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H. Frank Roberts

France Faces the Crisis

Labor Displays Its Readiness to Battle Against the Regime
but Socialists and Stalinists Sabotage Struggle

(September 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. I No. 38, 14 September 1935, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

France is today pregnant with change. The imminence of imperialist war and the exceedingly acute growth of internal contradictions are hastening the convulsions which will exert a decisive influence upon the march of events in Europe and in Africa. The government of Laval-Herriot is a stop-gap. It cannot for much longer maintain its precarious balance between class forces moving toward decisive conflicts. It seems to be generally, expected that the Laval cabinet will give way either to a cabinet of the extreme Right which will base itself not on a parliamentary majority but directly upon the Croix de Feu and other Fascist groupings, or a Radical government headed by Daladier and supported by his allies in the Front Populaire, the Socialist and Stalinist parties. A government supported by or including de la Rocque, which may take power, if need be, with the help of a coup d’état engineered by the General Staff, would mean the launching of an immediate intensified offensive against the organizations of the French proletariat. A government of Daladier, loyally supported by Blum, Cachin & Co., would be a further step in the gross and staggering betrayal of the French workers inherent in the Front Populaire. If French finance capital entrusts the direction of its government to a so-called “Left coalition,” it will be because it can count on that betrayal. The Front Populaire promises not revolution but “civil peace.” It stands committed not to revolutionary defeatism in the event of war but to the support of the French bourgeoisie in the holy war against German Fascism.

The events last month at Brest and Toulon showed that the French workers want to fight for their bread and that to carry it through they are prepared to wage and win the struggle for power. But the Front Populaire desires not struggle but civil peace. Listen to Jacques Duclos in an article headed A Government of Truce? Yes! (L’Humanité, Aug. 23, 1935):

“The (Laval) Government is heading for battles between Frenchmen at a time when we must concern ourselves with giving work to the unemployed and stimulating national economy. We certainly want a government of truce which will not marshal the workers in uniform against the workers in the factories and offices. We certainly want a government of truce which will unite all Frenchmen in defense of their bread against the two hundred families which pillage the country ... But, to realize the union of France working under the aegis of a government of truce, we must have an end to the policy of the government of national disunity. And the Communist party, declaring itself ready to support a government of the Left, demonstrates its concern for national recovery and for a real truce.” (My emphasis – R.)

This, today, is the language of the “revolutionary vanguard” of the French proletariat! Not “battles between Frenchmen” but the “union of France,” the unity of “all Frenchmen”! Not the struggle for power, but “national recovery” and an end to “national disunity”!

In the name of national unity, the French Stalinists have embraced as their own the Tricolor standard of the French Republic, the flag of the French bourgeoisie, red with the blood of the workers of 1848, 1871, 1914–18 and of 1935. When the preparations for the parade of July 14 were being discussed by a joint Radical-Socialist-Stalinist committee, the Radicals indicated their desire to carry the Tricolor. The Stalinists readily assented. But, added the Radical delegate, our party is weak here in Paris and our flag display will seem puny next to the combined forces of the S.P. and C.P.! Whereupon the Stalinist delegate voluntarily offered the services of the C.P. sections in the parade as carriers of the Tricolor – if the Radicals would be good enough to provide the flags! And so it was done.

On July 14 Paris was treated to the spectacle of communists on the march, with the Tricolor side by side with the Red flag at their head, singing the Marseillaise! And at the head of the parade was Daladier, denounced not so long ago by l’Humanité as the murderer and assassin of February 6 and whom now they call to power! “We do not abandon to the enemy the Tricolor flag of the Revolution,” said Marcel Thorez in a speech before the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern, “We do not abandon the Marseillaise, song of the soldiers of the Convention.’’ (L’Humanité, Aug. 5, 1935). Was it so long ago that the Communist International proclaimed for the Chinese revolution: “We will not abandon the blue banner of the Kuomintang to the enemy!”? The tragic betrayal of the Chinese workers marshalled by the Comintern behind the blue banner of Chiang Kai-shek will now be repeated, if the Comintern has its way, for the French workers, marshalled behind the Tricolor standard of the French bourgeoisie.

Another incident of the July 14 demonstration reveals the extent to which the Stalinists have carried their capitulation to the Radicals – i.e., to the French bourgeoisie. The socialist section of the 20th ward carried a banner which read: “Down with the Decrees of Laval-Herriot!” The Stalinist leader of the same district rushed over in a rage just as the parade was starting and ripped away the name of Herriot! Herriot is in the government and stands responsible for the starvation decrees of Laval – but he is a Radical and therefore not to be offended!

The fierce clashes at Toulon and Brest the first week in August – when workers trying to defend their livelihood came into bloody conflict with the armed forces of the state – brought forth from the organs of the Front Populaire – the charge of provocation! It was to be expected that the organs of French capitalism, like Le Petit Parisien and Le Matin would refer to the demonstrators as “rabble.” But what could workers have thought who read in Populaire, the Socialist organ, that “human scum” were responsible for the demonstrations, and in l’Humanité that the Toulon and Brest events were due to “persons living on the fringes of labor” carrying out as “provocateurs” their “job as incendiaries”! These scum, rages Vaillant-Courturier, the Stalinist No. 1 Publicist, “outraged the Tricolor flag which the workers put at the head of their processions, next to the Red flag, on July 14”!

And as a political conclusion from the Toulon events, the French Stalinist party issued special instructions to watch out for provocateurs who are trying to incite the workers to untoward acts!

In all France only one revolutionary organization is fighting hard and courageously to block the path of treachery down which the Front Populaire is leading the working class. That organization is the Bolshevik-Leninist group of the Socialist party which alone in France today is upholding the banner of Lenin and Liebknecht for revolutionary defeatism in the event of war, which alone is calling for the armed mobilization of the working class in the fight against Fascism and which when the crisis breaks will alone be capable of providing the revolutionary point of polarization to which the workers, betrayed by the Second and Third Internationals, will be able to turn. The Bolshevik-Leninists of France are carrying on the struggle for the Fourth International against terrific odds but with incomparable courage.

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