, and continuously referred to them as a separate, segregated category.

And, despite the presence of the armies of the Four Freedoms, the Darlan regime was in no hurry to release the thousands of political prisoners rotting in their jails even though, in the words of the New York World-Telegram reporter, Ernie Pyle, writing from North Africa, “we have left in office most of the small-fry officials put there by the Germans before we came. We are permitting fascist societies to continue to exist ... Our policy is still appeasement.” This referred to the promise on New Year’s Day by General Giraud that some political prisoners would be released, mainly Communists (Stalinists who could be handy here also). But, wrote David Brown, Reuter’s correspondent, on January 4: “None has been released yet.” And even this promise of release for some prisoners was conditioned by the Giraud statement that “We are prepared to release all those who give an understanding not to engage in political activity until after the war. We are not asking anyone to abandon political beliefs, but they must understand that they must restrain themselves while we are at war.” In other words, only those political prisoners would be released who would promise to make a yellow-dog pledge to keep their mouths shut and not to criticize or indulge in political activity. Even Hitler has released political prisoners at this price.

But the unfortunate forgotten men of the Spanish Civil War, the Loyalists and International Brigaders, were not to be released under any conditions, since that was “impractical.” To this day they, as well as thousands of French prisoners, continue to suffer in the prisons of Darlan-Giraud, while Henry Wallace continues to make speeches about freedom for this world being indivisible.

The picture of the internal regime of North Africa after the Allied invasion is completed by the statement of Darlan that it would not be necessary to revoke the anti-union legislation of Vichy, since the lack of industrialization in North Africa precluded the existence of any large proletariat and therefore there was no need for trade unions.

Was it any wonder that all the political gangsters of French capitalism began to gravitate around French Africa? Darlan, besides having a life-long record as a reactionary, had been the most active and vocal exponent, with the exception of Laval and Doriot, of collaboration with the Nazis. On March 8, 1941, the New York Times had announced: “Darlan Lays Basis of Collaboration. Reaches Agreement in Paris for Nazi Participation in French Key Industries.”

Darlan’s Bourgeois Backers

But Darlan was not an independent agent. Though he had built up a personal bureaucracy in the French Navy for a period of years, he had been acting, in recent years, as an agent of a certain powerful group within the French capitalist class. Darlan has been closely connected with the group which is based on the Banque Worms and the Banque d’Indochine with which are connected the French steel and iron industries, through the Comité des Forges. These French capitalists, once the defeat of France was obvious, decided to play a cautious rôle of see-sawing between the Axis and the Allies. Those journalists (such as Paul Winkler in The Nation of December 26, who gives much valuable information about this group) who believe that they acted out of an ideological affinity for Nazism are of course mistaken. They were trying to rescue what they could of their capitalist holdings and imperialist possessions and they therefore proceeded, through their agents such as Paul Baudoin, first Foreign Minster of Vichy and a power in the Banque d’Indochine; Pierre Flandin, attorney for the Comité des Forges, and Pierre Pucheau, once Pétain’s Minister of the Interior and also manager of the Franco-German Siderurgical Office (an organization to effect collaboration in the steel and iron industries) – they proceeded to effect a partial collaboration with the Nazis in order to hold on to what they had, but they deliberately refrained from the outright collaborationist policies of Déat and Doriot because they wanted to keep at least partially clear the road back to the Allies in case it proved profitable to retrace their steps. And so it did. That was why Darlan refused to give the French Navy to Hitler; it was the last bargaining weapon in the hands of the French bourgeoisie.

Now that the Allies have entered North Africa, many of these political servants of French capitalism, such as Flandin and Peyrouton, are reported trying to wriggle their filthy fingers into the pie. Others are still waiting to see what the outcome of the North African battle will be. But it cannot be doubted that with the invasion of North Africa, the Allies have rewon the allegiance of a considerable section of the atomized French capitalist class, as well as of their political hirelings.

The men who figure most prominently in the news from North Africa today have a certain independent status and power as colonial governors but their powers are essentially subordinate. Generals Nogues, Boisson, Juin and the rest of that gang are now hesitantly and unenthusiastically lining up with the Allies; they have little choice about the matter; but they still are not sure which way the wind is blowing and they are getting tired of picking the wrong horse. Nor is their enthusiasm for their new allies increased by the reports of the popular indignation existing in Britain and America against their continued rule.

For, once the consolidation of the Allied forces had taken place, Darlan as an individual and the Darlanists as a group were of little use to the Allies. Roosevelt still wanted the stable and continuous government in French Africa of which Arthur Krock wrote, but it would be better for him if less openly pro-Vichy leaders were in charge. President Roosevelt immediately expressed his indignation at the “cold-blooded murder” of Darlan. Yet it cannot be denied that objectively the murder of Darlan was of benefit to the Allied cause since it removed – one might almost say, painlessly – the most provoking symbol of Vichyism while allowing the Darlanist generals to retain control.

In his place steps Giraud. A great myth has been woven around this general: the simple, patriotic soldier without political interests or opinions who fights only for his country. The fact of the matter is that Giraud is a reactionary of long standing, that he was several times in danger of removal from his military post during the Daladier regime of 1935 because of his outspoken attacks on the republic. In contrast to others, he was always pro-British and pro-American. But he is ready to take in all French political factions, Vichyites and de Gaullists, and no questions asked about embarrassing pasts.

The situation at present is not entirely satisfactory for the American government. The conflict between de Gaulle and Giraud, or at least their inability to reach an agreement, makes difficult the establishment of a “stable” government behind the North African lines. It is this which leads Raymond Daniel, London correspondent of the New York Times, to write that “The belief is growing in certain circles here that, failing that happy solution (a rapprochement between de Gaulle and Giraud – R.F.) sooner or later the civil administration will be taken over by the United States or by some Allied body in which the French may be represented by Marcel Peyrouton, former Vichy Minister of the Interior.”

State Department versus Liberals

A few words of conclusion need to be said, even though the facts as recorded above speak for themselves. The major conclusion to be reached is that the Roosevelt Administration has finally decided upon the kind of war it wants to fight. For some time now, there have been two conflicting groups within the Administration with sharply different points of view as to how to conduct the war. One group, centered around Secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones, the War and Navy Departments, the party leaders in Congress and the dollar-a-year men in the production boards, has insisted that the war be fought along strictly old-fashioned, conservative lines – that is, by the accumulation of military power, by the attempted annihilation of the enemy and then by the imposition of the most severe peace terms possible. These spokesmen for an outright imperialist policy see little need for the conducting of what the New Dealers like to call “political” or “psychological” warfare; they are ready to consent to deals and intrigues, but that is all.

The second group, centered around Vice-President Wallace, the younger New Dealers and a very few congressmen, have adopted a much watered version of Harold Laski’s already watered concept of “war by revolution.” Laski had advanced the thesis that it was necessary to continue social reforms at home in order to convince the masses of the enemy countries by example and that it was necessary to attempt to win the German and Italian masses to the Allied camp by continuous political propaganda.

The Wallace group, with its talk of a “people’s war,” has attempted to apply the most innocuous parts of Laski’s theory to this country. At the time when American military fortunes were faring most poorly, their theories were most popular. Now, however, it is clear that the Roosevelt Administration has made its decisive choice. While Wallace will continue to make speeches about the “people’s century,” the war is to be conducted as a conservative war of big business. Big business is firmly entrenched in the Washington saddle; it has complete control of the war production program. And the North African affair is merely the external counterpart of the continued trend toward reaction in the internal affairs of the nation. Roosevelt has discovered the obvious: an imperialist war can be conducted only by imperialist means.

This trend, we believe, will become clearer as the war progresses. The New Deal has been completely shunted aside. It is not accidental that Wallace and his friends never say anything publicly about the North African affair. For with the Darlan deal, Roosevelt made clear that he was conducting the same old kind of war – and it was the involuntary recognition of this fact which terrorized so many of the liberals.

The effects of the Darlan deal with regard to European problems are also becoming clearer. It is apparent that America is cannily preparing for the post-war struggle by attempting to build up France as a counterweight to Britain, just as Britain built up Germany after the last war as a counterweight against France. The British realize as much and that is why they keep a bitter silence and continue to support the monarchist de Gaulle (who, in this strange political intrigue, poses as the “left wing” of the French refugee politicians!) against the American-buttressed Giraud. Thus, the British periodical, Time and Tide, speaks of Prime Minister Churchill’s silence as being more eloquent than words, and says that “no one will mistake this silence at this crisis.” And it speaks of the mission of Harold Macmillan to North Africa with the assumption that he will be a minority of one against Murphy and Eisenhower. The British are definitely unhappy about the whole situation.

* * *

A few words need be said about the sad plight of the American liberals. They, who in debates with the radicals always prided themselves upon being “practical” men, are new forced into the position of falling back upon vague generalities about morality paying in the long run, even if Roosevelt profited most with his policy in the short run. That is the plaintive cry running through the pages of The Nation and the New Republic. But the supporters of the Darlan deal have a powerful answer. Would you have us stand by general principles, refuse to deal with Darlan and thereby need[less]ly sacrifice thousands of American lives in a campaign against the French in North Africa? What reply can the liberals make? They are supporting an imperialist war and they cavil against imperialist methods. From the point of view of American military interests, the Darlan deal was a brilliant stroke. The liberals, being both “men of principle” and “humanitarians,” are caught in an impossible dilemma.

From the point of view of the revolutionary socialists, however, the situation is perfectly clear. The Darlan deal underlines the true character of the war: it is but another dramatic incident which must serve to teach the masses of the world the need for a socialist solution.

Note by ETOL

1. This text has been amended in line with the Editor’s Note in The New International, Vol. IX No. 2, February 1943, p. 64.

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