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Terence Phelan

Labor Militancy Rises Anew in France;
Progressives Gain Strength in Unions

Reject People’s Frontism at Left Socialist Convention;
New Awakening Seen in Political Trends

(July 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 31, 30 July 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

PARIS, July 19. – While bourgeois Paris gawps at the dummy sovereigns of England amid expensive decorations whose principal motif is the fasces, and whose featured entertainment is the display at Versailles of French imperialism’s armed might, proletarian Paris wonders rather what were the exact contents of the “letters” exchanged between the French and British premiers on the eve of the visit, unconfirmedly rumored to be the final sealing of the Franco-British alliance.

For the French working class is justifiably jumpy. In recent weeks it has seen Daladier-laGuerre’s Radical-Socialist government release the last of the fascist “cagoulards,” while at the same time imposing crushing jail sentences on the aroused workers and students of Tunisia, France’s martial-law colony in North Africa – 200 years of prison sentences in one month. (So severe is the repression that even the reformist-socialist newspapers have been suppressed – and Blum & Co., heretofore deaf to the appeals of the miserably exploited worker natives, suddenly howl to high heaven themselves.

Franco Welcomes Doriot

The French worker has just read of Franco’s triumphal reception of the renegade communist Doriot, most dangerous of French fascist leaders, while the Stalinists push ahead for unity with anyone, including fascists, who will help them build up France’s imperialist war-machine.

Bosses simply scorn the decisions of governmental arbitrators when not overwhelmingly in their favor; they snipe off any militant who protests; and they proceed, with the help of the “explanations” of Stalinist intermediaries, to the most bare-faced sabotage of the hard-won 40-hour week. And the cost of living inexorably rises.

Strikes Increasing

But the workers begin to grow not only jumpy but angry. And impatient. Strikes (characteristically sit-downs that the union leaders are hard put to turn into evacuations) again increase: the whole building-trades in the Isere; 700 metal-workers at Marseilles; other strikes in Guingamp, Venisseux, Prouvy – significantly including war industries, which infuriates the war-mongering Stalinist Humanité. Equally infuriated is the big-bourgeois Temps, at the Marseilles dock workers, who have found their own way to enforce the 40-hour week, i.e. to work 40 hours and then go home, leaving Le Temps to tear its hair all it wants to. It is still a long way from June 1936, yet workers’ militancy seems to have passed the low ebb. In June the conference of trade union minorities issued a powerful appeal throughout the national trade union federation, the C.G.T. Its program, condemning the fatal class-collaboration policies of the Popular Front, calling for a return to the class-struggle policies of 1936, met an immediate response, spread rapidly through the C.G.T., and continues to win increasingly impressive support. The bureaucrats at the top are feeling the pressure, are being driven to the left.

Statement Causes Flurry

On July 17, Leon Jouhaux, reformist head of the C.G.T., announced that the interrupted reforms must be completed. “And that day,” he added, “may be near: October or November may call us to action. We are prepared for it. The fascists will not pass in October 1938 any more than they passed in February 1934.”

Le Temps immediately threw front-page fits: this was not the language it had expected from the tame Green-like Jouhaux – especially since as recently as June 25, when at the Rassemblement du Front Populaire the Radical-Socialists, by flinging back in their faces the Socialist and Communist propositions, had proved the political death of the Popular Front, Le Temps had permitted itself some pompous gloating over the “impotence” of the Left. Jouhaux is certainly no firebrand, and if he speaks as above, the rank-and-file must be putting some uncomfortable iron in his soul.

“Left Socialist” Convention

Also significant are some of the decisions of the constitutional convention of the new “left socialist” party, the P.S.O.P., on July 16–18. It is still ideologically a muddled grouping (e.g. in one committee of 12, there were five distinct and warring tendencies); yet although it refused to receive a delegation from the revolutionary socialist party, the P.O.I., and mildly condemned the Fourth International as having insufficient internal democracy (this from some of the bureaucratic ex-wheel-horses of the Socialist Party!), yet many of its positions were progressive.

Its supposed ideological leader, Marceau Pivert was so soundly trounced on a motion to affiliate with the Popular Front that he thought it prudent not even to bring up his pet project of affiliation with the London Bureau; and the P.S.O.P., after roundly condemning the Second and the Third International for their notorious betrayals, remains for the time internationally unattached. It sent a strong protest to the Spanish Loyalist Government for its suspicious imprisonment of POUMists and other militants; and protested equally strongly to its own government against the savage repressions in all French colonies. The party rejecting the term “revolutionary defeatism,” it nevertheless called for revolutionary defeatism in other terms. And lastly, significant in view of Pivert’s notorious affiliations, it sent to referendum a vote to expel all Freemasons, a politically active and class-collaborationist fraternal organization in France.

Party Direction Undecided

Those whom the fatal role of the POUM, which herded into a suicidal centrism the left-moving workers, has made, with much justification, suspicious, warn that the P.S.O.P. gives birth to a similar danger, especially should the Pivert group retain complete control. To them it can

be recalled that the POUM was a left-wing organization that moved right, whereas the P.S.O.P. is a right-wing organization moving left. There are furthermore signs that the maneuvering Pivertists are unsteady in the saddle. It is not yet excluded that the pressure of rank-and-file militants, pushing the party policies from the centre to the left, may make it true revolutionary party. Meanwhile the Fourth Internationalists give it their friendly criticism, and make every effort to establish with it united fronts – against capitalism and its social lackeys, for the workers’ revolution.

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