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Henry Judd

World Politics

France: The New de Gaullist Threat

(18 October 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 42, 18 October 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If economic and living conditions seem rather normal to the bulk of that great mass of American tourists who visited France this summer, it is largely because their failure to establish any relations with the French people leads them to judge conditions purely on the basis of how they, the Americans, fare. And, considering that for one measly dollar he receives 320 francs (400 or more on the black market), he can live under fairly luxurious conditions for about $25 a week, equivalent to spending $50 or $60 a week on himself in a city like New York. This leads, of course, to the most absurd conclusions on his part. Since, furthermore, he sees that the stores of Paris and Prance are filled with all possible types of commodities his ultimate conclusion is that recovery and revival have been fulfilled in the country. Nothing could be more mistaken, since France, more than any country in Europe today, is the victim of the wage-price relationship which expresses itself in the constant gap between earnings and living costs.

While industrial productivity and economic life in general have had an amazing recovery in France over the past year, this recovery has failed to reflect itself in a corresponding lifting of general living conditions and standards. A few facts will bear this out. Since 1938 average wages have increased TEN times. But the official cost of living index has gone up SEVENTEEN times over the same period! If food prices are marked on a base equivalent to 100 in 1938, the level in July 1948 was 1559 and in August 1948, it was 1716! Considering that the French family (worker and middle class) spends 50 to 60 per cent of its weekly budget for food alone – according to the French National Bureau of Statistics – the inescapable conclusion is that practically everything the French person earns through his work goes into his food budget.

Other standard items such as rent and typical household expenses take up the rest of his earnings and explain why the Frenchman today simply has no money in his pocket. The masses of people are poorer than ever before in French history! The 15 per cent general wage increase, together with last month’s 3,000 franc “prime,” has just been wiped out by price increases in coal, gas, electricity and railway fare.

Stabilization by No Means Reached

Under these circumstances, the new wave of disorganized and chaotic strikes, led primarily by the coal miners in the North and steel workers of the Lorraine area, cannot simply be explained by Stalinist machinations against the Marshall Plan program for France. In view of the fact that the mass of industrial and factory workers in France are still under the domination of the Stalinist CGT leadership (the CGT-Force Ouvrière of Jouhaux has remained stationary), the familiar and now obvious Stalinist program of economic sabotage plays its part. But without this ever-present prodding force of inflation and a franc whose purchasing value sinks rapidly toward zero, it is clear that the Stalinists would be unable to find such fertile ground for their operations. Politically, Stalinism has declined considerably and even among its militants there is a general apathy regarding political issues.

The most puzzling question in France today is why the sharp lifting in economic productivity failed to translate itself into a healthy and wholesale bettering of general social conditions? This is far from an academic question, since it means that those who held out the perspective that economic and social revival (due to natural forces within France itself as well as the huge sum of Marshall Plan aid) would inevitably result in a strengthening of the “middle-of-the-road” coalition government parties (Socialists, Radical Socialists and MRP), symbolizing a period of capitalist revival and stabilization – those who believed this have been wrong, at least until this point.

The possibility of such a “stabilization” developing now seems remote indeed. The explanation for this situation is not easy to find and involves a whole searching of French economy itself, with its chronic malfunctioning and unbalance, that we cannot go into at this point. Yet, this is the explanation behind the complex, often incomprehensible and fantastic picture of French politics today. Above all, it accounts for the revival, belligerence and aggressive activity of the de Gaullist movement which now drives for power.

The parties of parliamentary democracy have declined considerably since the groundwork for their growth – prosperity and stabilization – is not present. The Blum Socialist Party, above all, is probably now in the most pitiful condition of its history. The present National Assembly, elected on the perspective of a hoped-for stability, hardly reflects the nation’s opinions and has thus become an easy target for de Gaulle’s attacks. Since the Stalinists have still been unable to surmount the all-important obstacle in their path – that is, their political inability in the given situation to launch an actual political struggle for power – they too have declined considerably. Their meetings are uninspired and,their ranks are dull and listless. However, they are still organizationally the party of the French working class.

Gaullists Capitalize on Disillusion

Since this disillusion with time-honored parliamentary techniques is widespread, it is natural that the de Gaullists should capitalize most of all. Their proposals for a “solution,” a strong government that leads and acts, etc. – characteristic of Bonapartist-militaristic movements – have growing support. Its demand for a dissolution of the present National Assembly and general elections has much support. While it might not win an outright majority in such elections, it would certainly be the plurality party (perhaps 45 per cent of the votes) and might thus fulfill its desire to take political power peacefully.

The fact of the matter is that the division of France into the two camps of Stalinism and de Gaullism is sharper today than ever. This does not mean that France faces the prospect of civil war since, to begin with, parliamentary method – now represented by the crazy-quilt government of Premier Queuille – has not yet exhausted its last efforts and, more important, international factors tend to dampen the drifting toward civil war.

What of other political movements and tendencies within France? The once-promising Trotskyist Party (PCI) has, to all intents and purposes, vanished from this world after undergoing one final and humiliating split. Like the European Trotskyist movement in general it is unknown and not worth a moment’s attention. On the other hand, the movement known as the RDR retains its first promise and hopes. Its program calls for renewed activity along organizational and political lines and it will certainly intervene increasingly in the political and social life of France.

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