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Frank L. Demby

Chautemps’ Rule Shaky Prices Rise

(September 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 6, 18 September, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the economic sphere the French Peoples Front has above all tried to emulate Roosevelt’s New Deal. Given, however, the far weaker financial structure of France, all the contradictions of a declining capitalism are accentuated and little has been done, as compared with the United States, in the way of granting concessions to the working class. Moreover, such concessions as the workers have obtained – the 40-hour week, two weeks vacation with pay, etc. – are obviously the result of the direct class-struggle action of the workers; for, where the workers have not been well organized, the Matignon agreements (which settled the strikes of June, 1936) have been violated with impunity by the bosses.

It was under the Blum government that compulsory arbitration was made the law of the land, that the first devaluation was decreed, that the “pause” in social reforms was proclaimed. Thus, already under a so-called “Socialist” government, the French bourgeoisie – badly frightened during June of last year – had been able to reorganize itself and start a smashing offensive which leaves the workers in many cases worse off than before the Matignon agreement, and which has as its objective the wiping out of all the gains made by the workers and the corruption and eventual dissolution of all their organizations. With the virtual abolition of trade union life due to the omnipotence of the CGT bureaucracy (chiefly Stalinist-controlled now) the workers have found it almost impossible to fight against the employers. But, as the rising cost of living pinches them more and moire, they react. This explains the number of recent strikes in a country where strikes are now illegal.

The accumulated discontent of the workers is, indeed, ready to explode. Even the petty functionaries in the trade unions, as their standard of living declines, are ready for strike action. Naturally,, the official “Communist”, “Socialist” and CGT press speaks of “other methods besides strike action”, “we must respect the law”, “order”, “dignity”, but the anti-working class nature of every arbitration decision leaves the worker with very little confidence in such methods.

In addition, the criminal policy of the leadership in most of the recent strikes is sinking deeply into the consciousness of the workers. One example will suffice: In the recent hotel, restaurant and cafe strike in Paris, where the spirit of the workers was excellent, not only did the trade union bureaucracy refuse to provide the strike any sort of national solidarity in the way of funds, etc., not only did the bureaucrats negotiate a shameful contract at the very height of the strike (providing for “the re-employment of not more than 10 per cent of the strike leaders”!), but. L’Humanité and Le Populaire (official organs of the C.P. and S.P.) also proclaimed it as a victory, thus adding insult to injury. Since the workers weren’t very convinced of it, the CP sent Thorez to speak to them and to assure them that they had won a tremendous victory, and it must be all right because the C.P. is in favor of the settlement!

Capitalists Profit

Big industry is showing an increase in profits of about 10 per cent and more over last year, and there is a duel between the Peoples Front press and the reactionary press as to whether Blum or Chautemps should receive the credit for increasing the profits of the capitalists! The explanation of the recovery (which is no more than a temporary stabilization of the crisis, as is readily seen from any sort of careful examination of French economy), however is not hard to find. None other than Vincent Auriol, the “Socialist” Minister of Finance in the Blum cabinet, gives away the entire game when, in. his speech at the Marseilles Congress of the SP (Le Populaire, July 12, 1937), he says: “Yesterday’s war, the preparation of national defense – the broken-down arms, the new arms – absorbs 72 per cent of the budget.” (My italics). What more sinister comment could there be on the nature of capitalist profits! What surer indication can there be of the imminence and catastrophic character of the next depression! The entire economic fabric depends for its very life on war preparations.

The bourgeoisie refused to give decree powers to Blum. That Bonapartist weapon must be entrusted to one of their very own – and so, Blum was succeeded by, Chautemps, some parliamentary juggling took place. Bonnet emerged as the miracle man of the financial world. Another devaluation was put through, again lowering the standard of living of the French masses. Every effort is being made to repatriate French capital and attract foreign capital. Blum’s “pause” is not only extended, but 10 billions of francs are pared off the existing reforms in an effort to balance the budget. In little more than two months, the first Bonapartist Peoples Front government has shown the workers and masses very clearly what is in store for them.

Prices Soar

Prices are moving up with such astonishing rapidity that hardly one price sign is reliable. If one goes to buy cigarettes and leaves 2 fr., for that is what is marked on the box (of 10), “Pardon, monsieur, it is 2.25 fr. now.” Prices are rising so rapidly that it is almost impossible to estimate the extent of the rise. But it is clear that the whole burden of the rationalization of economy and the preparation for imperialist war is being placed on the workers. Recently, the price of metro (subway) tickets was raised 25 per cent, bus tickets 33 per cent. It is estimated that these price increases, together with increase in taxes and tariffs, which cover every conceivable commodity and service, will result in a 50 per cent rise in the cost of living for the French worker during the coming year.

This increase in the price of necessities, in the basic cost of living, will find a very cold reception amongst the workers. That is why almost every political tendency, from extreme right to extreme left, is agreed that this fall and early winter will be very critical and is almost certain to witness another strike wave and the fall of the Chautemps cabinet.

(In succeeding articles Comrade Demby, who has just returned from France, will deal with the political forces in the French crisis)

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