Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

France: First Signs of the Storm

France: First Signs of the Storm, Fourth International, October 1941, pp. 235–6, under the name “Marc Loris”.

The political life of France has obviously entered a new phase. The Petain Government has abandoned the hope of rallying the country around itself by its benevolent paternalism; it now tries, with trembling hand, to crack the whip. The Bonapartist character of the Government has been markedly accentuated in the past period. In his speech on August 12, Petain acknowleged that the whole country is against him and that, in addition to the German bayonets, the sole support of his regime is the police. His regime rests upon so narrow a base that it is shaken by incessant alterations.

When he took power, Petain boasted that he would put an end to the traditional instability of the French parliamentary regime. In actual fact the Government apparatus has never been more subject than today to constant jolts. The whole administration, including the police, is periodically purged. “Whoever is not with me is against me,” Petain has proclaimed. Simple abstention becomes an offense, the least doubt an attack. To consolidate the crumbling structure of his regime, Petain demands an oath of loyalty from his collaborators” He is now trying to create some mass base with the French Legion. He had already tried some months ago to solve the same task with the National Assembly. The organizing of this enterprise has now been stopped. The new effort will doubtless meet with the same success.

The more Petain is isolated from the country by distrust and hate, the more he is obliged to yoke himself by new bonds to the chariot of the conqueror. He promises Hitler “loyal collaboration” and the main part of his collaboration is the crushing of his own people by even heavier repressions.

The Role of Individual Terror

It is in this atmosphere that the revolver shot against Laval rang out. The attempt is obviously not an accidental occurrence and the motives of the assassin have rarely been clearer. It is the whole French petty-bourgeoisie, overwhelmed by misery, stifled by repression, its patriotism offended, which pulled the trigger to assuage its anger. The attempt against Laval enables us to measure the growing tension of antagonisms which are accumulating in France (and in all Europe).

In the duel between the oppressors and the terrorists we are, of course, on the side of those who do not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for liberty, but that does not mean that we approve their methods. Far from that. Individual terror is the specific weapon of the petty-bourgeoisie when pushed to the wall. It is no novelty. It has already had a long experience in numerous countries. Marxists have often had the occasion to criticize the tactics of individual terror- not of course in the name of morality, but from the standpoint of revolutionary effectiveness. It is not a question of “revenging” oneself; but of finding the best methods of struggle. For one Laval assassinated ten other zealous “collaborators” will present themselves. For a single French officer killed there will come a hundred others, more haughty and more brutal.

As for the effect of the individual attempts upon the masses, if it has any effect it can only be to drive them into passivity. If salvation can come from a few heroes who will avenge our miseries and liberate us from the oppressor by means of a revolver shot, what’s the use of organizing and preparing the struggle? If one can rely on a “savior,” why lose time forming a revolutionary party?

If they are sterile in themselves, the individual attempts are nevertheless manifest signs of the profound crisis which is maturing in France and in all Europe. Hitler’s “New Order” can bring the peoples only misery and oppression. In their slang, the German soldiers use the word “organized” with the meaning of plunder. If they have stolen a chicken or a roll of butter, they say that they have “organized” them. They have grasped very well what all the grandiose phrases on the “organization” of Europe by Hitler means: the concentration of all resources in the hands of German imperialism for the prosecution of its work of conquest. The oppressed and despoiled people grumble with revolt.

The Effect of the Soviet Struggle

To this general cause of the crisis is now added the war against the USSR. It is there that one must see the source of the wave of sabotage which has suddenly swept over France. In what measure are the acts of sabotage the product of concerted organizational action? That is difficult to say. It appears that the Stalinists have preserved a fairly considerable organizational ability; but at the same time the amplitude of the sabotage movement and the variety of its forms shows that it has manifestly surpassed the organized nuclei of an illegal party. In this wave of sabotage which seeks to paralyze the German military machine, we fully support the initiative of the masses which serve the interests of the defense of the USSR as well as their own liberation. Are the Stalinists participating in the individual assassination attempts with their responsible cadres? That is difficult to say, but it seems that they are not alien to that. The American press has announced that in a leaflet the Stalinists threaten to exterminate 10 Germans for each one of themselves condemned and executed. The attempt upon Marcel Gitton, an old Stalinist leader, who turned Fascist at the outbreak of the war between France and Germany, reinforces the hypothesis of the Stalinists’ participation in the terrorist struggle. It is evidently not excluded that Gitton was assassinated as a result of internal quarrels in the Fascist camp, but in the present conditions the other possibility, that of an action by the Stalinists, is much more probable. There is, moreover, nothing to astonish us in this. The Stalinists are not restrained by any Marxist principle; for a long time such things have not mattered one bit to them. On the other hand, bureaucratism and individual terrorism go hand in hand. Both have their origin in distrust of the supposedly “incapable” masses, which the individual has to extricate from their difficulties. We repeat: nothing can be accomplished by means of individual attempts. These uselessly sacrifice the precious devotion of the masses and fetter their action.

The Storm Is Approaching

German imperialism has still, of course, great reserves of strength, and it would be illusory to hope for its early fall. But its situation has manifestly worsened in these last weeks. Hitler, it seems, cannot terminate his adventure in the East before winter. This means enormous expenditures of forces in the coming months, the loss of prestige in Germany itself. The German generals are going to sack the conquered countries with still more fury. But if the first real protests—attempts at assassination and sabotage—are repressed in blood and crushed for a certain time, they will soon revive with redoubled force and in more effective forms. The resistance of the adversary will have been lessened. After many assaults the outburst is inevitable.

A mighty storm is gathering over Europe. What we now feel are the first gusts in the air. All the nations are shaking to their very foundations. The ruling classes are discredited. To be sure, purely nationalist eddies are not lacking amongst the petty-bourgeois masses who have lost their equilibrium, but the power will go to those who know clearly what they want. And we know what that is: the end of the whole capitalist system, power to the workers, the socialist revolution. Our weapon is a bold revolutionary party. All our efforts, all our constant care should be devoted to preparing this weapon. All our will ought to be ceaselessly concentrated upon this role: to prepare the organization which tomorrow will be able to lead the struggle to the end.