Leon Trotsky

Whither France?

The Decisive Stage

(June 5, 1936)

The rhythm of events in France has become sharply accelerated. Hitherto the pre-revolutionary character of the situation had to be evaluated on the basis of a theoretical analysis and isolated political symptoms. Now facts speak for themselves. We may say without fear of exaggeration that in the whole of France there are only two parties whose leaders are unable to see and understand, or who refuse to see the full depth of the revolutionary crisis. They are the “Socialists” and “Communists”. We ought, of course, to add the “independent” trade-union leaders. The working masses are now creating a revolutionary situation by resorting to direct action. The bourgeoisie is in mortal fear of the development of events and, behind the scenes, under the nose of the new government, it takes all the steps necessary to defend and save itself, to dupe, to crush and to exact a bloody vengeance. The “Socialist” and “Communist” leaders alone continue to babble about the People’s Front, as if their contemptible house of cards had not already been toppled by the class struggle.

Blum says: “The country has given its mandate to the People’s Front and we cannot go beyond the limits of this mandate.” Blum is duping his own party and he aims to dupe the proletariat. The Stalinists (they still continue to call themselves “Communists”) assist him in this. As a matter of fact, the Socialists and Communists have utilized the dodges, snares and meshes of the electoral machinery to do violence to the toiling masses in the interests of an alliance with bourgeois radicalism. The political essence of the crisis lies in the fact that the people are nauseated by the Radicals and their Third Republic. The Fascists seek to profit from this. But what have the Socialists and Communists done? They have become the guarantors of the Radicals before the people. They have portrayed the Radicals as slandered innocents. They have assured the workers and peasants that complete salvation lies in the ministry of Daladier. This was the leitmotif of the entire electoral campaign. How did the masses reply? By giving an enormous increase in votes and seats to the Communists, as the extreme left. The masses have not yet understood the turns and zigzags of the hirelings of Soviet diplomacy because the masses have not yet tested them in their own experience. The masses learn only in action, they have no time for theoretical studies. When one and a half million voters cast their ballots for the Communists, the majority of them mean to say thereby: “We want you to do the same thing in France that the Russian Bolsheviks did in their country in October, 1917.” Such is the real will of the most active section of the population, that section which is capable of fighting for, and assuring, the future of France. This is the first lesson of the elections.

Despite the split of the rather large section of the Neos, the Socialists have retained approximately their old number of votes. On this question, too, the masses gave their “leaders” a magnificent lesson. The Neos wanted a cartel at any price, i.e., the collaboration with the republican bourgeoisie in the name of the salvation and the flowering of the “republic”. Their split from the Socialists occurred precisely on this point, and they came out as competitors during the election. The voters turned their backs on them. The Neos have been crushed. Two years ago we predicted that the subsequent political development would, in the first instance, destroy all small groups gravitating towards the Radicals. In the conflict between the Socialists and the Neos, the masses have condemned and discarded the group that was the most systematic and resolute, the loudest and the most outspoken in advocating an alliance with the bourgeoisie. Such is the second lesson of the elections.

The Socialist Party is not a working-class party either with regard to its policies or its social composition. It is the party of the new middle estate (the functionaries, civil servants, etc.) and, in part, of the petty bourgeoisie and the labour aristocracy. A serious analysis of the electoral statistics would undoubtedly show that the Socialists lost to the Communists a considerable section of workers and poor peasants, while gaining from the Radicals, in turn, considerable groups of the middle classes. This means that the petty bourgeoisie is moving to the left away from the Radicals, towards the Socialists and Communists, while groups of the middle and the big bourgeoisie are moving away from the Radicals to the right. The regroupment is taking place along the class axes and not along the artificial line of the “People’s Front”. The revolutionary nature of the crisis is characterized by the rapid polarization of political relations. Such is the third, fundamental lesson.

The voter, therefore, has expressed his will – so far as he generally can in the straitjacket of parliamentarianism – not in favour of the People’s Front policy but against it. To be sure, on the second ballot the Socialists and the Communists further distorted the political will of the toilers by removing their candidates in favour of the bourgeois Radicals. Despite this, the Radicals emerged from the test with their ribs crushed, losing one-third of their seats. Says the Temps: “This is due to their entering into a bloc with revolutionists.” Daladier retorts: “Without the People’s Front we would have lost more.” Daladier is absolutely right. Had the Socialists and the Communists conducted a class policy, i.e., fought for the alliance between the workers and the semi-proletarian elements in the city and country against the entire bourgeoisie, including its rotten Radical wing, they would have received many more votes, while the Radicals would have returned to the Chamber an insignificant group.

All the political facts prove that there is no basis for the People’s Front either in the social relations of France or in the political moods of the masses. This policy is imposed from above: by the Radical bourgeoisie, by the Socialist business men and careerists, by the Soviet diplomats and their “Communist” lackeys. All together they have done everything possible by means of the most dishonest of all electoral systems, in order to dupe and rob politically the popular masses and to distort their real will. Nevertheless, even under these conditions the masses were able to give expression to their desire: not a coalition with the Radicals but the consolidation of the toilers against the whole bourgeoisie.

Had revolutionary working-class candidates been run on the second ballot in all the electoral districts in which the Socialists and the Communists withdrew in favour of the Radicals, they would, no doubt, have obtained a very considerable number of votes. It is unfortunate that not a single organization was to be found capable of such initiative. This shows that the revolutionary groups both in the centre and locally are lagging behind the dynamics of the events, and prefer to temporize and evade whenever it is necessary to act. This is a sad situation. But the general orientation of the masses is quite clear.

The Socialists and the Communists worked with all their might to prepare the ministry of Herriot – at worst, the ministry of Daladier. What did the masses do? They imposed upon the Socialists and the Communists the ministry of Blum. Is not this a direct vote against the policy of the People’s Front?

Or, are more proofs necessary? The demonstration in memory of the Communards has obviously surpassed all the popular demonstrations witnessed in Paris this year. Yet the Radicals were not and could not have been connected in any way with this demonstration. The toiling masses of Paris, with an inimitable political instinct, have expressed their readiness to appear in redoubled force whenever they are not compelled to tolerate the repulsive fraternization between their leaders and the bourgeois exploiters. The mighty demonstration of May 24 is the most convincing and the most unalterable disavowal of the People’s Front policy by working-class Paris.

“But a parliament, without the People’s Front and one in which the Socialists and the Communists would not have the majority anyway, would be a lifeless thing”, and the Radicals – oh horror of horrors! – would be pushed into the “arms of reaction”. Such reasoning is quite worthy of the cowardly philistines who are at the head of the Socialist and Communist Parties. The lifelessness of the parliament is the inevitable consequences of the revolutionary nature of the crisis. It was possible to disguise this lifelessness somewhat by a series of political frauds, but it will be exposed on the morrow just the same. In order not to push the Radicals, who are reactionary to the marrow of their bones, into the “arms of reaction”, it is necessary to unite with the Radicals in defence of capitalism. This and this alone is the mission of the People’s Front. But the workers hinder it.

* * *

The parliament is a lifeless thing because the present crisis opens no way out on the parliamentary road. Once again, the French toiling masses, with the fine revolutionary instinct that distinguishes them, have unfailingly seized upon this chief trait in the situation. In Toulon and Brest they sent up their first alarm signals. The protest of the soldiers against the rabiot (the increase in the service term) signified the most dangerous form of direct mass action against bourgeois order. Finally, during the days when the Socialist Party congress unanimously (together with that hollow phrase-monger, Marceau Pivert) accepted the mandate of the “People’s Front” and entrusted this mandate to Léon Blum; in the days when Blum surveyed himself in the mirror from all sides, made pre-governmental gestures, issued pre-governmental exclamations, and commented upon them in articles which always have a great deal to say about Blum but never anything about the proletariat – precisely in those days the magnificent wave, a veritable Spring flood of strikes, rolled over France. Not finding leadership and managing to get along without it, the workers, boldly and with assurance, suspended work and occupied the factories.

Salengro, the new cop of capitalism, who has hardly had the time to assume power, hastened to proclaim (just as Herriot, Laval, Tardieu or de la Rocque would have done) that he would protect “order against anarchy”. Order is the name that this person gives to capitalist anarchy. He gives the name anarchy to the struggle for a socialist order. The still-peaceful occupation of mills and factories by the toilers are saying: “We wish to be masters in the buildings where until now we have been only slaves.”

Mortally frightened, Léon Blum wants to scare the workers. He says: “I am no Kerensky; and even so, not Lenin would come to replace Kerensky in France but somebody else”. One might imagine that the Russian Kerensky had understood the policy of Lenin or had foreseen his coming. In point of fact, Kerensky, to a hair like Blum, used to assure the workers that in the event of his downfall not Bolshevism would come to power, but “somebody else”. Precisely there where Blum seeks to distinguish himself from Kerensky, he apes him most slavishly. However, it is impossible not to recognize that in so far as matters depend on Blum, he is really clearing the road to Fascism and not to the proletariat.

Most criminal and infamous in this situation is the conduct of the Communists: they have promised to give unswerving support to the Blum government, without entering it. “We are much too terrible revolutionists" – say the Cachins and Thorezes – “we might frighten our Radical colleagues to death. It is best for us to remain in the ante-chamber”. Behind-the-scenes ministerialism is ten times more pernicious than the open and obvious variety. In point of fact, the Communists wish to preserve an outward semblance of independence in order better to subject the working masses to the People’s Front, i.e., to the discipline of capitalism. But here too the class struggle proves a hindrance. The simple and honest mass strike has mercilessly destroyed the mysticism and the mystification of the People’s Front. The latter has already received its death blow; henceforth it can only die a lingering death.

There is no way out on the parliamentary road. Blum will not invent any gunpowder, because he is scared of gunpowder. The further machinations of the People’s Front can only prolong the death agony of parliamentarianism and give de la Rocque time to prepare a new and more serious blow if . the revolutionists do not forestall him.

Following February 6, 1934, certain impatient comrades were of the opinion that the dénouement would take place “tomorrow”, and that on this account it was necessary immediately to perform some sort of miracle. Such a “policy” could produce nothing but adventures and zigzags that have retarded in the extreme the growth of the revolutionary party. There is no regaining the time that has been lost. But no more time must be lost in the future, for very little time remains. Even today we shall not undertake to set dates. But after the great strike wave, events can unfold only either towards revolution or towards Fascism. That organization is unworthy of the name of revolutionary which will fail to find a base for itself in the present strike movement, which will prove unable to fuse itself firmly with the struggling workers. Its members had better seek room for themselves in the poor house or in the Freemason lodges (under the protection of Marceau Pivert)!

In France there are quite a few ladies of both sexes, ex-Communists, ex-Socialists, ex-syndicalists, who carry on a group or clique existence, exchanging impressions of events inside four walls, and who think that the time is not yet ripe for their enlightened participation. “It is still too soon”. When de la Rocque will have come, they will say: “Now it is too late”. There is a considerable number of such thinkers, especially among the left wing of the Guild of the Enlightened. It would be a great crime to waste even a spare moment upon these gentry. Let the dead bury their dead!

The fate of France is now being decided not in parliament, not in the editorial rooms of the conciliationist newspapers, both reformist and Stalinist, and not in the circles of sceptics, snivellers, and phrase-mongers. The fate of France is being settled in the factories where the way out of capitalist anarchy has been shown in action. The place of revolutionists is in the factories!

The last congress of the Comintern in its eclectic concoctions put the coalition with the Radicals side by side with the creation of mass Committees of Action, i.e., embryonic soviets. Dimitrov, as well as his inspirers, seriously imagines that it is possible to combine class collaboration with the class struggle, a bloc with the bourgeoisie with the proletariat’s struggle for power, friendship with Daladier with building of soviets. The French Stalinists have renamed the Committees of Action People’s Front Committees, imagining that by so doing they would reconcile revolutionary struggle with the protection of bourgeois democracy. The present strikes destroy this miserable illusion to its roots. The Radicals dread the strikes. The Socialists dread the fear of the Radicals. The Communists dread the fear of both. The slogan of the Committees can be realized only by a genuinely revolutionary organization, unwaveringly devoted to the masses, to their cause and their struggle. The French workers have once more shown that they are worthy of their historical reputation. We must have faith in them. The soviets have always been born out of strikes. The mass strike is the natural element of the proletarian revolution. The Committees of Action cannot be at present anything but the committees of those strikers who are seizing the enterprises. From one industry to another, from one factory to the next, from one working-class district to another, from city to city, the Committees of Action must establish a close bond with each other. They must meet in each city, in each productive group in their regions in order to end with a Congress of all the Committees of Action in France. This will be the new order which must take the place of the reigning anarchy.

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Last updated on: 19.3.2007