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Albert Glotzer

The French Elections – To Socialism or Fascism?

(June 1936)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol.2 No.5, June 1936, pp.4-6.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“WE WISH to declare, without losing an hour, that we are read ready to fill the role belonging to us – that is, to form and direct a government of the People’s Front.” With these words, Leon Blum, the leader of the French Socialist party, announced the intentions of his party on the morrow of the victory of the People’s Front In the French elections. Blum continues: “The French people have signified their will with vehement emphasis. They will allow for no argument, no trickery, and will tolerate no resistance.” And the Socialist Call of May 9th declares; “France’s first Socialist premier will take his portfolio at a time when his (!) country is sorely troubled at home and abroad.”

The importance of the above declarations exists in the following: 1. The People’s Front, dominated by a desire to maintain a bloc with petty bourgeois capitalism in the form of the Radical Socialist party, will, under socialist leadership, attempt to organize the government which will not be proletariat in program, but in essence capitalist. In other words, we will observe once more, socialists in the role of governmental leaders of a capitalist economic social order. 2. The recognition that troubles lie ahead for the new government, without a precise statement of where the trouble lies and what form the impending struggles will take. And, 3. Blum’s determination that the new government will tolerate no resistance.” What kind of resistance and against whom? For the moment, Blum leaves that unsaid. We propose to answer it for him and point out what must be done in France today.

The very existence of the People’s Front, the character of the elections, are a result of the growing conflict with fascism and the menace of a seizure of state power by it. These struggles between the party of capitalist democracy and the working class parties on the one hand and the parties of reactionary finance capital on the other, reflect the deepening economic crisis of French capitalism and the intensification of the class struggle. The present skirmishes on the parliamentary field must ultimately find a solution through the victorious revolutionary action of the masses, or else succumb to the violent reaction of a fascist coup.

It is claimed for the People’s Front victory, that it has delivered a fatal blow to the fascist advance, and because of this singular fact, justified its existence. The joy in the ranks of the working class is quite apparent and it is genuine. On the basis of the educative material contained in the Stalinist press and our own, they have become convinced that this election marks the beginning of the end of fascism in France. The danger of complacency and satisfaction in the struggle against the Croix de Feu, of an unquestioned faith in the theory and practice of People’s Front, compels us to issue the warning: the victory of the left in France will result inevitably in the preparation of an armed coup by the fascists seeking to exterminate the working class. The ultimate physical conflict with the fascists is inescapable. The working class must prepare to cope with this inevitability by arming its own ranks and by seeking to solves the economic crisis of capitalism through the struggle for socialism.

It is a paramount lesson of the struggles in Italy, Germany and Austria, that fascism is an extra-legal force of reaction which relies in the final analysis upon its gangs of armed thugs. The parliamentary struggle against fascism is precisely the field of combat which decides nothing of fundamental importance. Parliamentary victories cannot and will not insure a victory over fascism, because it is an extra-legal force. Past experience demonstrates that a parliamentary loss or defeat of fascism not only does not effect their determination to seize power by an armed coup. but actually serves it as a barometer in matching its forces with those of the proletariat, and permits it to decide the most opportune moment to insure victory.

Two years of physical conflict with the resultant extermination of the working class organizations finally assured Mussolini’s victory. Between Hitler’s appointment to the Chancellorship by that “lesser evil,” the Junker Hindenburg, and the assumption to power by the Nazies, was a period of violent destruction of the immense German proletarian organizations. In Austria, the fascists planned beforehand their physical and armed assault against Social Democracy and defeated a surprised worker’s militia. In Italy, with power in its grasp, the proletarian forces lost out by vacillation, indecision, and fear. Germany marks one of the darkest periods in proletarian history. Here the parties of the working class. Communist and Socialist, deliberately refused to understand that the struggle against the Hitlerites meant the arming of the working class and the opening of a determined united offensive against fascism. In Austria, the Social Democratic party contented itself with issuing highly inflammatory propaganda, without simultaneously organizing the social democratic masses behind these revolutionary threats. The conclusion finally drawn was, that if the parties of the working class had matched up to the situation, there would be no fascism in existence today.

In France, while the concrete situation contains elements absent in previous historical experiences, the actual situation is. similar in all its broad and general aspects. The insolvable capitalist crisis has given rise to the French fascist movement which will seek, as was sought elsewhere, to demolish the working class organizations, destroy their resistance to the capitalist offensive and attempt to solve the economic crisis by The organization of the dictatorship of finance capitalism.

What will happen in the coming period? Let us attempt a forecast. Reacting to the experiences of Germany, the French working class demanded unity in the struggle against fascism. The fear of fascism gave rise to that anomaly, the People’s Front, as a substitute for revolutionary action. Composing the People’s Front are the Radical Socialists, that party of the French middle class, interested in the maintenance of democratic capitalism, the Socialist party and the Communist party. The purpose of the bloc is the maintenance of bourgeois democracy. For that reason, the People’s Front serves the interest of the Radical Socialist party and not that of the proletariat. Without that aim, it would have” been impossible to form the bloc with the Radical Socialists, who are neither, radicals nor socialists. The French Socialist party, standing upon the program of a democratic solution to the French crisis, and giving lip service to the eventual establishment of socialism, when and if the majority of the French nation will vote it in, was no obstacle to a union with the petty-bourgeois forces of French capitalism. To those who still conceive of the Communist party as a revolutionary party by past association, it must be said that this is no longer so and has not been the fact for some years. The French Communist party has become, as even so astute an observer as Edgar Ansel Mowrer points out, a “patriotic and conservative” force in French politics. Why then, should the Radical Socialists object to a bloc with the C. P., to whom the tri-color vies with the red flag, the Marseillaise assumes the importance of the International, and the maintenance of a strong military force for French imperialism becomes paramount ? The answer lies in the very existence of the People’s Front.

The Front has received a tremendous support from the mass of proletarians and a majority of the French middle class. There is testimony in this fact that the majority of the French nation is anti-fascist. The election victory however, is only a political one. More decisive that that is the necessity of an economic solution to the French crisis, which gave “birth to the present political relationships. If that economic solution is not forthcoming the French masses are doomed. From a Marxist point of view there is only one solution to the capitalist crisis in a period of the universal decay of this social order, namely, in socialism. Therefore, in essence, the struggle against fascism must resolve itself in a battle for socialism.

There is no indication whatsoever, that the People’s Front understands this or mean? to pursue a proletarian class policy. Quite the contrary, the People’s Front is concentrating its endeavors upon a continued maintenance of the capitalist social order. The theory being: France is not yet ripe for socialism, the middle classes are against socialism and we cannot have socialism without the support of the middle classes.

If the French Socialist party, in bloc with or supported by the communists and radicals socialists, form the government, the responsibility for alleviating the economic crisis and improving the conditions of the impoverished proletarians and crisis-ridden middle class will fall upon its shoulders. The patent inability to solve the economic crisis of capitalism except through a further reduction in the standards of the middle class and the proletarian masses, points to the danger. The whole situation will play directly into the hands of the fascists. Finance capital is making and will continue to make more difficult an already impossible task. The surgeon of French capitalism will be the People’s Front and it will attempt to cure a decaying organism.

The logical development out of this situation will be the growth of despair among the proletariat and the swing away of the middle class from the People’s Front to fascism. That process, started already prior to and in the elections, will become more pronounced in the coming period. The fascist offensive, resting at this time on an armed force of nearly 700,000, will begin to gain momentum and the armed conflict, so studiously avoided by the working class parties, will confront them like a nightmare.

The middle class, it is true, is not a proletarian force. It has always been identified with capitalism. But it is not a basic class. Its well-being rests upon the foundation of a healthy capitalism – a condition now permanently absent. It is driven helter-skelter and crushed between the working class ranks into which it is driven and the ranks of the bourgeoisie which, it does not deign to leave. It is a class that has to be won to the support of the working class. The existence of the People’s Front is proof of at least this understanding on the part of the social democracy and the Stalinist?. But the working- class parties have to accept the understanding that the middle class has no independence and can play no independent role in the class struggle. It cannot direct, the struggle.

The middle class can be won to the side of the working-class only if the latter and its parties pursue a decisive course and demonstrate to the former that they really mean business. Vacillations, fear,, blunders and finally, the inability to solve the economic situation will drive the middle class from the proletariat. The working class parties in France have at least this much in their favor at this moment: the middle class party has allied itself with them in a bloc.

The alliance can be maintained only if the proletarian forces march forward with decisiveness to realize the need of the hour: a solution to the economic crisis by a policy that will lead to the victory of socialism. The Bolsheviks of Russia proved the above by successfully conducting the revolutionary struggle against. Czarism. Had not the middle classes supported them, they could never have seized and maintained power. It is because they demonstrated that they meant business, that the middle class came to their support.

In France, there is time now to prepare. If there is recognition of difficulties ahead, it is necessary to state that the difficulties come from the fascists. If Blum wants to resist the reaction, he must first recognize that he will have to resist an armed force of fascist thugs. Once recognizing this unavoidable fact, it is necessary to draw the conclusion: the only resistance against the reaction is through the arming of the working class and through the establishment of the workers militia. This must be accompanied by such economic and political measures as will lead to the eventual establishment of socialism. That means the erection of Soviets, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. The organization of a workers’ militia, and the adoption of measures leading toward socialism must be conducted simultaneously and coordinated into one vast offensive against fascism with the aim of annihilating this horde of reaction.

Waiting, playing the parliamentary game, trusting and relying upon the bourgeois army and police, operating under the legal “nuts of the bourgeois state organized for the political direction 01 me capitalist economic order, vacillating, failing to pursue a Proletarian class policy there you have the greatest assurance for the victory of fascism. Adopt the opposite course and you open up new vistas for the international working class. The crying need of the hour in France is the independent revolutionary assault of the proletarian movement – for socialism.

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