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Irving Howe

Prospects for the Coining French Election

De Gaulle Makes a New Bid for Power

(4 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 44, 4 November 1946, p.–3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

France remains the crucible of European politics: all significant tendencies are centered there with classic clarity. The referendum of October 13 on the Constitution proposed by the Assembly, the present political stalemate and the coming elections on November 10 all point to the continued state of class tension which marks European politics.

The new Constitution, presented to the electorate after it had rejected a previous one several months ago, was a “compromise” by the three parties of the coalition government: Socialists, Stalinists and MRP (Conservative Catholics). It did not propose as much concentration of power in the National Assembly – which had previously been the main excuse for opposition by the de Gaullists – and was this time supported by the MRP, which had opposed, and had been the decisive factor in defeating the first draft.

De Gaulle’s Role

In the second, more recent constitutional referendum, the three big parties supported the draft constitution, and the only major political voice raised in opposition was that of de Gaulle. Le Grand Charlie has been playing a cagey game, trying to cluster round himself the extreme conservative and fascistic forces in France in order to prepare for his reassumption of French political leadership. He saw in the constitutional referendum an opportunity to organize a conservative opposition against all parties, centered around his would-be Bonapartist personality.

It must be conceded that even though the Constitution was passed by a vote of approximately nine million for and eight million against, de Gaulle has won a political victory of some consequence. For this political martinet has succeeded – without a formal political party at his disposal – in rallying only one million votes less than the three major political parties of France. (Though it is possible that many of the “No” votes were not intended as votes in support of de Gaulle, yet the immediate effect of those votes is to increase de Gaulle’s strength.)

When one further considers that there were seven million abstentions, the defeat of the three party coalition becomes clearer. The seven million abstentions are the index of a growing apathy in French political life; they are the voice of people who, disgusted with what seems to them the meaningless rigmarole of political chicanery, vote “with their feet.” However, we must also note that some 300,000 votes, according to our information, were cast blank. We do not know how many of these were cast on the request of the PCI, French Trotskyist organization, but they certainly represent a protest against the Constitution AND de Gaulle.

And of one thing we may be certain: apathy, indifference, political disillusionment will help the reactionary de Gaullist forces more than anything else. The would-be Bonapartist will find his road to power easier if the masses turn away from politics.

Political Skirmishing

The indications are that most of the French workers still supported the two parties which have so tragically betrayed and misled them in the past years – the Socialists and Stalinists; for in the proletarian suburbs of Paris, the vote was two to one in favor of the constitution.

With an election to the National Assembly only a few weeks off, there has been some hectic political skirmishing as a result of the referendum. The MRP, which had gone along with the Socialists and Stalinists, has suddenly discovered that it must make a bloc – or try to – with de Gaulle. The estimate of Edgar Ansel Mowrer, political writer for the New York Post, is unfortunately correct when he writes that “de Gaulle emerges as the strongest single force in France. Though beaten by a coalition of the three large parties, he is obviously still the most popular figure in the entire country.” He has succeeded in deflecting a considerable section of the MRP’s supporters, who feel that his refusal to work with the Stalinists represents a more determined version of their rightwing point of view. And the following he has attracted has enhanced de Gaulle in the eyes, of the French capitalists and Anglo-American imperialists, both of whom see in him a more reliable and resolute – if more temperamental – ally than the watery Bidault.

The MRP is now trying to adapt itself by its announcement that it will henceforth refuse to participate in any coalition government with the French Communist Party and that it looks forward to an exclusively MRP government or at least a coalition directed against the Stalinists. By this maneuver the MRP hopes to form a temporary bloc with de Gaulle in order to consolidate the conservative votes for the November 10 election.

At the same time it has appealed to the Socialist Party for a bloc against the Stalinists. The muddled and faction-riddled SP is thus faced with another of its periodic quandaries. If it joins with the MRP in an anti-Stalinist bloc it will alienate those sections of the supporters who have been taken in by talk of a “united proletarian front” with the Stalinists. If it cooperates with the Stalinists against the MRP it will lose many of the middle-class votes it has gained in the past, which were intended as a “bulwark against communism.” Whichever way the French SP turns it is in difficulty, which is why it will probably try the impossible by not turning anywhere.

In the meantime, the struggle sharpens. Misery, insufficient food, economic disorganization, political confusion remain in France. The forces of the right are beginning to coalesce. As an unsigned dispatch to the New York Times of October 16 puts it: “... de Gaulle’s opposition to the Constitution encouraged a variety of fascist elements who prefer a conservative dictatorship to a republican government ...” And that “... unless the anti-Communist forces can form a coalition capable of governing the country without the Communists, who have been in every post-war cabinet, the resistance to the Communists may resort to force. This is also de Gaulle’s conviction.”

While the reactionary elements gather under de Gaulle’s banner, political apathy and confusion grow in the ranks of the lower middle class and the working class. For the government in which the Socialists and Stalinists dominated solved none of their problems – and these parties offer nothing but more of the same. Hence the large numbers who turn away in disgust from politics.

The situation is highly dangerous. The French working class has given abundant evidence in the last few years of its ability to struggle and sacrifice, of its incipient militancy which could so readily be brought to a peak if a bold revolutionary leadership made sizable contact with it. Right now the French workers face a new threat to their security and liberty in the de Gaullist reaction. The two “parties of the left” are socially impotent, unable and unwilling to move toward genuine revolutionary socialist policy.

Under these circumstances, the eyes of revolutionists the world over turn to the French Trotskyists, who are making a supreme effort to place their candidates on the ballot for the November 10 election, despite the difficulties which the new Constitution imposes on small parties. In the last election to the Assembly, they polled some 45,000 votes though only able to place candidates in about one-fifth of the districts. An increased vote for the French Trotskyists will indicate that the most advanced political elements within the working class movement of France continue to struggle and grow.

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