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Henry Judd

World Politics

Thorez and Togliatti

(7 March 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 10, 7 March 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In statements made by them this past week both Maurice Thorez, head of the French Communist Party which still has about 1,500,000 members, and Palmiro Togliatti, head of the Italian Stalinist movement with about 2,000,000 members, have both deliberately provoked the possibility of arrest of themselves, their parties’ respective top leaders and, finally the outlawing of their organizations. The question naturally is: what lies behind this careful provocation on their part; why was it made at this particular moment; how does it fit into the well thought-out tactics and strategy of Moscow? For there should be no mistake about that. These statements, although uttered in French and Italian, were written in Moscow or wherever the Cominform now has its central bureau.

But, first, let us be clear as to what these two Stalinist gentlemen had to say. The phony “peace” offensive undertaken some weeks back by the decrepit Marcel Cachin, the Stalinist Senator from Brittany, has now dried up and this antique has been put back on the shelf. The reaction of America to that offer was its concretization of the terms of the impending North Atlantic military alliance. Against this background, Thorez had his say, to the effect that if Russia should be obliged to invade France (in a war with America, of course) the French Stalinists would openly side with the Russian armies. In his rhetorical way, Thorez stated that in the event of war “... could the workers of France have any other attitude toward the Soviet Army than has been that of the people of Poland, Rumania and Yugoslavia?” A cynic might, of course, willfully interpret this to “mean” that the French would do their damndest to throw out the Russians, but everyone knows what Thorez had in mind.

From the viewpoint of the French government this, of course, is a treasonable statement. A strong, unified French government (not the shaky thing that passes for a government now) might have clapped Thorez in jail at once. Instead, the reactions so far have been rather timid – a resolution condemning Thorez passed by the National Assembly, without depriving him of his Assembly immunity from arrest; some raids on secondary Stalinist headquarters; a few arrests of fifth rate Stalinists, etc. It is possible, however, that the government is contemplating a more violent reaction at a later date. So it is, the general situation of stalemate probably means that the matter will rest and tend to die out unless the Stalinists pursue their provocative course.

Togliatti Goes a Step Further

In Italy, Stalinist Togliatti made much the same declaration. After poopoohing the whole idea of the Russians coming as far as Italy, Togliatti, with deliberate hypocrisy, nullified his own insistence that it was all a “hypothetical” matter by an even more specific and clearcut statement than that of Thorez. (Catch an Italian Stalinist leader being outdone by a French Stalinist!) “... the Italian people would have the evident duty to aid in the most efficient way the Soviet Army in order to give the aggressor (that’s America, of course) the lesson he deserves.” That is, Togliatti proposes active and positive assistance to the Russian troops, whereas Thorez only talks about welcoming them (as did, allegedly, the Polish, Rumanian, etc., people). Uncle Joe will surely make a note of this in his index file of rewards and punishments.

Just what the even weaker Italian government will do with Togliatti is still more doubtful, unless, again, the Italian Stalinists pursue their provocations with other statements and actions. This, of course, would create a major crisis involving much broader issues than those at stake now and would change the whole picture. But this still seems unlikely.

So much for the facts in this evidently new “tactic” of western European Stalinism. What’s behind the whole performance?

One aspect is obvious enough. The North Atlantic security pact is coming Shortly, the differences are about to be worked out, and the tendency for the strengthening of western Europe – on a capitalist, militarist basis – continues to progress. This is therefore Stalinism’s open declaration of war on the coming military alliance of Western Europe, and all have understood it as such. It is both a warning and a threat, aimed at weakening the effects of the Pact and issued with perhaps a vague hope of even forestalling it. Thorez and Togliatti are both saying to their respective bourgeois governments – if you go to war against Russia, under American leadership, you will face “civil war” at home.

So much is clear, but the question still remains: why should western European Stalinism, a movement which has become distinctly weakened, less popular and much more actively opposed within the past year, risk its immediate future and actually court a further decline and loss of membership by such obviously provocative declarations? From their immediate viewpoint, both Italian and French Stalinism can only lose considerable ground now, particularly since they are incapable at this moment of taking power, or even seriously threatening to. This cannot be answered by merely saying that both parties are aware that the existing governments in France and Italy are too weak too suppress them, no matter what they say. This consideration naturally enters in the picture, but neither government is so weak as to be unable to annoy, disrupt and hamper public Stalinist performances and activities. Stalinism is in for rough times in both countries.

No Independent Road to Power

The question must be answered more tentatively and from various aspects. It has long been clear that western European Stalinism has little likelihood of coming to power now, today, independently, under its own force and steam. We believe that a new thought must be added to this now: namely, not only is this pretty much excluded, but Stalin (that is, the Russian ruling group) consciously and deliberately does not want this to happen! He desires Stalinism in power in France and Italy, to be sure, but only over a certain road. That road is not the independent political action of the French and Italian parties, but rather over the road of the Third World War; i.e., invasions of his Russian troops who will then hoist a dependent national Stalinist movement into the saddle. Stalinism to power over the Polish, Rumanian, Hungarian road – yes; but not to power via the road of Jugoslavia or China. The images of Tito and Mai-Tze-tung are probably haunting Stalin today equally as much as the visions of Truman and Churchill.

In this sense, the declarations of Thorez and Togliatti are also declarations of loyalty – that is, subservience – to Stalinism, Russian style. They are both declaring, to Stalin, their willingness to continue their present decline in influence and membership, to flirt with the danger of a renewed underground existence, etc., because they both accept the Stalin strategy of coming to power only during the course of a new world war. Stalin has demanded proof of loyalty and subservience. Partial proof has been the new-concluded violent purge that went on in both these parties. This is final proof that the leadership has abandoned any temptations of an independent road to power, outside of and against the will of Moscow. Will Stalin demand further proofs? That depends upon other factors. If he believes that war with America is coming closer, that it may come within the next four or five years, he most certainly will – including such provocative actions as would surely result in the suppression of his parties.

Such seems to be the meaning of these new tactical declarations. As to the charge of “treason” directed against the Stalinist leaders, they are most surely guilty if we clarify what we mean by “treason.” Yes, Togliatti and Thorez are treasonable agents of Russian imperialism, if by that we mean treasonable to the Italian and French people in general, and the working class in particular. In essence, they have declared their open intention of imposing Stalinist totalitarianistic dictatorships upon these people at their earliest opportunity. And that is treason in the real sense of the word; treason to a socialist future and humanity in general. No socialist can be so naive therefore, if they should be arrested and prosecuted, to consider this a “civil liberties” issue and to fight in their behalf; anymore than any socialist could side with his own government’s charges of “treason” since de Gasperi and Queille have an entirely different interpretation of this word than we do. Thorez and Togliatti are guilty, guilty in the judgment of socialism. We look forward to their appearance before a court of the people, charged with their crimes against humanity.

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