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Henry Judd

CP Exploits Workers’ Grievances for Own Ends

Strikes Rock France

(1 November 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 44, 1 November 1948, pp. 1 & 3
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The present strike of France’s 400,000 coal miners not only has created a deep political and social crisis in that chronically crisis-ridden land, but poses again for socialists – and this time perhaps in its clearest form to date – many difficult and delicate questions concerning Stalinism, etc. These problems are neither easy to answer nor simple to meet and we hardly pretend an ability to solve them with total satisfaction to all those interested. Yet, obviously, they cannot be ignored since they return to constantly plague us.

But, first, let us recapitulate the facts of the situation. For three weeks, 400,000 miners in France’s coal industry have been on strike. The Stalinist-led, controlled and dominated CGT (General Confederation of Labor) – and it must be realized that this control is exercized with typical Stalinist “firmness” – launched the strike ostensibly as a militant trade union action to better the miner’s conditions of life. France’s coal miners are not only hounded by the same inflationary wage-price spiral which affects the entire French working class, but they also live under far more miserable conditions than, for example, do the miners of America and England. Wages coverage about $60 per MONTH and the miners’ small towns are pitiful sights.

At the beginning of the strike, the anti-Stalinist CGT Workers Force and the Catholic miners’ unions went along, but soon withdrew their support when other political factors became dominant in the situation. About 60 per cent of the miners belong to the Stalinist-led CGT, about 30 per cent (mostly Italian and Polish immigrant miners) belong to the Catholic unions and a negligible portion to the newly formed Workers Force of Leon Jouhaux.

Stalinist Aims

The call of the two non-Stalinist unions to return to work meant little or nothing in practice since the bulk of the miners are in the Stalinist CGT organization and, in any case, the others are hardly likely to attempt strike-breaking action against their fellow workers. Nor are they likely to buck aggressive Stalinist picket squads at the mine heads at the side of the police and troops. Thus the strike is, in effect, general and effective to the tune of three million tons of coal needed by France’s basic industries.

The strike rapidly assumed its true and dominant character – a clear-cut political attack and adventure launched by French Stalinism at the orders of the Moscow ruling clique, with the openly avowed aim of striking a heavy blew at the Marshall Plan and French economic recovery. All this, of course, under the guise of satisfying the obviously legitimate needs and demands of the French miners.

For once the Stalinist leaders have not bothered to attempt to conceal their aims in a mass strike action but have openly announced their object of crippling the Marshall Plan, sabotaging French industry and creating as profound a social crisis as they possibly can, in the interests of Moscow’s program of European conquest. The very manner in which they have run this and similar strikes is clear enough. Simultaneously with the coal strike, they have organized revolving strikes (that is, the type that move swiftly from one area to another) in steel and on the railroads, knowing that such strikes most effectively upset transportation and heavy industries.

They are conducting a political and economic guerrilla warfare against the French state and its ally, American imperialism. There is no effort to mobilize the French proletariat systematically for effective strike action and to gain organized demands. It is rather a fastmoving system of UTILIZING their influence among the workers for harassing actions and demonstrations that will effectively lower French productivity.

Such are clearly the tactics and strategy Moscow has ordered them to pursue and which, most effectively, one must admit, they are carrying out. That this sabotages and undermines the effectiveness of the legitimate French labor movement at the same time is of no concern to them.

Do Not Aim At Power Now

Since French Stalinism cannot take political power now, it is being utilized by Stalin for the NEXT best purpose: a guerrilla army in his cold war with America. In an interesting article in the current issue of the Fourth International, E. Germaine advances the speculative thesis that since Stalin and the French Stalinist leadership realize that they cannot take power now independently of the Russian army, they have decided to pursue this adventuristic game of sabotage, even if it expends their human capital, and to pursue the general strategy of permitting General de Gaulle to come to power. Under the expected reactionary and anti-labor regime of the French Bonapartist they will seek to build up a neo-resistance movement in underground form which, when the Russian troops ultimately complete their march through Europe, will then take power in France behind the Stalinist bayonets. While this speculative thesis cannot be proved, the entire actions of the French party seem to bear it out. In any case, it is clear that this is the trend of events. The French government and the French ruling class as a whole are paving the way at this moment for the taking over of power by de Gaulle and his organization. This is the clear trend in French politics.

Under the Stalinist leadership, the French miners cannot win either their political or even minimum economic demands. They are being used by a criminal gang who will lead them straight to the twin disaster of worsened economic conditions in the country and the advent to power of Europe’s outstanding candidate for neo-dictatorship and militarism. This is the essence of Stalinist leadership.

Nothing more reveals the Stalinist intent than their action in withdrawing the mines’ safety and maintenance crews, thus allowing many to become flooded and damaged. This is not the action of a leadership preparing to take social power and run the economy in the interests of the nation – it is the action of professional saboteurs.

What Policy for Socialists?

What then must be the attitude of a socialist and revolutionary toward such action? The French government, as to be expected, has responded with troops and organized police action, resulting in much violence against the miners. Their deliberate aim is to smash the strike by force and violence, in the hope that the division of the miners themselves will lead many back to work and a resumption of mining. The leadership of the non-Stalinist unions is tacitly supporting this response and has urged the miners back to work, denouncing the strike as purely political.

The Socialist Party, part of the government, has issued a statement endorsing this strike-breaking activity of the state. The Stalinists have maneuvered the miners into a situation where, unprepared, they must meet the full force of a brutal assault by the state and its various political and labor supporters. The Socialist Party has brought further disgrace on its already unpopular name, and the CGT-Workers Force has probably forever excluded the possibility of gaining any influence among the miners. Clearly no socialist can do anything but condemn such responses.

On the other hand, it is equally impossible to keep silent on the Stalinist leadership and motivation of the strike, or go along with it in the general name of “working class solidarity.” The stupidity of the French Trotskyists reaches downright criminal lengths when the gist and burden of their “criticism” of the Stalinist leadership is that “they don’t go far enough”; “they don’t want to take power,” etc. All this, don’t you see, because the Stalinists are, at bottom, agents of the capitalists and “reformists.” The meaning of this criticism seems to be that the Stalinists should strive to take power NOW, then they would be good revolutionists! This ignorance and misrepresentation of the situation is every bit as repulsive as the statements and activities of the Socialists and supporters of Jouhaux.

What, then, must be the role of French revolutionaries in the coal fields? Basing themselves on the two fundamental conceptions that a socialist belongs organically to the working class (regardless of his lack of influence; even if he has none), and that only the working class has the historic possibility of leading our world out of its current mess, he must give his support to the French miners against the capitalist state and march along with the miners. But his problem is far greater than that since he has a fight on two fronts to wage: against the government and its strike-breaking machine; against the Stalinist leadership and its sabotage machine. The line of the CGT-Workers Force and the Socialist Party can appear in the eyes of the miners only as a united front with the police and the government and anyone who knows a miner knows that when the cops come into sight he’ll fight against them. Such a line is excluded for a socialist.

A Struggle on Two Fronts

But this strike and such strikes must and can only lead to defeat. The strike must be ended at the least possible cost to the workers. The role of the socialist can thus be that of attempting to organize the inevitable retreat, of seeking to protect the miners’ union as a union against the government and the Stalinists, of preparing an organized retreat. The Stalinists will go as far as they think it is possible to go and still retain control over the miners.

It must be borne in mind also that Stalinist domination over the miners is not purely one of influence and conviction, for the Stalinists have an organized machine for spreading terror among doubting or opposition workers. It is false to believe that the crowds of workers who fight the police and troops are overwhelming rank-and-file miners – more than anything else they are the aggressive cadres of the local Stalinist cells and organizations.

Socialists must fight within these unions tor democratic controls, tor secret elections in strike ballots and real discussions before strike action. The work for socialists in France is cut out for them – a struggle with the workers on the two fronts of class struggle against the government and political struggle against the Stalinists. Obviously this is an extremely difficult task and can hardly be expected to have quick successes. Yet there seems to us no other possible alternative for one who still wishes to consider himself a socialist, independent of both Stalinism and reactionary capitalism.

The whole meaning of these tactics is to attempt to revive the independent thought, activity and consciousness of the working class as such.

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