Europe's Rebirth

III. National Rebirth in France

There are striking similarities between the situations in Britain and France, but there are significant and very influential differences also. The similarities derive from and reflect, in the main, the fact that in France as in Britain, finance-capitalist interests and their political representatives still exert powerful influence in opposition to the surging pressure of the masses for democratic progress. The differences may be illustrated by the fact that whereas the United Kingdom one is impressed by the signs that an era is ending; the situation in France is dominated by the intense political struggle to determine the main lines and the perspectives of the era which the majority of French people recognize is beginning. Corresponding with that fact the change in class relationships is more advanced in France--as are the political issues of the day.

The reason for the more advanced stage of political activity in France is to be found in the terrific experiences of its people during the war. France was occupied by Hitler’ armies and the armies and police of his collaborators. Under Nazi protection Marshal Petain and his fascist associates tried to make France an active satellite of the Hitlerite axis. With honorable but rare exceptions the French bankers, industrialists, political representatives of big business, generals, admirals, and “men of state”, revealed themselves to their stunned countrymen as enemies of their country and its people. They welcomed Hitler’s conquest in the hope that he would preserve finance capitalist power and inherited privileges by crushing the democratic movement.

Against the Nazi invaders the best and most devoted sons of France joined hands in united struggle for national liberation. Their anti-Nazi struggle was, of necessity, simultaneously a struggle against Petain’s Vichy government and the profiteering collaboration whom it represented. The fight against internal reaction was an indispensable part of the struggle for democratic victory.

Thus, when France was liberated, a large and previously very influential section of the representatives and champions of political reaction had eliminated themselves from French democracy by taking their stand on the side of Hitler and Fascism. In many cases the powerful economic and financial interests which had provided the source and economic basis of fascist pro-Hitler reaction in France were nationalized--several of them without compensation.

In the course of the liberation struggle the democratic forces of the country became more united than ever before. The Communists wrote the record of their devotion to France in imperishable letters of blood. Seventy-five thousand members of the Party were murdered by the Nazis and the Vichy regime--it became known as “the Party of the executed ones.” As a result of the same profound national crisis which exposed most of the pre-war leaders of reaction and rallied the best of the nation under left-wing leadership. French democracy has made a tremendous leap forward. This leap is expressed not only in the new constitution but in the economic and social rights which have been established--including the right of workers in an enterprise to elect their own representatives to participate in its management. Marked progress has been made in the nationalization of industry. The coal mines, gas and electrical power production, aircraft manufacture, sections of the manufacturing industry, the banks of deposit and big insurance companies have been nationalized; and the trade union movement, grown to a membership of more than six millions united in one national Confederation, plays a new and influential role in shaping of national policy. Incidentally. I had the extreme joy of learning that Comrade Fredo Costes, the Secretary of the Metal Workers Federation, who captivated all who met him here in Canada in 1937, was not murdered in a concentration camp as we were previously informed. On the contrary, he escaped and resumed his active participation in the democratic movement. He is again in the leadership of the Metal Qorkers’ Federation. In the national elections he was elected again to a seat in the National Assembly.

The central, I think the decisive, immediate problem in France is that of production. The average level of production in French industry when I was there in March was approximately 90% of the average for 1938. Production is some industries, e.g., coal, rubber, rayon, was better than a hundred per cent. of the 1938 figure but in others it was considerably below even the average of ninety per cent. Furthermore, in some industries the problem of restoring production to pre-war levels involves a tremendous amount of construction to make good the devastation wrought during the war. But, as Benoit Franchon, Secretary General of the Confederation of Labor pointed out to me, “It would be a serious mistake to refer everything to the figures for 1938 and adjudge it good or bad accordingly.” As an example he explained the problem of coal. The problem or increasing production in general is very largely a problem of increasing the supply of coal to French industry. As a result of extraordinary efforts on the part of the miners, coal production has been increased to 110% of the 1938 figure in spite of the fact that tens of thousands of coal miners have returned to their native lands, particularly to Poland. But increased production in the French mines cannot make up for the lack of coal which was previously imported. Before the war France had to import about twenty million tons of coal per year--largely from Germany. Today France needs more than twenty million tons per year, because, in contrast to the policy of national nihilism that finance-capital with its fear of the democratic trend was pursuing, France must now increase iron and steel production sufficiently to cover all her needs. Benoit Franchon pointed out that this means increasing steel production from a little more than six million tons peer year (the 1939 figure) to fifteen million tons per year. Comrade Franchon summarized the general problem of the national production in the following words:

“We must direct the economic reconstruction of our country, and its modernization, towards an industrial system more complete and more coherent than that which existed forme5rly. It must be a system which insures our economic independence and at the same time permits us to take a ;larger share in international trade.”

Is the aim described by Franchon a practical one in the existing situation in France? Jacques Duclos, organization secretary of the nation’s largest political party (1) -- upon whose features I noted striking evidence of the intense strain of his historic six years of underground leadership of the anti-Nazi struggle in France--says that it is, and he quotes voluminous facts concerning the resources of France to support his opinion. What he emphasizes above all is the possibility of raising the general level of productivity in France by: (a) correcting the serious weakness in the country’s heavy industry--the production of means of production; (b) wider and more efficient utilization of water power resources and building central power and industrial plants close to the mines; (c) raising the technical and productive level of both industry and agriculture by modernization of equipment and methods of operation.(2)

Jacques Duclos emphasizes that these things will be accomplished only if the inexhaustible reservoir of energy and initiative which made the tremendous achievements of the Resistance Movement possible is now evoked in a united national struggle to raise production and living standards to new high levels. That immediately brings forward one of the most acute problems of the battle to increase production; namely the problem of wages and living standards of the working people. The working people of France are not getting enough. The workers, who through their organizations provide the main, indeed the decisive support fir the government’s effort to stabilize the franc and prices, are the hardest hit victims of the wholesale evasions of government regulations. Thus, while the franc exchanges for dollars at rates varying from 250 to 350 francs per dollar and prices are up to fantastic levels, workers’ wages lag far behind. The average for manual workers, including skilled workers was only forty-five to sixty francs per hour when I was there in March.(3) Expressing the cost of living in 1938 as 100, the cost-of-living index had almost reached 900 in middle of March while, measured on the same basis, wages stood at only 500. Obviously such a situation cannot continue indefinitely and, as Benoit Franchon warned me, the nation’s productive effort, and the accompanying battle to stabilize the franc and prices, may be endangered as a result of the greed of manufacturers and speculators who are selling France short in an orgy of black market and other forms of anti-national profiteering.

The Communist Party, which received more votes and elected more candidates than any other party,(4) has proposed a series of measures to stop the orgy of black marketeering, speculation, and the smuggling of real values out of the country. Its proposals include:

a) governmental control of all foreign trade;
b) enforce control of foreign exchange with severe penalties for evasion;
c) enforce price control in place of the present “regulation”; d) reform of state finances: all ordinary expenditures to be covered by ordinary revenue, the so-called “dpecial accounts” of the Ministry of Finance to be integrated in the ordinary annual budget and subjected to the scrutiny and control of Parliament, tax reform, correct the present bad relationship of short and long term financial obligations of the government;
e) extend nationalization to investment banks and bank specializing in foreign exchange and re-discount;
f) prompt and drastic action against the black marketeers and against illicit speculation in currency;
g) development of a new relationship of fraternal co-operation with the presently colonial peoples of the Empire;
h) re-establishment of Franc’s traditional relationship of trade and friendship with the nations of central and eastern Europe, support democratic forces in all countries, support the principle of big three unanimity in U.N.O.

The above summarizes the main features of the carefully worked out measures which the communist Party proposes as the means by which to assert the interests of the nation against the profiteering interests of speculators and the national nihilism of finance-capital. These measures are part of the comprehensive “Program of Governmental Action” put forward by the communist members of the National Assembly. This program outlines the nation’s needs and its immediate possibilities with the rational planned use of available resources in all spheres of the national economy. Manufacturing, coal, electricity, chemicals, petroleum, agriculture, consumers’ goods, commerce, prices, currency, foreign trade, reparations, trade agreements and government finances, are each considered as integral and indispensable branches of the country’ and properly related targets are proposed for each of them. As Maurice Thorez emphasizes: the prime idea of the program is “organize the productive effort to assure the economic rebirth of the nation without weakening in any way its independence.” He adds further that it proposes nothing which exceeds the powers of the National Assembly or the present capacity of the country, while the economic measures propose are the necessary basis for the social advance upon which the hearts of the French people are set.

The reason why such a rational and necessary program is not pressed vigorously as the program of the government is to be found in the transitional relationship of class forces and political parties in France.

The Party which received the largest popular vote (5) and elected the largest number of members to the National Assembly does not head the government. When the result of the voting in the national elections became known a united front of the Right rallied around the M.R.P., drawn together solely for the purpose announced by an official M.R.P. spokesman, who declared that all the actions of the grouping of which it was the centre would be aimed to prevent the establishment of a government headed by a Communist. It was the continuation in a new form of the campaign, previously headed by General De Gaulle, to excluded from governmental responsibility and authority the elected representatives of the most important sections of the French people, the workers and small farmers.

In that situation the Communist deputies in the National Assembly evaluated the interests of French democracy and their responsibilities as follows, as explained by Jacques Duclos;

In the existing situation it is impossible to secure a parliamentary majority in France except through a coalition. It is clear, however, that a coalition government from which the communists were excluded would be a government serving the interests of the trusts and reactionary clericalism against the working class. With such a government there would be serious danger that many of the democratic gains ,made by the people would be swept away. Such a development must be prevented if possible. Furthermore, while the leaders if the M.R.P. had become the centre of a parliamentary grouping dependent upon the extreme Right, many hundreds of thousands among those who voted for the M.R.P. want the democratic program of the Resistance Movement carried through. Thus, the interests of French democracy demanded that the communists participate in the government. The government of democratic union (6) headed by Premier Ramadiet was the result of that decision. In that government the communists, in the interest of national unity, accepted a share of ministries inferior in importance to their electoral strength and their role in the life of the country outside the National Assembly, while the main key posts--Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Interior, etc.--were held by representatives of parties whose electoral strength and national influence was inferior to that of the Communist Party.

The finance-capitalist interests and elements if clerical reaction, which remain strong, and are encouraged by the attitude and policies of the Untied States government, are seeking now to capitalize on their success in preventing the formation of a government headed by a Communist. Manipulation of prices, speculation in currency and provocative anti-labor agitation is more aggressive than ever. There is renewed and increasingly aggressive pressure for an orientation in foreign policy which would make France dependent upon United States imperialism instead of a leading power among the new democracies of Europe. In their effort to develop a political counter-offensive the reactionaries are now proposing that industrial properties confiscated form collaborators should be returned to their former owners or their capitalist representatives. In the atmosphere created by this organized provocative hostility of powerful finance-capitalist interests to the declared aims of the government and the majority of the electors, the black market flourishes--in currency as well as in goods.(7) Large financial and commercial interests are selling France short in their efforts to get dollar values out of the country.

As Comrade J. Berlioz, member of the National Assembly, pointed out to us, much of the present difficulty would have been prevented if the Socialists had not rejected proposals for electoral unity. The Communist Party proposed a joint Socialist Communist election campaign to unite all progressive forces in the effort to elect a clear parliamentary majority expressing socialist will of the democratic masses. The leaders of the Socialist party rejected the proposal noisily “making eyes” meantime at the anti-communist supporters of the M.R.P. In elections the Socialist Party did not win votes from among the supporters of the M.R.P., in fact the opposite happened, but the combined Communist-Socialist vote equalled 46% of all votes cast and there is every reason to believe that a joint Communist-Socialist slate and a united campaign would have been supported by an over-all majority of the electors. After the election the Socialists still failed to draw the correct conclusions from the popular vote and could not unite to vote unanimously for a communist to head the government. The result was a closely drawn balance between Left and Right in the government with resulting encouragements to all the reactionary elements in the nation. Such was the situation in which the leaders of the Socialist Party chose again to be “anti-communist” instead of pro-working class and headed the movement to oust the communist ministers form the government.

In France as in Britain the regrouping of political forces is still in progress. The aim of the progressives is to unite all the genuinely democratic republican elements in a united parliamentary force committed to the carrying through of the democratic national and social aims proclaimed by the Resistance Movement. The nation cannot remain for long artificially divided into groupings, each almost equal, one of which wants to continue forward, the other to go back. The democratic aspirations or the French people, expressed with growing strength throughout the past three years, is a guarantee of progressive gains if democracy is allowed free play. The danger is that the very certainty of growing popular support for progressive democratic measures will be seized upon by reaction as a reason for attempts at political adventures aimed to frustrate the democratic aspirations of the people. (8) In the existing relationships such adventurers might endanger the Fourth Republic itself unless they are decisively defeated.

The one means by which to prevent development of such adventurous attempts to destroy the new political influence of the working class is to isolate the reactionary forces and expose them as a tiny minority seeking to betray the interests of the nation. It is evident that, to achieve such a unification of progressive forces and prevent the development of attempts at reactionary adventures in the meantime, will require inspired and consistent work to arouse ever wider masses of the people of France to the recognition of the decisive issues and national needs. It will be a hard and complex task, it may even be a long one, but the French Communists are supremely confident. Maurice Thorez expressed their confidence to us when he said: “We have always believed that the people of France, rich in a glorious tradition, will find their way to more and more democracy, progress and social justice. The task of the Communist Party is to aid, unify and guide them in their struggle.”

That is the philosophy of working class leadership which has made the Communist Party the greatest party in France. It is the philosophy of action which guarantees that the forces of progress will be victorious and France will resume her rightful historic place in the front rank of the world’s New Democracies.

Notes to Chapter Three:

1. The French Communist Party

2. In 1938 the average income per person gainfully employed in France was only half the average for those gainfully employed in Britain and only two-seventh the average for all those gainfully employed in the United States.

3. Even at the “official” rate of exchange at the time it equalled only from forty to fifty-four cents per hour. Prices were higher than in Canada.

4. The French C.P. has a million and a quarter dues paying members. It publishes thirteen daily papers in different parts of the country, two of the papers have circulations in excess of half a million each per day. In addition the Party publishes seventy weekly journals devoted to different districts and topics. A majority of all the elected officers of the trade union movement are communists.

5. The popular votes received by the three main parties on Nov 10, 1946, were as follows:


Vote Received
% of Total Vote Cast
Communist Party
Socialist Party
Mouvement Republicain Populaire
All other parties and groupings


6. The parties forming the government used this term to define the coalition as one in which the participating parties were each free to propagate their respective programs while maintaining governmental unity.

7. I, along with Comrade Foster of the United States, was solicited repeatedly on the street, in hotel lobbies and on railway stations, to buy Francs at prices varying from 200 Francs to the Dollar up to 275. (The official rate was 112). When we explained that we were opposed to such operations, the people who had approached us expressed amazement. “But this is how everybody does it,” one of them said to me.

8. When I was in France during march, there was already wide spread gossip that Heneral DeGaulle’s reaction to the failure to exclude Communists from the government would be an attempt to place himself at the head of a new reactionary party aiming at the abolition of the party system.