From Fourth International, vol.6 No.8, August 1945, pp.238-243.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
As early as 1922, during the era of the Communist International under Lenin, Leon Trotsky analyzed the contradictions which were tearing apart the economic and social structure of France. He foresaw in the earliest stages, when the appearances to most observers were those of growth and, strength, the degeneration that reached its climax in the rapid defeat of France in World War II. At that time in the Resolution on the Versailles Treaty, which he wrote for the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, November-December 1922, he made the following prophetic analysis:
The appearance is that France, of all the countries, has grown most in power. But in reality the economic basis of France, with her small and steadily diminishing population, her enormous domestic and foreign debt, and her dependence on England, does not provide an adequate foundation for her greed for imperialist expansion. So far as her political power is concerned, she is thwarted by England’s mastery of all the important naval bases, and by the oil monopoly held by England and the United States. In the domain of economy, the enrichment of France with the iron mines given her by the Treaty of Versailles, loses its value inasmuch as the supplementary and indispensable coal mines of the Ruhr Basin remain in German hands. The hopes of restoring shattered French finances by means of German reparations have proved illusory. When the impracticability of the Treaty of Versailles becomes apparent, certain sections of French heavy industry will consciously bring on the depreciation of the franc in order to unload the costs of the war on the shoulders of the French proletariat.
In 1934, five years before the outbreak of hostilities, Trotsky declared in the theses, War and the Fourth International:
The collapse of the League of Nations is indissolubly bound up with the beginning of the collapse of French hegemony on the European continent. The demographic and economic power of France proved to be, as was to be expected, too narrow a base for the Versailles system.
Throughout the critical years from 1934 to 1937 Trotsky wrote articles and books analyzing the situation in France and explaining to the workers the only possible way out of the morass of French capitalist decay. In the light of events these articles, contained in the book Whither France, are truly prophetic. Nowhere has a Marxist analysis received such swift and tragic confirmation.
In his last great programatic document, Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, published in May 1940, Leon Trotsky pointed out that the weakness revealed by France in the course of World War II “was not unexpected.” After a brief characterization of England’s role on the world arena, he wrote of France:
A similar lack of correspondence between her economic weight and her world position is characteristic of France too, but on a smaller scale. Her hegemony in Europe rested on a temporary conjuncture of circumstances created by the annihilation of Germany and the artificial combinations of the Versailles Treaty. The size of her population and the economic foundation supporting this hegemony were far too inadequate. When the hypnosis of victory wore off, the real relationship of forces surged to the surface. France proved to be much weaker than she had appeared not only to her friends but to her enemies. Seeking cover, she became in essence Great Britain’s latest dominion.
In the fall of 1940, after the collapse of France, Trotsky’s analysis was used as the basis for the further delineation of the degeneration of France by the Fourth International.
The curve of French imperialism has been steadily declining since the “victory” of 1918. Its status in Europe and in the world as a result of the Versailles Treaty was extremely disproportionate to its real economic strength. It could provide its political vassals in Europe (the Little Entente, the Balkan States) with financial aid but was incapable of making them customers for an industry, which could not compete successfully with Germany, England or the United States. The handling of the tremendous French colonial empire was also beyond the power of the industrial apparatus of the metropolis.
The rebuilding of industry depleted and destroyed by the First World War forced the economic curve slightly upward: But by 1930, with the advent of the world economic crisis, French imperialism had reached the phase of absolute decline; it was never able to recover from the depression.
The victory of 1918 did not infuse new life but merely engendered illusions, gave the impression of strength while a decline was actually taking place. Even prior to 1914 French development was backward in comparison with the other great powers. And although French imperialism exploited the colonies ferociously, they netted relatively little because of the backwardness of the economy and methods of the metropolis.
“French imperialism might be termed usury imperialism,” wrote Lenin, and characterized this form of exploitation in the following manner:
The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by the exploitation of the labor of several overseas countries and colonies.
The policy of investment in countries outside of France at high rate of interest not only has had an effect on the political, cultural and social aspects of French life, but has been a decisive factor in determining the character of the country’s economy. It has operated to prevent the rebuilding and modernization of the French productive plant. French economy therefore has failed to keep abreast of capitalist development in other countries, and has even lagged far behind. Investments that might “normally” have accomplished this task were drained out of the country to fields of more lucrative return.
As early as 1886 Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, French economist, observed that:
The same capital which will earn three or four percent in agricultural Improvements in France will bring ten, fifteen, twenty percent in agricultural enterprises in the United States, Canada, La Plata, Australia, or New Zealand.
Parker Thomas Moon in his book Imperialism and World Politics remarks of French investment during the same period:
Sums invested in building new railways in France would hardly earn two or three percent, but in new countries they would earn ten to twenty percent.
The fundamental reason for this disparity between the returns on investments at home and abroad lies in the exceptionally poor natural resources at the disposal of French capitalism. The drain of capital to other countries and colonies, in turn, dried up basic French industries, made them less remunerative and less attractive to French investors. Trotsky explained that the “assured flow of colonial super-profits” was at the root of economic “sluggishness.” And added: “Privileges always foster sluggishness and stagnation.”
According to Parker Moon, “investment of capital was more emphasized at a later period, but even in 1895, Declassé, the man who was later to become the guiding genius of French imperialism, was stressing the need of governmental protection and aid for French investments in the colonies ...” This “protection” was guaranteed by a large army and navy and a colonial administration that left nothing undone to accommodate the desires of French imperialists, through the application of those brutal methods with which they ruled and exploited the colonial population.
The French imperialist empire expanded until by 1926 it was possible for Parker Moon to state: “For every acre in France there are twenty in the French colonies and protectorates.”
The burden of supporting the army, navy and colonial staff to maintain the position of French banker-usurer in world economy sapped and still further weakened the economy of the country. Thus, rationalization of production, carried to its peak by the United States and Germany, remained a utopia for France.
French economy declined and degenerated. What is true of France is in varying degrees “true of capitalism in general in this period of the general decline of capitalism. Precisely because the development of world capitalism proceeds unevenly – now spurting violently forward and at other times falling into stagnation, with certain countries skipping stages or telescoping them, which results in phenomenal differences in the levels of development at any particular time – in the period of the absolute decline of capitalism tremendous differences in tempo exist at every given stage.
Capitalist decay first reached the gangrenous stage in France because her economic base was weakest of all the great powers. This decay, having attacked and nearly destroyed the economic base, then spread through the entire superstructure, manifesting itself in every aspect of French life. The dialectic of the processes in the foundation, their effects upon the superstructure and vice versa could be traced and observed in art, morality, philosophy, in the general culture of the country. We shall find that the same sluggishness, stagnation and decay which decomposed the roots couldn’t help but extend to the topmost branches. The rest of our exposition will be limited to the manifestations of this gangrene in two important aspects of French life: the political regime and especially its military arm.
For purposes of illustration we shall draw upon material presented by the sly and well-informed bourgeois journalist and apologist Pertinax, whose book The Gravediggers of France constitutes an annihilating indictment of the French capitalist class.
Let us begin with the army. The General Staff mirrored the degeneration of French economy by the method with which they prepared the country for the war they knew was inevitable. In the very image of a banker who entrusts his gold to the safekeeping of a steel bank vault, the French Generals and the bourgeoisie placed their faith in the massive steel and concrete of the Maginot Line. But while bankers at least make sure their vault is sealed at both ends, the Maginot Line, so to speak, the military vault extended only from Alsace to Montmedy, thus leaving one end open to the Germans for the execution of the Schlieffen Plan which depended upon a flanking movement through the low countries and into northern France. “The continuous front” on which the General Staff based their entire strategy contained a fatal flaw, which they tried to rectify by hastily building field fortifications after war was declared. Even these, however, remained poorly armed and poorly garrisoned.
Six months before Poland was attacked, Petain was still deriding tanks and declaring dive-bombers to be useless. What was the source of this glaring lack of foresight? More than provincialism prevented the General Staff from embracing the techniques of modern warfare. After propounding the stale arguments of the cretinized Generals, Weygand let slip the real cause for their conservative distrust. According to Weygand: This “professional army would not be ready for five years, as even its proponents admit. Think of it! Five years! War will come long before that! And what a fertile breeding ground for communists those gangs of mechanics would be!” So ingrained was the fear of revolution that it tended to paralyze even the reflexes of self-preservation among the French ruling class and its generals.
In 1934 Hitler created his first three armored divisions. Weygand and Petain ordered seven new tanks! As minister of war in the same year, Petain cut a six billion franc appropriation for national defense to four billions. Weygand, feeling the hot breath of the proletarian revolution, confided, “an army of mechanics would be a regular hotbed of communism.”
Gamelin, as head of the Army when the war began, as Pertinax  reports, “failed to demand in time the weapons he deemed indispensable ... failed to assemble what he had.” The infantry lacked rifles! Somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 men were armed with the 1936 model, the rest were armed either with the Lebel rifle of 1886 or the Gras of an even earlier date. They had no machine-guns or automatic pistols. The army had two-thirds enough modern anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery, and for two of their best weapons, the 105s and the 47s, they had no shells: a controversy was raging within the General Staff as to the merits of different types!
The few heavy tanks they did have were designed for defensive warfare, capable only of limited speed, and armed with antiquated 37mm guns. Despite the fact that their tanks had a limited range which necessitated frequent refueling, the army had no fuel supply trucks!
Communications, the nerve system of a modern army, were likewise completely inadequate. Radios were poorly designed and built, limited in number, and not even installed in tanks used by the infantry and cavalry. Because “once again the technical forces had been unable to terminate their wrangling in time,” and decide upon the type to manufacture, there was only one-third the needed quantity of telephone equipment.
In aviation as in every branch of the army, the General Staff was impotent to profit by the lessons of the post-war world:
Here we find all the military witnesses at one. In the quantity and quality of our machines, in spare parts, in accessories, and even in the Training of pilots, our failure was dismal. “The training courses had to be extemporized, almost from the whole cloth, in September 1939.” (General Mouchard.)
These examples of “deficiencies” “mistakes,” and “miscalculations” could be multiplied a thousand-fold. They only serve to confirm what is already obvious: the actions and policies of the High Command and Government fall into a pattern of bankruptcy and “betrayal.” These actions and policy are a striking manifestation of the degeneration and decay of French imperialism.
A little over a month after the Wehrmacht launched its Blitzkrieg, France capitulated to Hitler. Was there any way such a swift and crushing defeat could have been avoided? If we assume for a moment that the General Staff and the Government seriously wanted to resist Germany, what alternatives were open to them after the first disasters of the war?
They could have withdrawn, consolidated their forces, defended Paris street by street and house by house as the proletariat did in the days of the Commune, 1870-71. They could have defended France “inch by inch,” finally retreating to the province of Brittany to put up a last-ditch fight. There remained a further avenue of retreat and resistance from this redoubt: evacuation of the troops by French and British fleets to Britain and Africa.
Why didn’t they call for the defense of Paris, as Stalingradwas later defended? Why didn’t they retreat to Brittany? Or to North Africa? Why didn’t they call upon the masses for a struggle to the death?
Because such a resistance, they felt, would have taken on a revolutionary character. To this alternative they preferred defeat.
The bourgeoisie feared the proletariat. They were determined to give the workers no opportunity to rise. They were determined that the French proletariat should be crushed. They would have preferred their own fascist gangs, but since these were not strong enough they gratefully accepted the Nazi gangs and the Gestapo.
The wealthy could not forget so many red flags waving above silent factories, nor the clenched fists raised at their passing automobiles. A vision of revolution on the march had visited them. It dawned upon them that Hitler and Mussolini were allies of their social class rather than enemies of their country.
Weygand, Commander in Chief of the French Army, admonished:
Should we put up with bands scouring the countryside, with local government set up after the Soviet model? “I do not want France to suffer the anarchy which follows a military defeat.”
When the army was in full rout and the Cabinet had fled to Tours, Weygand replied to advocates of resistance who pointed out that there were still fresh troops: “I still have fresh divisions. I intend to keep them to maintain order.” This was reported by Louis Levy in his book The Truth About France.
In opposing the decision of the council to retreat toward Brittany, Weygand again expressed the terror of his class unprotected by an army in the face of an aroused proletariat. According to Pertinax, Weygand summed up his views in the following utterance:
Must it not be assumed that in the midst of ruin, misery, and death, with the Army utterly wiped out, Soviets would sprout forth from the earth?
These capitulationist attitudes and policies were not at all restricted to the General Staff or a few isolated, reactionary politicians and capitalists:
... From 1936 to 1939 the government found among them (the capitalists) many bitter men. They trembled at the idea that their possessions might be torn from them; they felt sure that a state of war would touch off a fresh wave of sit-down strikes, bound to culminate, this time, in wholesale expropriation. Their personal risks haunted them and they could not conceive that life was worth living if the existing social hierarchy was to change.
Actually the capitulation of imperialist France to Hitler was the inescapable result of French capitalism’s inability to consolidate its own ranks, develop a strong fascist movement and crush the proletariat. It came from a fear that grew to be all dominating, the same fear that cemented unity among the capitalists during the revolutionary demonstrations of 1936. French capitalism had to import its fascism from across the Rhine.
Petain and Weygand frantically sought an armistice before the French army completely disintegrated, for “were disorders to spread throughout the army and the population he (Weygand) would consider the usefulness of the armistice as being already lost. Then the harm would have been done.” Thus Weygand testified at the Riom trials.
If the “disorders” referred to by Weygand had broken out they would have led to the only possible ideological war against fascism: the revolutionary war of the proletariat to destroy capitalism, build Soviets and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. But this war the General Staff and their masters were firmly determined to prevent at any cost. Far preferable to them, complete defeat by Hitler’s army.
The bourgeoisie believed with the General Staff that, “... The High Command of the Wehrmacht felt united with the French command by a bond, fastened above the clash of battle, a sort of spiritual fraternity, an ennoblement which the sword confers, or should confer, on those whose profession is to wield it.” There is a bond between the bourgeoisie even of belligerent countries. The defenders of capitalism and its state always find themselves solidly united when the question arises as to which class shall rule.
This unity of opinion did not exist among French capitalists during the crisis in the thirties. They were sharply divided in their opinion as to the solution of the impasse.
One section of the capitalists, represented and served by Reynaud-Blum, believed ‘France should ally herself with England and Russia, gain England’s aid in preserving her colonies, crush Germany and through some miracle, more dreamed of than expected, rejuvenate French economy.
The opposing section, whose political proponents were the Laval-Flandin-Bonnet group, believed that the economy was exhausted to such an extent that France could not retain the position of a first-rate power. They extolled the advantages of alliance with Germany, in which France would play the role of junior partner. Although this policy would relegate France to a subordinate role internationally, it found support among the so-called realistic capitalists who recognized that French economy was not only weak but to a large extent complementary to that of Germany. They bolstered their reasoning with references to the importance of Germany as a protector of capitalism from the onslaughts of Bolshevism. It was this school of capitalist thought that encouraged Germany to satisfy her expansionist aims at the expense of the Soviet Union.
Actually French imperialism was caught in an insoluble contradiction. The government could do nothing to alleviate the situation. French production, with one slight interruption in 1936, continued its steady decline. Neither bourgeois group was able to consolidate power and retain governmental control long enough to carry out its policy to the logical conclusion. As a result Cabinet followed Cabinet. “A relative stability was obtained by a sort of high frequency,” until the last stages of the war when fear of a proletarian revolution welded the capitalist class behind the proponents of a partnership with Hitler.
The Radical-Socialist Party, which occupied the dominant position in political life during the Third Republic, reflected the vacillation of the bourgeoisie. Their inability to solve the contradictions of moribund capitalism had caused them to lose steadily to the Socialist Party since 1924.
The Radical-Socialist Party, supported by peasants, the urban lower middle class, doctors and lawyers, shopkeepers and most of the government employees, ruled France from the time the Dreyfus Affair stripped the Conservatives of governmental monopoly.
“The life of the party [Radicals] was a painful see-saw between right and left.” It was “the crucible in which violent differences were composed through a process of compromise ...” Like a pendulum, the party absorbed the shock at one time from the right, at another from the left. Although in earlier years it always returned to center, from 1937 onward it moved as though a powerful magnet were pulling it to the right. Its servile submission to big industry and banking interests was demonstrated by its readiness to allow direct representatives of France’s 200 families to hold important posts in every Cabinet and always to control the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
With its main prop, the unstable, crisis-torn middle class, becoming more and more desperate in a country whose economy had failed to show any signs of recovery since the beginning of the decade, the Radical-Socialists could not within the limits of capitalism stabilize the government. The vacillatory course of the Radicals was analyzed by Trotsky in 1936:
As a matter of fact, the politics of Radicalism is the politics of perpetual internal conflict, its words diverge from its actions, the intentions from the results. The cause for this duality, however, lies not in the “personal conscience” of leaders but in the character of their social support. [Fourth International, December 1941. Page 302.]
Daladier was typical of the petty-bourgeois elements that composed the leadership of the Radical-Socialist Party “of which”, as Pertinax says, “he was elected ‘president’ and which produced him as a tree produces its fruit.” Pertinax goes on to record some of the “sins” of Daladier and illustrates the latter’s cynicism by quoting a remark Daladier made when he sought the creation of the People’s Front in coalition with the Socialists and Communists: “’When one is out of office, the way back starts at the extreme Left.” But Pertinax avoids disclosing the participation of the Radical-Socialists and Daladier in the growth of French fascism. A case cited by the Social Democrat Levy proves their guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In 1937 the Socialists were demanding of the police and the magistrates that they seek out and prosecute criminals of the Cagoulard organization. Searches and inquiries by the police, urged on by a Socialist Minister of Interior, brought many to light. “Later, Daladier, as Prime Minister, undertook to hush up the affair, and one after another he had the leading prisoners released. Here is the best proof, better than the most ingenious argument, of the complicity, direct or indirect, of some of the Radical leaders in the crimes of French fascism.” [Truth About France, p.148.] Levy further states that in 1938-39, “Daladier suited the reactionaries all the more because he was a Radical ...”
Daladier was not the only member of the Radicals who was following that course. There is ample proof of the complicity of others, proof making it quite obvious that the leading elements of the Radicals either tolerated the growth of fascist organizations, aided fascist individuals and tendencies, or openly embraced fascism.
In 1936 Trotsky warned that “the political fate of France in the period immediately ahead will take shape depending largely upon the manner in which Radicalism will be liquidated, and who will fall heir to its legacy, i.e., the influence upon the petty bourgeoisie: Fascism or the party of the proletariat.” (Whither France, p.133.)
Neither the Socialist nor the Communist parties sought the liquidation of the Radical-Socialist Party. Just the contrary. Instead of attempting to win the ranks of the Radical Party to their own organizations, they aroused new hopes in capitalism and injected new life into the Radical-Socialist Party by entering into a “People’s Front” coalition with it in 1935.
The limitations of the People’s Front formed by the three parties was apparent from the beginning. It could not go beyond the bounds of capitalism. As a matter of fact the Radicals were exceedingly hesitant about any and all reforms. Therefore, the coalition of labor and capital was doomed from the start, as all such class collaborationist efforts are, to the mildest kind of parliamentary opposition, to a continuation of policies already proved bankrupt.
The politicians of the People’s Front were swept into office by an overwhelming vote. To the surprise and chagrin of the Stalinists, who had hoped that the Radical-Socialists would receive the largest vote and hence form the government, the Socialist Party polled the majority of votes.
The revolutionary crisis, given added impetus by the results of the elections, found its expression in demonstrations which broke out and assumed the proportions of “a veritable popular revolution.” During May 1936, almost two million workers participated in 12,142 sit-down strikes.
The bourgeoisie were quaking in their boots, and although President Lebrun was loath to appoint a “Marxist” Premier, “at least the worst could be avoided. If reforms were not promised, revolution might follow ... Lebrun, indeed, was not alone in his attitude; the leaders of the French employers, it is said, joined him in begging Blum to speak ... “promising reforms and ending the strike struggles.
The “Marxist” Blum formed a Cabinet composed of Socialists and Radicals, stating, “We shall try to bring forth out of capitalism all the reforms it can stand,” [and on June 7] the cabinet laid before Parliament a whole series of bills which ... prescribed the forty-hour week and vacations with pay, nationalized the armament industry, reformed the Bank of France, and set up a wheat board.
The legislative machine, under the regime of the People’s Front, worked at high speed in an attempt to restore the prestige of the parliamentary form of bourgeois domination. The immediate effect of the “reform” legislation it passed was intended solely to stem the revolutionary tide that swept France. The bourgeoisie, fearing they might lose everything, were quite willing to make large concessions-on paper. As Pertinax explains to capitalist critics of the People’s Front:
... In the spring and summer of 1936, the quasi-revolutionary movement which swept the country gave the government of the day little scope to do better ... In 1936 all ministers bowed very low to sit-down strikes. Let us recognize that political necessity hardly admitted any other attitude.
Blum and the partisans of the coalition hoped the forty-hour week would reduce the number of unemployed and that this, combined with higher wages, would stimulate industry. Production rose a bare 3 to 6 per cent in the months immediately following the reforms. “Owners showed no desire to invest fresh capital to ‘rationalize’ their methods of operation, to run new risks. They were swayed by fear of losses rather than the hope of profits.” At the same time wage increases were effected the government began devaluating the franc and by October real wages had dropped 10 to 15 percent. “French production costs were about equal to other countries for the first time in five years.”
Capitalism’s major criticism of Blum are echoed by Pertinax who complains:
He [Blum] proved too submissive when confronted with the widespread social commotion unleashed by the mere prospect of his accession to office ... Could he not have used his moral ascendancy over the strikers to sidetrack those of their claims which were against the national interest?
The People’s Front’s gravest deficiency, according to the capitalists, lay in the fact that it permitted the introduction of the forty-hour week at a time when German production was at a high peak; and that it failed to carry the policy of devaluation of the franc far enough. Leaving aside the outright sabotage of production by the French capitalists, which is usually ignored by bourgeois journalists, the first is refuted by the fact that production actually rose after the institution of shorter hours. True, it rose only a littler but enough to indicate that the lag in production was not at all a result of a shorter working week. Furthermore, even with the cost of production 20 percent below other countries in 1938, and with orders pouring in, French industry couldn’t increase its productivity. They couldn’t fill the orders. Factory equipment was too obsolete and run down. As a result, on the eve of war, French production was 30 percent below the 1930 level.
Blum’s crime lay not in his lack of demagogy, as Pertinax and other bourgeois journalists allege, but in that he shared, with the Stalinists, the responsibility for not carrying out an independent working class policy.
In our era of the general decline of capitalism, failures on the part of working class leadership are followed by quick and savage retribution. The bankruptcy and impotence of the People’s Front, explained as inevitable by Trotsky and the Fourth International, disoriented the proletariat and destroyed the confidence of the middle class in the socialist solution to their plight. The drift of the petty-bourgeoisie from the Radical-Socialist Party to the left, which had been taking place at a constantly accelerating tempo since 1924 and had reached its peak in 1936, ceased abruptly and began shifting in the opposite direction – toward fascism.
The bankruptcy of the Socialist Party was exceeded in point of responsibility only by the treachery of the Stalinists who, in their complete submission to the Kremlin, followed the People’s Front policy that led to betrayal of the working class in France, as it had time and again in the rest of the world.
After the assumption of power by Hitler in 1933, the Stalinists made a quick turn to the right. They began to preach People’s Frontism. In France, on February 9, 1934, under the leadership of Doriot, who at that time had not yet gone over to the fascists, they participated in a demonstration organized by the CGT. Even then evidences of their recent adventurism could be detected in the ultra-demagogic slogan: “Death to Daladier!”
As French-Soviet relations improved the Stalinists moved further and further to the right. They became “democratic” and above all patriotic. They came out for unity with all the patriots, calling for the “union of all Frenchmen.”
Stalin, seeking a closer relationship with France, believed this could be attained through the Radical-Socialists and instructed the French Party to express sympathy for and gain the support of the Radicals. The Stalinist leaders were only too eager to betray the interests of the French working class at Stalin’s request. As a result of this policy, in the first People’s Front manifestation in 1935, the Stalinists promptly dropped their hangmen’s noose for Daladier, and shouted: “Daladier for Premier!”
To avoid alienating Radicals who opposed even limited nationalization of industry, they refused to support the mild proposal of the Socialist Party for “structural reforms” – the nationalization of certain key industries.
The Social-Democrat Levy states that although the Stalinists didn’t take posts in the Blum Cabinet, they did support the government loyally. And even the conservative and critical Pertinax finds words of praise for the Stalinist Thorez, who during the strike wave of 1936 demonstrated his value to the capitalist class by acting as strikebreaker. At the height of 1936 strike waves Thorez told the workers that “One of the most important things in a strike was to know when to stop.” Important – to whom? To the bourgeoisie. And to the Kremlin bureaucracy who saw its alliance with the French bourgeoisie threatened and who feared the proletarian revolution as much as the capitalist class!
The Stalinist Party which is the strongest political force in France today is repeating its former treacherous role. Masses of the workers are still under the illusion that it will lead them on the path of the October Revolution. But the Stalinists are again preparing to betray them in the interests of Stalin’s diplomatic deals.
De Gaulle, who now rules by virtue of Allied support, believes like Richelieu, French statesman of the early seventeenth century, that France should “draw money from other countries.” De Gaulle, revenant of nineteenth-century French imperialism, wants to retain and expand the colonial empire which is an indispensable part of this economic program. DeclassÃ©, the guiding “genius” of French imperialism, who expounded the necessity of colonial expansion and the building of an army and navy commensurate with the tasks of colonial aggrandizement and protection, is the ideological forefather of de Gaulle’s imperialist philosophy. In de Gaulle’s reactionary mind the grand era of French life was the Ferry decade of the ‘eighties when France acquired sixty thousand square miles of territory in Asia and one million in Africa.
The model of France de Gaulle admires and seeks to emulate is personified in Marshal Petain about whom de Gaulle wrote in the foreword to his own book, La France et Son Armée (published in 1938, long after Petain’s sympathy for fascism was well known): “A chief appeared (in the last war). Upon the day when we had to choose between ruin and reason, Petain was promoted. In him harmony is so complete as to seem a decree of nature.” Most pleasing to de Gaulle is this Petainist “harmony,” the music of the past imperialist story of France.
Try as he will the past cannot be recaptured. De Gaulle’s appearance at the head of the French government is only a mockery of the will of the people, an attempt by the Allies to assure stability where stability can no longer be maintained on the basis of capitalist economy. The rot which began at the base of French imperialist economy has spread throughout the entire structure.
Leon Trotsky warned in 1934:
Capitalism has brought the means of production to such a level that they are paralyzed by the misery of the popular masses, ruined by the self-same capitalism. The whole system has thereby begun to decline, decompose and rot. Capitalism not only cannot give the toilers new social reforms, nor even petty alms. It is forced to take back what it once gave. All of Europe has entered an era of economic and political counter-reforms. The policy of despoiling and suffocating the masses stems not from the caprices of the reaction but from the decomposition of the capitalist system. That is the fundamental fact which must be assimilated by every worker if he is not to be duped by hollow phrases. (Whither Franc, p.13.)
Today this warning is the grim reality, greatly aggravated by the havoc and destruction of the war. The only way out of the welter of decline and decay is the path followed by the Bolsheviks in 1917 under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.
There is but one party in France equipped with the program and with the will to lead the masses on that course. It is the French section of the Fourth International. Of it Leon Trotsky wrote:
The Fourth International rises on the shoulders of its three predecessors. It is subjected to blows from the front, the sides and rear. Careerists, cowards, philistines have nothing to seek in our ranks ... Let pedants and skeptics shrug their shoulders about ‘small’ organizations that issue ‘small’ papers and fling a challenge to the entire world. Serious revolutionists will pass contemptuously by the pedants and skeptics. The October Revolution also once began with its swaddling clothes.
1. The Gravediggers of France (Military Defeat – Armistice – Counterrevolution), by Pertinax. Doubleday, Doran & Co., New York 1944. 612 + XI pp.
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