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Sherman Stanley

French Empire Faces the Wrath
of Its Oppressed Colonial Masses

(May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 30, 5 May 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

No Empire in the world today rests on a more shaky and unsteady foundation than that of France.

In Central and Balkan Europe the entire system of post-[war] alliances created at Versailles by the French conquerors has crumbled. The blows of German imperialism have smashed the encircling chains of French imperialism.

In its world empire the French have likewise suffered heavy losses. Japan has challenged them successfully in the Far East. Italy has made big gains in the Mediterranean. America has taken over much of France’s influence in Mexico and Latin America. Even its closest ally and “friend” – the British Empire – has not hesitated to chisel away at the declining Empire of France.

But not their rivals alone have made the French capitalists and rentiers (coupon clippers) feel the cold chill of death hovering about them. Primarily the French fear the rising wave of nationalist revolt. As in the case of Britain’s world empire, the French are facing a movement of 60,000,000 colonial people who will use each and every difficulty of French capitalism to march one step further towards freedom. Above all, when France seeks to drag them into another world war we shall see these native masses fight with the bitterest determination.

Scope Of Revolt Against French Masters

Let us cite a few examples of what the French are facing even now:

(1) Tunis-Algeria: When the French Popular Front Government came into office in 1936 a revived nationalist movement in the North African colonies thought its moment of freedom was at hand. Under the leadership of its party – The North African Star – the people of Tunisia, Algeria and French Morocco closed ranks. But they were disappointed. The Popular Front regime, acting under orders from its industrial and banking overlords, established military rule in these colonies, outlawed the North African Star, jailed hundreds of its leaders and revealed its determination to hold tight to France’s prize colonies.

Since then the nationalist movement has been forced to carry on its work for freedom against fierce oppression. But not for one moment has its popularity declined among the people. When their time comes the revolutionists of “France’s India” will take a leading role in the final break-up of the French Empire.

(2) Indo-China: This highly important colony supplies France with its rubber supply. Its workers and peasants have been completely at the mercy of the French plantation, owners, merchants and shipping interests.

But there exists in Indo-China the strongest colonial section of the Fourth International. It has elected many representatives to important bodies in the major cities. For four years (1933-1937) it forced the Communist Party of Indo-China to have a united front with it, directed against French imperialism. Only when the Stalinists had completely exposed themselves as loyal supporters of the French was this united front broken off. The people of Indo-China now look to the Trotskyists for leadership in a direct assault upon the Daladier semi-fascist government.

(3) Syria: We quote dispatches from Damascus and Angora:

“Reports from Syria indicate that the rising of tribesmen in the Kurd Mountains is spreading daily in an alarming manner. Tribesmen armed with two field guns, machine guns and modern rifles have sent an ultimatum to the French authorities demanding the immediate release of their chief and fifty others who had been arrested.”
“The police fired on crowds this morning demonstrating against the action of the Syrian authorities to suppress disorders. The French government notified the Syrian government that they were taking over all powers necessary to preserve internal security. All police functions have been transferred to the Mandatory Power (France).”

All of Syria has been swept by a series of general strikes and mass protest demonstrations against the brutal French rule for the past year. This colonial people is a sharp needle in the side of French imperialism and is in the forefront of the colonial struggles.

(4) The African Colonies: France’s holdings in eastern and western Africa are experiencing the same general nationalist revival as the British African colonies. Reports indicate intense organization of negro sailors, dock workers, plantation workers, etc. Here, too, the French fear for the security of their rule.

It took two hundred years to construct the French Empire with its 100,000,000 people. It will take a fraction of that time for its destruction and replacement by independent nations of workers and peasants. Just as surely as the British Empire is doomed, so is that of France.

The position of the Fourth International is crystal-clear. We are the opponents of all world imperial systems, be it that of Britain, France, America, Germany, Italy or Japan. There is not the slightest difference between the fascist imperialisms and the “democratic” imperialisms beyond the fact that each wants what the other has. The oppressed colonial peoples, forming the overwhelming bulk of mankind, will refuse to march in any war except one for their own liberation. They will show the workers of Europe and America who the real enemy is and how they too can win their freedom.

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