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Fourth International, March 1941

 

Terence Phelan

The End of French Democracy

 

From Fourth International, Vol. II No. 3, March 1941, p.79-83.
Transcribed & marked up by David Walters for ETOL.

 

Terence Phelan witnessed the fall of France from Paris, where he remained till September. Long detained in Portugal, he has finally made his way to this country. We publish here the first of a series of his articles. Though their lateness prevents these articles from having the journalistic timeliness of such bourgeois reports as those of André Maurois, “Pertinax,” and Genevieve Tabouis, this lateness is offset by their being the first account that is both eyewitness and Marxist. To believe the bourgeois journalists, one would suppose France fell because Reynaud had the wrong kind of mistress, or because Germany had five tanks to France’s three or because the Nazis bought General X, or other E. Phillips Oppenheim nonsense. Here is the real story that American workers can make some sense of, telling how the French ruling class had succeeded in so smashing French democracy, long before Hitler attacked, that there was nothing left with which to fight.

Only 25 days after that misty dawn when siren-wakened Parisians saw the first attacking German bombers weaving unharmed in a sinisterly beautiful net of rose and gold anti-aircraft fire and heard the unforgettable rumble of bombs destroying the suburban airfields, what was left of those same Parisians apathetically watched the grey-green wave of German men and guns roll along the diagonal boulevards, down the proud Rue Royale, past the efficient batteries of cameras, radio commentators, and reviewing officers in the spacious Place de la Concorde. The outer world was apparently amazed. It need not have been. The scene was only the last act in a grim drama whose first act was laid in 1933.

The so-called “Battle of France” was, from the viewpoint of history, a mere mopping-up operation. French democracy had already lost the war in three decisive battles. Their dates: 1933, 1936, 1938. The respective battlegrounds: Germany; Spain and France; France itself. Principal organizer of the defeats: democratic capitalism. Principal tool: Stalinism.
 

The Genesis of Hitler’s Combat Troops

It is primarily as an eyewitness reporter that I write, an eyewitness to events in France since 1936. But to make you understand the German troops I saw, I must underline here the importance of the first battle in which French democracy was defeated – more accurately – helped to destroy itself: the rise of Hitler to power.

The Weimar Republic was built on the bodies of the slaughtered revolutionists of 1919. It was an economic monstrosity, strangled by Versailles, riven with internal contradictions, incapable of viability or genuine consolidation. By 1933 it had reached its final crisis. Socialism or fascism must take its place. The German capitalists got solidly behind Hitler. And what were the French and British democracies doing about it? They were helping Hitler take over. Fact: read the books, read the newspapers of the time. No prating about “democracy” then; no, the danger then was Bolshevism and the British and French governments were secretly behind Hitler as a bulwark between the socialist revolution and their own gorged regimes.

The outside help of the French and British governments could not alone have put Hitler in power. The way was paved for Hitler by the Socialist and Communist Parties of Germany. Thirteen million Socialists and Communists, filled with a sound combative instinct, were ready to fight before, reaction got firmly into the saddle. The Socialist leadership, however, helped elect Hindenburg who appointed Hitler Chancellor. The Stalinists, then in their “Third Period,” having already on a regional scale (the Prussian referendum) formed a united front with the Nazis to vote for the ouster of the Social Democratic Government, operated on the slogan: “First Hitler, then us!” The main enemy, they claimed, was “SocialFascism,” meaning the Socialists.

Once in power Hitler consolidated his regime. The old parties were destroyed; the workers’ cadres smashed; the great mass of German workers were beaten down, exhausted, confused, disgusted with both SocialDemocracy and Stalinism. Meanwhile a new generation, nurtured in semistarvation and desperate struggle, a dynamic youth, impatient of “socialist” and Stalinist betrayal, fell prey to Hitler’s skillful demagogy. All the forces of genuine renovation and progress which had been misled, wasted, and thrown away by the corrupt, blind “democratic” and Stalinist leaders were now perverted in a new desperate hope. That youth now forms the shock troops of Hitler’s armies. The fanatical young combat troops whom I saw roll singing into Paris on June 14, 1940 were motivated by one burning idea – that they were fighting against capitalism. (Try to sell them Weimar again!) They are deceived in that belief, but the belief is a fact. And it is a fact that makes the Stalinist policy of 1928-1933 in Germany one of the greatest crimes of working-class history.

Millions of French capitalist money swelled Hitler’s coffers and helped produce the first requisite for France’s collapse: the establishment in its traditional imperialist rival of a powerful regime, which took the greatest factory in Europe, galvanized its despairing youth, rationalized its chaotic economy on an outright war basis, and aimed it straight at the heart of the gorged victors of Versailles. Germany, on the eve of this war, was a nation sparkplugged by a broad-based minority, dynamic and fanatical, plus a majority which, though certainly not actively for Hitler at all, negatively supported his war with the hopeless thought: “We lost the last war and starved for 20 years; what will happen to us if we lose this one?” The revolution lost inside Germany, it was not the ghost of Weimar which could overthrow Hitler; there was nothing capable of stopping Nazism except genuine revolution sweeping back from the neighboring countries.
 

The World Alliance Against Spain

That revolution was not lacking. The years 1936-1937 saw the turning-point of an era. They were like a mountain range off which the rains of history could roll, by the slightest of deviations in events, down one side to world socialism, down the other to the present imperialist bloodbath and social chaos.

In France, not only were the factories almost universally occupied, but over many of them flew the red flag, and factory committees, the embryos of soviets, were in many a factory in real if not titular control. Blum’s Popular Front government tried its skillful best to hold the revolutionary workers back, to save democratic capitalism for its masters. But it took the Stalinist leader, Thorez, to utter at that moment the greatest fink slogan in all history: “Comrades, comrades, we must know how to call off a strike!”

But even more important for France than France itself at that moment was Spain. The workers and peasants of Spain had risen, had wrested arms from the half-traitorous Popular Front government which had let the military-fascist conspiracy grow to open uprising. The fascists were exterminated in practically all Northern and Eastern Spain, and the workers were advancing through Aragon. Real power was in the hands of the workers and peasants’ committees, which seized and administered the factories, and distributed and organized the land – a stage fully reached in advanced industrial Catalonia, and rapidly being reached in the rest of Spain.

Franco had behind him only unwilling conscript Spanish troops, ready for revolt at any really encouraging chance of success, and the Moors. As for the latter, a Fourth Internationalist arrived back from meetings with the principal chieftains of Spanish Morocco, with an agreement to the effect that, if the Popular Front government would give Morocco autonomy, they would pull their tribesmen away from Franco. But the Stalino-bourgeois Madrid government quashed the project, refused to sign the treaty, reaffirmed Spanish capitalism’s imperialist rights in Morocco, and definitely lost the Moors to Franco.

Italian and German aid still consisted only of a few planes, a few technicians, its weight not yet determinant and critical. World capitalism was in a genuine panic. Its leaders knew that if the Spanish revolution took the next step, the seizure of state power, they had to intervene. Yet they knew it would be suicidal. Only France was contiguous and prepared. But Blum, even with Thorez’s backing, dared not attempt to send mobilized French workers, filled with revolutionary fervor by the partial victories already won by workers’ solidarity at home, against their Spanish brothers. Had Blum done that it would have been the Spanish revolution that spread through France instead of French military intervention that smashed the Spanish revolution. And that event would have changed history. After that, it would have been impossible to check: no frontiers, no Gestapo, no GPU could have kept that revolutionary wave from spreading over Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

Capitalism and its Stalinist ally moved fast but delicately, like a man trying to rush a blazing keg out of a room full of loose dynamite. They divided the tasks with the skill and wordless cooperation of desperation. Roosevelt, with almost panic haste, slapped a “neutrality” act on arms to keep them from the Spanish people. The French Popular Front government invented the skillful trick of “non-intervention,” which kept real help from the Loyalist side, while allowing Italian and German violations to get by with only high-sounding moral protests. Germany and Italy threw every ounce of weight behind France.

Trickiest job of all was entrusted to Stalin, anxious at that moment to prove his utility to democratic capitalism: that of using the prestige of the October, revolution as a cover to shore up the tottering capitalist government of Loyalist Spain against the revolution, to build up quickly an anti-revolutionary “Communist” party out of the backward Spanish middle class, to slander the revolution itself as the “fifth column,” and finally, in the terrible days of May 1937 in Barcelona, to smash the revolution by outright military repression.

There never was a more striking example of the dialectic interrelation of imperialist rivalries and cooperation in crisis. The rival imperialisms and Stalinism were all struggling and squabbling among themselves, yet they all had one clear goal in common. Germany and Italy wanted an outright Franco victory; France, England, and the Kremlin preferred a Loyalist victory as long as the Loyalists remained capitalist. But all without exception primarily wanted a defeat of revolution; and whether they worked on the Franco side in open attack, or on the Loyalist side with slander and assassination, it was the Spanish revolution they considered the primary enemy, with Franco secondary.

The heroism of the Spanish proletatriat is now historic. Openly attacked by its declared enemies, secretly sapped of morale by its pretended friends, and misled by its own cowardly leaders, Socialist, anarchist, and Poumist alike, it held off this concerted world attack month after month, giving way inch by inch, till the bloody Stalinocapitalist repression of the 1937 May Days in Barcelona gave the final death blow to the Spanish revolution and guaranteed the eventual victory of Franco. From then on, Spain was doomed. It was not to restore the 19311936 misery under Azana and Lerroux that the workers of Barcelona had attacked machinegun-guarded buildings with sticks and one pearl-handled revolver, or that the Madrid proletariat had made every house a fortress. Slowly but surely Spain collapsed.

Almost holding their breaths with fear, the French democratic capitalists had meanwhile been cautiously and skillfully counterattacking in France against the Spring trade union gains. Once their “Socialist” and Stalinist lackeys had persuaded the workers out of the occupied factories, and held them back from renewing the struggle, the capitalists started nibbling away at the gains of the revolutionary strikes. Time and time again during late 1936 and early 1937, the bosses had to give way on this or that sector as the workers, filled with a profoundly correct instinct, pushed aside the restraining hands of their traitorous leadership and defended their gains with militant sitdown strikes. But bit by bit, the bosses worked their way back, chiseling on contracts, wriggling out of agreements, and always calling on the Popular Front leaders to check the workers; meanwhile, on the legislative front, passing increasingly repressive laws (the Socialists and Stalinists voted ’em all), and finally establishing compulsory arbitration, outlawing strikes. By the end of 1937 French labor saw gain after gain lost, it knew not how; puzzled at how it had been tricked; discouraged and beginning to grow cynical.

And thus was lost the second battle, with the defeat of the only force that could have beaten Hitler, beaten him from within by an uprising of a revivified German labor movement encouraged by the victory of socialism in two neighboring countries.
 

The Anti-Labor Laws of 1938

1938 gave the final death blow to any hope that France would be able to defend herself. With every passing month, under the vicious drive of Daladier (the same Daladier who had walked with clenched fist while Stalinist cheerleaders shouted “Daladier to power!” in the 1936 elections), the workers were driven back, angry and confused, the Stalinist misleaders pleading with them to accept all because of the FrancoSoviet pact and the “defense of democracy against fascism.”

On July 11, 1938 the government promulgated a law called L’Organisation de la Nation en Temps de Guerre [1] that would, on the outbreak of hostilities, convert France into a totalitarian nation. It was the most amazing law ever voted in a socalled democracy. But international attention was carefully distracted from it.

This law – known as the Law of July 11 – made every French worker an industrial serf, It “requisitioned” – the way a government might requisition a mule or an automobile – all men 18 years or over; it also requisitioned en bloc in the factories all women and children of whatever age. “Requisitioning” meant that a worker could not change his employment, or be absent from it, or late to it, without penalties of from six months to five years imprisonment; that his wage was frozen for the duration of hostilities (with the exception of niggardly “speedup” bonuses) no matter what change there was in the cost of living (the government promised to freeze prices, too; but of course they rose 50 to 100 per cent by Spring); and his wage was frozen, not at what he was then getting, but at the previous five-year average – i.e., from 1934 on, before the 1936 wage-gains – producing immediate wage-cuts.

The law also provided that the government might take over factories if the bosses didn’t run them to the government’s liking. The state in such cases guaranteed a return on capital equal at least to standard war-loan interest rates plus factory-owners’ estimate of obsolescence. In a word, if you were such an incompetent boss that you couldn’t make enough profit, the government did it for you. And of course there was a long procedure of protest open to the boss, while only jail was open for the protesting worker. As any American worker can guess, requisitions of factories when necessary were carried out very amiably by adjustment; requisition of workers was enforced with savage rigor.

Supplementary legislation added to the basic law, among other things, the following:

To carry on any conversation, even privately, which did not actively support the war, or criticized its prosecution or the warlaws, was “tenir propos defaitistes” – a “crime” punishable by anything from one week’s imprisonment to death – the usual sentence was two years. The operation of this law was particularly foul: while the real Hitlerians, the real fifth-columnists, discussed the advantages of a Hitler victory over their champagne in elegant salons in complete security, any trade-unionist who grumbled about intolerable conditions in a cafe was whisked off by police-spies to jail.

Overtime pay was practically abolished by means of a vicious kickback wartax, working hours were increased from 40 to 72 and up per week, seniority was wiped out, speed-ups became so intolerable that, for example, a good third of the Hispano-Suiza airplane motors were rejects, and every hard-won labor right was abolished. As Stalinists lost influence among the French workers and genuine revolutionaries began to take their places, the “democrats” dropped the mask of the classic definition of high-treason, “collusion with a foreign power” (in this case, Soviet Russia), and came out with a naked declaration that any attempt to dissuade the army or the rear from an all-out prosecution of the present war was high treason, punishable by death.

In addition to these measures, and to a total suppression of all free speech and discussion, and a newspaper censorship against which even the reactionary newspapers protested, there was another weapon against trade unionists: any worker liable to military service who had been given an “affectation speciale” in a factory because his technical skill was irreplaceable in the industrial effort, needed only to raise his voice once in complaint against the terrible wages and hours and speed-up to find himself immediately transferred back to a combat unit and assigned a sacrificial advance patrol post.
 

“Totalitarianism on the Cheap”

One way of characterizing this legislation is that in it the French ruling class, with typical thriftiness, tried what may be called “totalitarianism on the cheap.”

It was theoretically possible for French capitalism to rally the workers and peasants around itself sufficiently to make a stand against Germany by converting democracy from a blah-blah word used in Bastille Day oratory to something real and tangible, in the hard cold cash of workers’ salaries and farmers’ subsidies, in the no less real and important increase in civil liberties and power of the people to keep genuine control over the government. But in practice that would have meant democratically sharing – in one case, its wealth; in the other, its power – with its fellow citizens. French capitalism was not only unwilling, it was incapable, of doing either. With its increasing economic degeneration, its diminishing returns, its insoluble crises, French capitalism couldn’t afford to share wealth; indeed, in order to survive at all, it was forced to an increasing extent to take back what few gains the French masses had won from it. Nor, after the lesson of 1936, did it dare permit any increase of political democracy which, every time it started genuinely to operate, showed that it led straight toward a revolution which would throw off the French nation’s back the strangling incubus of outdated capitalism and lead it on to socialism.

The other alternative was fascism. American workers should clear their minds of a dangerous confusion (created by the Stalinists during their Popular Front period) between fascism and classic reaction. Classic reaction, as in Czarist Russia or Petain France, depends primarily on straight mercenary police; fascism depends primarily on a genuine massbase of convinced and often fanatical partisans. There has, for example, been considerable misunderstanding about the role of Colonel de la Rocque and his Croix de Feu, later the Parti Social Français. The Croix de Feu resembled, among comparable German parties, not Hitler’s NationalSocialists, but Hugenberg’s Nationalists. The Croix deFeu had no demagogic pretense of anticapitalism, no fake prolabor policies to bind hopeless masses and desperate youth to their cause; and, representing only a purely negative pettybourgeois antiproletarianism, it fell to pieces at the first serious test. Genuine French fascism was represented by the Parti Populaire Français of the Communist renegade Jacques Doriot. In the prewar period it got little support from the internally warring and shortsighted French capitalists. Because fascism also costs capitalism a-plenty. To date there is no example of its being simply imposed from above. It rises from below, supported from above; and its basic mass appeal is that it is revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Its real purpose of course is to preserve capitalism (big money capitalism) at all costs; for which purpose it milks far-sighted capitalists of as much money as is needed to maintain its plug-uglies, bully-boys, ex-servicemen, and street gangsters during the struggle for power, and its immense apparatus of administration and repression once it has consolidated fascist-capitalist power. Beyond this, in order to retain some degree of popular support in a positive way (the concentration camps take care of the negative side), fascism has to divert sums into flashy workers’ housing and similar projects, into job-security schemes and other paternalisms. It costs money.

French capitalism either wouldn’t or couldn’t pay. One of fascism’s historic roles is “protecting capitalism from itself,” by “lessening the anarchy of production and distribution,” etc. (What this phrase really proved to mean in Germany was “protecting” big monopoly capitalism against small “independent” capitalism: the latter naturally went to the wall in the “rationalization.”) French capitalism, despite the famous “Sixty Families,” despite some mammoth corporations, despite the usual interlocking directorates and the supercontrol of certain “industrial” banks, was much more atomized, much less unified, much more riven with internal rivalries, than was 1932 Germany. For instance, “colonial” banks and combines, whose interests lay in the empire’s colonies, and whose outlook was international, clashed seriously with those cartels and trusts whose interests were wholly within France itself; light conversion industry equally constantly clashed with heavy capital goods industry. Uncertain, short-sighted French capitalism divided its support among dozens of groups, fascist, semi-fascist, nationalist, straight reactionary, parliamentary, extr-aparliamentary – even the Second Internationalist “socialists” when circumstances required.

Unwilling and unable to pay the stiff price of either expanding democracy or genuine fascism as a means of getting some sort of mass base among its more and more indignant people, French capitalism tried “totalitarianism on the cheap.” French capitalism tried to get the totalitarian advantages of fascism without paying the corresponding cost that German capitalism had proved necessary. It would make no sacrifice – either that of subsidizing a mass-movement, or that of subjecting itself to a rationalizing economic discipline. It simply put what it liked of German totalitarianism into the Law of July.”

On November 30, 1938, the CGT (General Confederation of Labor), under desperate pressure from below, half-heartedly called for a general strike to defend the last vestiges of the 1936 gains. It is difficult to say which was the more criminal: the way in which the strike was announced and argued for and against so far in advance that the bourgeoisie could leisurely prepare to exterminate it; or the miserable lack of preparation of the strike itself. Daladier saw his chance and struck. Rarely has any strike been repressed with such refined savagery, followed by such vicious reprisals. The strike was an almost total failure; and the subsequent reprisals against workers, government employees, even school teachers – all strikers were rehired only individually, with all seniority lost, and every militant weeded out even if it halved factory production – really broke the back of the French labor movement.

Daladier proudly announced that France was at last “one united nation.” It was one of the silliest statements ever made by any political figure. The bourgeois press of the world acclaimed it. By vicious repression and discouraged apathy France was united into a hollow rotted facade, ready to fall apart at a push. Thus French “democracy” had itself added the final touch: after aiding its mortal enemy to power, after helping smash the only force that could have swept that enemy from power, it so smashed all real democracy within itself that in its hour of need it had no convinced defenders.

The writer was one of six investigators sent through the working-class districts of Paris by a bourgeois journalist, to “take the public pulse,” “get the tone of French morale,” in the winter of 1939-1940. Some others, we understood, were interviewing soldiers on leave from the front. Considering the extraordinary political range of the investigators involved, our reports were amazingly unanimous. One of the other investigators – a bourgeois democrat – woefully summed it up as follows: “By God, if a German column rolled this afternoon through the Porte de Clichy, ten per cent of the Paris populace would run home to secure a few valuables; the other 90 per cent would stand with its hands in its pockets watching the Germans and saying: ’Ah, merde alors, qu’ils vent vite, ces salauds-la!’ (Cripes, don’t those bastards move fast!).” We all looked atone another and slowly nodded agreement.

Later the bourgeois journalist summed our reports up as follows: “True, there are contributory causes – treason, wretched staff work, graft-ridden preparation, lack of support by the English (who are saving their own skins), new technical methods on the Germans’ part; but all those things are secondary: The primary reason France is collapsing to Germany lies basically in one question and its answer. The plain ordinary French poilu has said to himself: ‘Life under Hitler would probably be worse than life under Reynaud. But would it be enough worse so that that difference is worth dying for!’ What’s the answer?” He returned to the wall map in his office, motioned us close, pointed to the Dunkirk pocket, wiped out in the various-colored crayons representing successive days, and to the colored crayon tongues lapping like angry flames across the Aisne and Somme toward Paris. “There’s the poilu’s answer,” he said, “an answer in geography.”

* * *

Meanwhile, in the circles of the bourgeoisie, there was profound disunity.
 

The Impasse of the Bourgeoisie

“Totalitarianism on the cheap” was the program of the united bourgeoisie. They were united, too – together with their “socialist” lackeys – in working tirelessly to bring about their ideal war – to turn expanding Germany eastward in an exhausting war which, they fondly hoped, might at one stroke exhaust their imperialist rival and wipe out socialism in Russia.

But if that could not be done, the French bourgeoisie divided sharply on a further course.

A broad sector of French capitalism, politically represented by such men as Georges Bonnet, Flandin and Laval, favored voluntarily coming to terms with Germany. Concluding that France had proved too weak in economic potential to be a firstrate power, they proposed to accept the reduction of France to a secondary position, even if it meant becoming a satellite of the Axis. They preferred to do that peacefully rather than risk disaster at the coattails of British imperialism. One need hardly add that these pessimistic realists were neither more nor less “patriots” than the opposite wing, led by Reynaud and Blum, of the proEnglish tendency. Both groups equally feared revolution at home and abroad. They differed on the remedy.

This sharp difference on policy toward Germany led, after war broke out, not to unity but to divided counsels, indecision, immobilization, escapism.

Indecision ran from passive drifting to outright treachery. The highly placed traitors in France were traitors not because they preferred some foreign power (in this case Germany) but because they preferred to smash the republic completely. Said one of them to the writer, in a smart evening salon, in the Faubourg SaintGermain: “We’ve got the right war, but the wrong enemy. It’s socialism we should be fighting against.” And this man had one of the most responsible nonministerial posts in the French government.

There was an even more extraordinary example of this feeling shown at the front itself. In the last war, there was revolutionary fraternization between the opposing privates, despite furious attempts to prevent it by the officers. In this war the writer met a lieutenant who quietly boasted of fraternization between German and French officers in his sector of the front during the Sitzkrieg. Once a week they dined together, and drank champagne toasts to an immediate peace followed by an alliance together in a war against the Soviet Union.

There were laws about treason. Was a single one of these people ever arrested by the government? Of course not. They were sacred cows, untouchable. Because they were linked by every tie of famly, of finance, with the other, the pro-war faction. Their differences were no more than family disagreements. Jean would say, “Cousin Paul is mistaken. I worry about his ideas. Still, he made several good points.” Within such circles, criticism of the “war against Hitlerism” was permissible, excusable. But let Jacques Docques, turret-lathe operator in the De Woitinne Aviation Works, say that he wouldn’t work the fourth consecutive Sunday, and he was damned if he saw what this war was gaining for the French workers anyway, and the lofty Jeans and Pauls fused instantly together in denunciation of him as a spy, a fifth-columnist, a traitor, a Red – and away he went to four years in jail.

On the scale of general policy, this tendency was illustrated spectacularly during the Soviet-Finnish War. The main war was all but forgotten by the French government press, which positively howled for intervention against the USSR. For a moment the French bourgeoisie was temporarily united; Alpine troops were rushed to Scotland, ready to sail the moment Norway and Sweden gave permission, among the salonnards there was gossip of projects for making peace with Germany in order to turn all force against Russia. And if Daladier did not carry out the project, it was not for lack of will but that, in the face of Norwegian and Swedish resistance and Germany’s apparent unwillingness to cooperate, it was beyond his power.

If these gentry had meant one word of what they’d said about a democratic crusade to stop Hitlerism, they’d have retreated to North Africa, they’d have retreated to the south-west corner of Hell, and kept on fighting. But that would have meant abandoning their holdings in France, fighting on like the common poilus to whom they had preached their crusade. Naturally, of course, by their very class nature, they did nothing of the sort: they came to terms as quickly as possible with the invader, while they still had economic bargaining-points, in order to retain the jackal’s share of the power to continue to exploit the people of France.

In a series of penthouses atop the National City Bank of New York Building on the Avenue des Champs Elysees are the elegant quarters of one of Paris’s smartest clubs, a haunt of French and international business leaders – the Grand Pavois. For years it had been denounced in the liberal and labor press as the nastiest nest of Hitlerites in all Paris. Even during the war, the moment the newspaper revolt in the late winter had somewhat eased the censorship, such liberal weeklies as La Lumiere returned to the attack with facts and dates and figures. La Lumiere promptly caught hell from the censorship: a defense of these patriotic figures was made; the Ministry of the Interior and its police of course never raised a finger – they were too busy jailing trade-union militants. Some days after the German occupation of Paris, this writer met the bourgeois journalist mentioned above, whose offices were in that building; he had, in his surprised innocence, an indignant little story to tell.

The afternoon of the occupation, he had been watching the German troops marching up the Champs Elysees, when he heard a hail from the balcony above his, that of Le Grand Pavois. Invited up, in that lonely and deserted building, for a drink, he found three members of the club (the others had instantly left Paris when it was announced the city would be defended house-by-house, street-by-street, but were shortly on their way back, now that Paris had been declared an open town and had quietly fallen). The three representative members were in the best of spirits: the Nazi flag was flying from the staff, an honorary membership had been dispatched to the General commanding the troops of occupation, and they’d found the barman again. “Tragic, tragic,” said the Club’s secretary, “a terrible defeat.” The journalist agreed. “But essentially,” the secretary continued, meditatively sipping his whiskeysoda, “the best thing that ever happened to France. Now we’re rid of Parliament; now we’re rid of these damned cabinets; now we can settle our accounts with the Jews and with these damned Red workmen. The war was a mistake and a disaster; but it has ended as a blessing in disguise.”

As the journalist told me this, I thought of the concentration camps all through southwestern France, where there lay on lice-ridden straw hundreds of thousands of anti-fascist fighters – French labor militants, Spanish Loyalists, anti-Mussolini Italians, German anti-Nazis – imprisoned by French “democracy” for wanting to fight against Hitlerism too hard; lying there waiting, waiting, under unremitting guard (there were always enough gardes mobiles for that, however strained the fighting lines might be) until the German wave passed over them, and they were sorted out to be sent back – to Lipari, to Hitler’s headsmen, to Franco’s garrotters.

That was the way democracy was defended against fascism.


Footnote

1. An American newspaperman, for whom I occasionally did some part-time work, could scarcely believe his eyes when he read this booklength law through. Recognizing its immense importance, he tried to publicize it as one of the most important news events of the year. His paper never even mentioned it. He thought it was mere ignorance on its part; a Marxist could tell him that it was part of the conspiracy of silence of the capitalist “democracies.”

 
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