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Maurice Spector

From People’s Front to French Front

(October 1936)

From Socialist Alternative, October 1936, Volume 2 No. 9, Page 10-14.
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell and David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

THE EYES of the world are focused on the civil war in Spain, but recent developments indicate that France too, is speeding towards a denouement no less fateful. A new strike wave of elemental force has registered the bankruptcy of the Matignon Agreements of last July. The Popular Front and the Blum government have entered the stage of crisis and inevitable collapse. Reaching fresh heights of nationalist frenzy, the Communist party proposes to transform the Popular Front into a “Front Francaise,” a National Union of all classes.

That the Matignon settlements would settle nothing was evident to anyone with the slightest understanding of Marxism. The occupation of the factories, startling the collective party and trade union bureaucracies, was an unmistakable expression of a revolutionary situation, and a no less unmistakable, even if implied, demand for workers’ control. Realizing that this potentially revolutionary movement threatened the reformist perspectives of the Popular Front, Blum, aided by Jouhaux and Thorez, hastily improvized the terms of the Matignon agreements as a means of effecting the evacuation of the factories. Even then hundreds of shop delegates vigorously protested the action of their communist representatives in the negotiations. But if the Stalinist leaders were able to stifle the strike movement of June, they are unable to prevent the resurgence of its causes. Strikes again follow in rapid succession, strikes for wage increases, strikes of solidarity, sit-in strikes. First the metal workers of Grenoble, then the lead miners of Savoy, the seamen of the Havre, the textile workers of Lille, the automobile workers of the Renault plant who sing the “Internationale” and hoist the red flag.

Nor could it be otherwise. The economic crisis that holds French capitalism in its deadly grip can neither be solved by patchwork reforms nor conjured away by exhuming the slogans of 1789. Only heroic measures which challenge the very foundations of capitalist society can solve this crisis. But the Popular Front is self-confessedly not the kind of government to take such measures. Finance Minister Auriol declares: “We are pursuing our common effort within the framework of the capitalist system ... The Popular Front has never considered and so long as it exists as a government of liberty and democracy, it will never consider seizing property, sequestrating goods, overturning the social regime, or attacking liberty.” Then what indeed, will the Blum government be pleased to consider? It will strive to operate as a glorified board of arbitration and conciliation between the forces of revolution and counter-revolution. But the fate of Kerensky in Russia, the tragic experiences of the German and Austrian proletariat, and the civil war in Spain all point the inescapable fact that nowhere and at no time has such a course for long been possible.

Reforms Ineffective

Floundering around to placate both capital and labor, the government only succeeds in augmenting chaos. Even the social reforms that Blum enacts cannot be realized in the framework of present-day French capitalism without sharpening the crisis. The wage increases of July have been more than cancelled by the rise in the cost of living. Wholesale prices have increased 7 per cent and retail prices 3 1/2 per cent. The manufacturers claim that labor costs have increased from 8 to 22 per cent. The small capitalist who voted for the People’s Front complains that he cannot compete with the Trusts. The peasant owner fears that the crisis of the franc will be solved at his expense by means of inflation. The budgetary deficit for 1936 amounts to 23 billion francs. There is an increasingly adverse trade balance.

As a result, the masses are again on the march. Once more the workers are occupying the factories, a revolutionary phenomenon that strikes at the heart of capitalist law and order. How does the Blum government react? In his recent speech Daladier said the following:

“We will not permit excesses caused by men who follow not the wise counsels of labor leaders but agents provocateurs .... it is therefore necessary to put an end to these endlessly renewed occupational conflicts which would end by disorganizing production and trade and also by gravely compromising national defense.” This matter of “national defense” was particularly calculated to reach the Communist party, which is prepared to sacrifice every class interest of the proletariat to the exigencies of the Franco-Soviet Pact. The Minister of the Interior, Salengro, knew this, when turning to Duclos, communist Vice-President of the Chamber, he demanded, “Yes or no! If I am obliged to use public force to compel the evacuation of the factories, will you support me?” To which the Stalinist Duclos humbly responded with “Yes.”

Stalinists Draw “Lesson” from Spain

It is the characteristic dream of every social-reformist coalition government that when it takes the reins of office, the class struggle will obligingly suspend itself. Unfortunately for the Popular Front, no period of history was ever in more bitter conflict with the routine of constitutionalism. While the Stalinists were still pointing to the Popular Front majority in Spain as the means of peacefully liquidating Fascism, Franco was preparing the Fascist coup d’├ętat that brought the armies of bloody counter-revolution to the very gates of Madrid. The subordination of the program of social revolution to the interests of the bourgeois democracy has decidedly failed to stop Fascism or prevent civil war. It has perhaps mortally jeopardized the Spanish revolution. But that is not the lesson the French Stalinists draw from the Spanish events. Speaking to a mass meeting at the Renault plant, Maurice Thorez, leader of the CP declares: “We refuse, especially in the light of the horror of the Spanish events, to accept the perspective of two camps irreconcilably ranged against each other and leading to a civil war which for our country would be more fatal than for Spain, if only because of the threat of Hitler.” (L’HUMANITE, Sept. 4).

The logic of the Franco-Soviet military pact and of its prime sponsors, the Soviet bureaucracy, unfolds remorselessly. The Popular Front has not proved an effective enough means to curb the class struggle in the interests of national unity. The French proletariat must be delivered over yet more firmly to the orders of the General Staff. It is no accident that at the very time that Stalin was ordering the execution of survivors of the Bolshevik Old Guard, and monstrously framing of a connection between Trotsky and the Gestapo, Stalin’ agency in France was promoting the idea of a new alignment, the “French Front.” Every fresh Stalinist betrayal of the principles of Bolshevism has been accompanied by a like attack on the Leninist revolutionaries, in order to create a diversion and to strangle all criticism.

“National Union” Slogan of C.P.

What is to be the program of the C.P’s projected National Front? The answer is suggested by Jaques Duclos in L’HUMANITE. “What,” he writes, “are the problems which demand the attention of all Frenchmen anxious for the future of our country, if it is not the maintenance of order, defense of the national economy, and national security.” The language is bitterly familiar. It was the language of Ebert, Scheidemann and Noske, executioners of the German revolution. It does not vary greatly from the language of Hitler or Mussolini. The “maintenance of order” means the Stalinist sabotage of the class struggle, keeping the workers fettered to the wage system for fear of disturbing “national unity.” “One must understand how to end strikes” said Thorez in July. Certainly the workers’ occupation of the factories or any attempt at workers' control does not conduce to the “maintenance of order” under capitalism, and Duclos has reference to no other social order. What “national security” means is equally clear from Thorez’ article in the same organ: “Peace must be defended at all costs. We must welcome the collaboration of all who are in favor of peace. We must come to an understanding with Poland despite the fact that its constitution is not truly democratic, with Italy despite Mussolini and even with Hitler’s Germany ...” It is well known that last summer for the first time in its history, the parliamentary representation of the French Communist party merely abstained on the vote for military credits whereas in the past it always opposed them. But now Duclos is actually urging the Army Committee of the Chamber to convene more quickly in order to take measures in reply to Hitler's introduction of the three-year term. “The fascist officers sow division in the army. However they are your superiors. You must obey them. Be disciplined even under their orders,” so advises LE CONSCRIT, (Aug. 29) Stalinist organ, the young conscripts who might otherwise be anti-militarist.

Socialists Reject French Front

The project of the Front Francaise has been received with mixed feelings by the Radical and rejected by the Socialist party (SFIO). It is an embarrassing turn of events for the Radicals. They used to be in a real National Front in former days, and broke with their nationalist allies. Now they are invited to join this neo-nationalist creature. The Socialists used to be in a Left Bloc (or Cartel) and broke with it under the pressure of the crisis and radicalization of the masses. Now they are invited not merely to rejoin the Left Cartel (they did that in the form of the Popular Front under the pressure of the Stalinists) but to become part of a National Front, which is to include even the most reactionary and imperialist section of the big bourgeoisie, the Clericals, and the Fascist Croix de Feu, if it is willing. The POPULAIRE of September 4 reports that at its recent session the Executive Committee of the Socialist party turned thumbs down on the communists’ project on the ground that it was nothing but an attempt to resurrect the National Union.

The action of the Socialists has been received with rage by the Stalinists, even though they dissemble it. The rift in the Popular Front must lead to a complete cleavage. The ultra-nationalist Communist party, motivated principally by the needs of Stalin’s foreign policy, is not satisfied with the semi-pacifism of its socialist allies. Meanwhile in the Socialist party voices are raised in favor of a return to a united front (of working class parties and organizations) which would resume the struggle for political power. As they meet with opposition to their nationalist plans, the Stalinists will attack the Socialists with the same fury that PRAVDA attacked Bauer and other leaders of the Second International, for failing to endorse the frame-up of the Moscow trials. Fantastically enough PRAVDA interprets the intervention of the leaders of the Second International as an attempt “to sabotage the united front of the working class. in order to create a united front with the bourgeoisie.” Shameless is perhaps a better description of PRAVDA than fantastic.

United Front Versus Popular Front

The course of the French C.P. has not escaped challenge from its own ranks, as the expulsion of Andre Ferrat from the Central Committee proves. Ferrat has come to a realization that the CP has abandoned the position of the class struggle in favor of class collaboration. But his conclusions with regard to the Popular Front show a lack of realization of its real significance. Ferrat said he was not hostile to the Popular Front but only to those of its tactics which spelled the “sacred union.” He is for the Popular Front of the June strike wave and the alliance of the workers and lower middle classes. But what he fails to see is that the June strikes (like the present strikes) are in irreconcilable contradiction with the aims and conditions of the Popular Front. There is no other Popular Front than this coalition on the basis of the capitalist system and bourgeois democracy. The Popular Front is not the United Front. The latter is the joint action for concrete class objectives in the struggle of working class parties and organizations. We oppose the Popular Front because we are for the United Front of the working class against the capitalist class. There can be no other means of organizing the struggle against either Fascism or war, than in the struggle against the capitalist state.

The Popular Front has failed to effect the “reconciliation of all Frenchmen” or bring a “strong, free and happy France.” It has not stopped Fascism in Spain and is not stopping Fascism in France. On the contrary, the French bourgeoisie is taking advantage of the helplessness of the Blum government to regain the initiative. They bent before the storm in June, but only because they knew their Popular Front government. The bourgeois leaders knew they had nothing to lose. If the Blum Government acted like every conventional bourgeois ministry, it was immaterial whether Blum was Prime Minister or Daladier or Herriot. They knew that the decisive role in the government would be played by the Radicals, Daladier and the others. Should the Blum government be unable to curb the restive proletariat, a state of disorder would follow (“anarchy”), the state that preceded the advent of Mussolini in Italy, seizure of factories. They would then urge Fascism as the salvation of the country from disorder and production from “anarchy.” Besides Fascism still lacks a wide enough mass basis. La Rocque has not quite satisfied the requirements of a supple Fascist demagogue. A candidate for this role has come forward in the person of Jacques Doriot, former Stalinist leader.

A Possible Savior

Doriot preaches the national revolution, against social conservatism and alien interference. He declares that he is prepared to use all means, even parliamentary, to gain power. Here is a demagogue with a communist past and some roots in the masses, who has already taken away thousands of aristocratic La Rocque’s following, and whose party, the French Popular party, with its organ “EMANCIPATION NATIONALE,” has already received the widest publicity in the country. Not the least significant feature of Doriot’s propaganda is based on what he well knows of the nationalist degeneration of the Stalinist bureaucracy both in Moscow and in Paris. He too is confidently counting on the inevitable failure of the Blum government to cope with the fundamental problems of the crisis. And no less astutely is he taking advantage of the social-patriotic agitation of the CP, to accuse it of attempting to drive France into a war with Hitler in the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.

No, the Front Populaire has not stopped Fascism. It has only retarded the working class. It has fed them with parliamentary illusions. It has brought no alleviation in the economic situation. It has not armed the French working class against such an eventuality as the Spanish events. But if the Popular Front in France can not fight Fascism, neither can the Popular Front prevent the working class, as the crisis gets more acute, from resorting to revolutionary action. Whether or not the French proletariat will defeat Fascism and triumph over the capitalist, state, depends on the degree to which the French proletariat emancipates itself from the illusions of the Popular Front, and in its elemental surging mass action, crystallizes a revolutionary party, a party of Marx and Lenin.

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Last updated: 28 September 2008