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Terence Phelan

Popular Front Breaks French Sit-Downs;
Gov’t Calls Troops

(January 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 2, 8 January 1938, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

French labor was given another bitter and illuminating lesson in the real nature of Popular Frontism last week when their P.F. Government smashed within 24 hours the general strike of Paris municipal workers.

Opposed by the trade-union bonzes, and only tardily supported by the band-wagon Stalinists, the strike was forced by the militant pressure of a rank and file fed up with the failure of protracted class-collaborationist ‘negotiations’. More than 120,000 responded to the strike call: all transport service, by subway, by bus, and tram, was completely stopped; gas, electricity, and sanitary services were cut to the minimum; and only skeleton service was maintained in street lighting, water, etc.

Savage Threats

The answer of that great friend of labor, the People’s Front Government, was instantaneous and savage: it called out the Mobile Guards, brought in 1,000 troops ready to break the strike (as they were already doing in the truck-drivers’ strike), and to cap all, threatened to call the striking workers (who are army reservists) to the colors for strike duty, so that, as French soldiers, they had either to act as their own strike-breakers or face court-martial for desertion or mutiny – a method of repression which marks a new low in the hypocritical cynicism of class-collaborationist reformism.

But a strike is a strike. The superiority of genuine class-struggle mass action over round-table deals is shown by the fact that fear forced the P.F. to couple to its military threats a half-way concession – it is reported that they offered the Paris workers between 50 and 70 francs (1.85 to 2.31) a month instead of the demanded minimum of between 100 and 150 francs as a special high-cost-of-living grant (the French price-index has increased 50 per cent in the last year). But the reports are conflicting; and, as matters stand in France, even this wretched amelioration may well be stolen from the workers, now they have returned to work, in the final negotiations.

Stalinist ‘Explanations’

French labor will not soon forget this lesson, following immediately upon the government’s use of the army as strike-breakers in the walkout of grocery workers and truck drivers. Even the Paris council of the C.G.T. (French equivalent of the A.F. of L.) has sharply protested against the Popular Front’s fascist threat to mobilize the workers into the army to break their own strike. The Stalinist newspaper 1’Humanité, however, makes the following statement under the heading “People’s Front Victory”:

“The workers’ victory is a victory of the People’s Front. Doriot, de la Rocque, the trusts and the newspapers all urged the government to use force, to throw itself into the arms of reaction.

“But the government, reflecting the extent of the movement, its echoes and realizations, realized this must not be done.”

Do these bland liars think the French working class is deaf, dumb, blind, and feeble-minded? The Popular Front government mobilized the Gardes Mobiles and 1,000 troops against the strike, prepared for even heavier army repression; and these cynical Stalinist editors proclaim ‘the government ... realized this must not be done.’ ‘A People’s Front Victory’ alas it was – a victory over the Paris municipal workers by French capital acting through its Popular Front lackeys; that even a compromise settlement has been precariously obtained is because the government of the Front Populaire, though promising its finance-capital masters that it would ‘use the utmost vigor ...’ ‘and despite all resistance ensure the resumption of public service’ etc., was afraid both of provoking the militancy of the aroused workers too far and of revealing too plainly to its deceived working-class following the mailed fist within the famous ‘outstretched hand’.

The Lesson

The hammer-blows of these facts are reforming the militancy and class-consciousness of the French workers. The government they elected and re-elected to protect parliamentarily the gains won in the revolutionary struggles of May–June 1936 has given them the diametric opposite results: the vicious law of December 30, 1936 which established the fascist principle of compulsory arbitration and outlawing of strikes; the devaluation of the franc and the unchecked skyrocketing of the cost of living; leniency to the fascist gangs coupled with savage repression of workers’ mass action. The lesson is simple: class struggle won the gains; class-collaboration lost them.

Tragically, however, the uninformed worker turned naturally to the powerful C.P., which to him represented the extreme left; and here the Stalinist bureaucracy, prostituting the prestige of the October Revolution it is now liquidating, again tried to canalize the worker’s revolt into class-collaboration with its tactic of what the French worker calls ‘headstuffing’, bourrage de crane. But that even this will not any longer hold back the indignant French worker is demonstrated these days, as predicted in these columns, by a rising strike-wave.

As soon as the department store sit-ins win their gains, the truck-drivers and warehousemen strike in Paris; then the transport workers in Valenciennes. No sooner have these been ‘settled’ by the army than the coal-miners are out at Anzin. As we write, the ship-strike at Rouen goes on; the food-handlers walk out at Grand-Combe; the powerfully organized metal-trades vibrate with rank-and-file pressure for real strike-action following, singularly provocative lock-outs. The opportunist Stalinist tops and their trained seals in the trade-unions alternately soothe, sabotage, or jump on the bandwagon; government arbitrators hastily throw clean collars and assorted sell-out plans into their suitcase and entrain for troubled points; the Popular Front talks of its love for labor and democracy, and calls out the troops.

Leadership Needed

The wave is yet a ground-swell only, but it surges and mounts. Whether it will be flattened again by the disillusion of repeated betrayals, or sweep up into a triumphant wave like that of May–June 1936, depends above all upon the workers’ finding true revolutionary leadership. In factories and mines where the Bolshevik-Leninists of the IV International have not even been heard of save through the filthy slanders of the Stalinist press, the workers, kicking over the traces of their reformist leadership, are instinctively carrying out the precise slogans of the rapidly growing but still small Bolshevik-Leninist party, the P.O.I. (Workers Internationalist Party). Only the monstrous incubus of Stalinism stands between, slandering, betraying, defeating.

Time is short. French finance capital, though it still hopes to retain its choking grasp on French economy through its left hand, the Radical-Socialist Party and the Popular Front, before venturing on the more expensive and risky expedient of rule through its right hand, Fascism of both Hitler and Franco varieties, will yet inevitably, by the very nature of capitalism, be forced to go fascist. The French workers must be ready: ready with workers’ militias, with naturally linked factory and soldiers’ committees, ready above all this time to carry through to the end, the socialist revolution.

Time is shortening, but there is yet time to save France from the fate of Spain. P.O.I. led, or, gropingly, self-led or leaderless, the French workers are beginning to find the way.

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