Maurice Thorez 1960

My Battle for the Rebirth of France

Source: Fils du Peuple. Editions Sociales, Paris 1970;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

Our country came out of the war and the occupation very much weakened. In France, as in all of Europe, Hitler had left behind him a long train of ruins, poverty, suffering and blood. We had to rebuild our cities and villages, reconstruct bridges, get our factories back to work, return to cultivation all the arable land. In short, undertake and bring to a successful conclusion an immense labor.

Nevertheless, our basic industries had hardly suffered at all. Our coal mines were intact, while in 1918 two-thirds of our mines in the Nord and the Pas-de-Calais had been devastated and flooded. The mining industry had lost less than 10% of its pre-war potential. It was possible to set things in motion; it depended only on the efforts of the French.

In order to again become a great and truly independent industrial power, we had to develop our machine tool industry and free ourselves from foreign dependence. We had to complete, renew, and modernize our equipment and tools in order to increase productivity, diminish hardships, and lower costs.

I unveiled this program at the 10th Congress of our Party, held in Paris from June 26 — June 30, 1945. I insisted on the need to put an end to sabotage on the part of the great financial and industrial societies through real nationalizations in the vital sectors of the economy. The principal sources of the country’s wealth should return something to the nation: they should be exploited in the interests of the people. Nationalizations would stimulate economic recovery; they would protect small producers and consumers. Nationalizations, we said, are not at all socialism or communism: they are democratic measures that once figured in the program of the Radical Party. The nationalization of banks, of insurance, of coal mines, of electricity, of the steel industry would — as long as the workers take an ever greater part in the direction of affairs — allow the rationalization and the development of production, the freeing of new forces of labor.

We wanted Vichy to be liquidated, its spirit, its methods, its institutions; that we have confidence in the workers, in the people, this people who — unlike its rulers, who were incompetents or traitors — had proved their patriotism, their political maturity, their ability to lead them selves.

In external affairs, the organization of peace and the German problem were our main concerns. The Yalta Conference, between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, had proclaimed that the Allied Powers would pursue “the inflexible design of destroying German militarism and Nazism, in order that Germany never again be in a position to trouble world peace.”

In order to uproot Hitlerism it wasn’t enough to destroy the Hitlerite state, to abolish the laws and institutions of the Nazis. It was necessary to liquidate the economic bases of German fascism; to eliminate or control all of that part of German industry that could serve war production; to bring down the German trusts. Only the de-Nazification and democratization of Germany would allow the organization of peace and the assurance of our security.

And so, from June 1945, we put the world on its guard against the policy of the international cartels which, we prophesied , would not fail to yet again take the same policy towards Germany that it had after 1918. We said that such a policy would lead to the abandoning of the payment of war reparations, as had occurred after the other war. And we asked America’s charitable souls to save for the victims a little of the compassion they felt for the executioners.

I outlined in my report to the congress a tableau of what our exchanges could be with the other countries of the world, without sacrificing any of our national independence.

We already at that time rose up against some worrying symptoms; against the poorly carried out purges, against the concern to preserve Vichy’s cadres and institutions, against the betrayed Liberation.

“In a world that heads towards more democracy, France is beginning to cut a singular figure. It’s not exactly what the thousands and thousands of Frenchmen wanted who died for their country and for freedom. It’s not what the people want.”

To the democracy of slave owners we opposed democracy as defined by Condorcet: a democracy “where all social institutions should have as their goal the social, moral, intellectual, and physical improvement of the most numerous and poorest class.”

In the face of reaction’s maneuvers, supported by the Socialist leadership, we reaffirmed our policy of unity:

“We will repeat that the setting of France back on its feet is not the task of one party alone, nor of a few statesmen; it’s the task of millions and millions of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen; it’s the task of the entire nation.

“We envision as the happiest outlook for our country the prolonged maintaining in place of a government of great national and democratic unity; realizing in this way the best conditions for authority and stability , openly relying on the people for the application of the program of national and social renewal desired by the people.”

“Brotherhood, sealed in the combat against the invader, should be maintained by common labor:

“The blood of Catholics, of Communists, of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen of all parties and beliefs; the blood of all our heroes, of all our martyrs have made fertile our soil and sealed our national unity. It isn’t we, Communists, who could fail to take part in this sublime lesson in unity and undo the ties formed by the sacrifice of the best of us.

“Already we had come up against the hate-filled hostility of Leon Blum and other Socialist leaders who had “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

Even though the blood of our executed had not yet dried on the walls and on the grass of the ditches, the Socialist pontiffs again took up against us the time-worn calumnies which they had used for twenty years. In another time reaction had accused Jaurès of being “in the service of Germany.” Now Blum accused us of “serving a foreign nationalism.” An infamous calumny, refuted by the entire policy of a party which has as its raison d'etre the happiness of our people, a party that represents and carries on the highest and most generous traditions of France.

Our 10th Congress ended in enthusiasm. Everyone saw the great prospects which opened before us.

Before applying the decisions of the congress I wanted to pay homage to the memory of the heroes of the Resistance. The Glières plateau is one of those high places where, in the night of oppression, the will of the French people to liberate itself, arms in hand, had affirmed itself. It recalls the sacrifice of young Frenchmen who accepted an unequal struggle in the certainty that some defeats contribute to future victories. It bears witness to indispensable unity, for the men of the Armée Secrète fought there beside our Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, and death didn’t differentiate between them.

In a magnificent setting, under the hot sun of July, we climbed 1500 meters to the plateau squeezed in between high mountains. The men of Glières suffered there under the bombardments of planes, the assaults of Miliciens and Germans. Le Chant des Montagnards: “Allobroges Vaillaints” came back to me. The Savoyards couldn’t fail their traditions of bravery and independence.

We saw the chalets burned down by the Nazis where our young men had lived and fought an entire winter; the rocks behind which they had kneeled to fire; the look out points from which they dominated the access paths. The Germans had mobilized against the 500 of Glières an entire division, with artillery, planes and troops of the Milice. As chivalrous Frenchmen, the combatants of Glières had spared two Gardes Mobiles, who managed to escape and inform the enemy. They were able to infiltrate the plateau, but were held back until night, favorable for retreat. Many comrades fell into the hands of the Germans and the Miliciens, and were immediately executed. They died singing La Marseillaise. At the cemetery of Morette, where I went to meditate upon their acts, rest 102 combatants of Glières. They hadn’t accepted servitude. Their glorious deaths had conferred immortality upon them.

A few weeks later I went to the Limousin, to Ouradour-sur-Glane, the martyred city where the retreating Hitlerites had massacred a large part of the population and had killed, in the middle of flames, women and children locked in the church. Before the survivors of such a horrible event I cried out: “Who could forgive the vile criminal murderers of your children, of your families?” Alas, there soon could be found Frenchmen to acquit the executioners.

July 22 I went to Waziers, in the heart of the Black Country. The miners have traditionally been at the head of the workers’ battles. They unleashed the first big strike against the German invaders and the traitors of Vichy. General prosperity depends on the work of the miners. Without coal, this “bread of industry” there’s not enough electricity, not enough steel, not enough cast iron Without coal there are no construction materials, no clothing, no transports. Without coal the economy is paralyzed...

The coal problem is not new in France. During the best pre-war years we produced 50 million tons of coal (55 million in 1929). Our needs were 75 million tons, so we had to import 25 million tons, including the coke of the Ruhr.

The individual output of the miners had decreased during the war. Right after the Liberation productivity increased: it went from 600 kilos in August 1944 to 880 kilos in January 1945. Nevertheless, the coal crisis continued. It had multiple causes.

In the first place, there was the reduction in personnel, which had fallen from 300,000 to 200,000. Physiological deficiencies, caused by four years of oppression and super-exploitation added to the problem of lower numbers. The “absenteeism,” the so-called “laziness” of the miners, were nothing but the consequences of their extreme fatigue. Before anything else, the miners had to be assured of better supply methods, of clothing and of shoes.

The fatigue of the men, and also the wearing out of machines, old and out of date. Our mines were barely mechanized, while the level of mechanization in the USSR reached 95%.

The evil actions of reaction, sabotage on the part of the directors — among whom could be found employees still loyal to the old masters — only increased the difficulties.

I didn’t hide from the miners that, despite the current bad conditions, they had to redouble their efforts in order to win the battle of coal.

Produce! Produce more! Allow in this way all of our industries, so badly affected, to recover.

“France’s destiny depends in a large measure on the efforts of the miners... It’s a matter of producing for the country in order to pursue the labor of liberation against the undertakings of reaction and fascism.”

I made an appeal to the pride of the miners, to their class feelings, to their patriotism:

“The lazy, the lukewarm will never be good Communists, good revolutionaries ...”

There, in that landscape of miner’s homes, of factory chimneys, of slag heaps, of strings of mines, were the mass of miners, union leaders, directors of the National Mining company, the people’s elected representatives, the cadres of the Party. With emotion I found again the dear faces of my brothers in combat, and I evoked others, who we will never see again...What political maturity and sense of responsibility in these men who spend the best part of their existence in the bowels of the earth in order to give heat and light to others!

I met my old captain of the 3rd Engineers, in civilian life engineer at Ponts et Chausées. We had both maintained excellent memories of each other.

The Appeal of Waziers was to be heard. And not only by the miners of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, but by the miners of all the basins. Starting in July 1945 we were to witness a constant increase in production and in individual output.