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Frank L. Demby

New Crisis Hits People’s Front Gov’t in France

(October 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 9, 9 October 1937, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The rapidly approaching cantonal elections and the October 2 communiqué of the French cabinet serve once again to focus the eyes of the politically conscious on France. The long-smouldering crisis bids fair to break out into the open with far-reaching consequences for France and the entire world. P.J. Philip, Paris correspondent of the New York Times, describes the recent cabinet meeting as having “altered the whole course along which France has been traveling since the Popular Front Government came into power fifteen months ago.”

Signs of the coming crisis and indications as to its nature have not been lacking. Already, during the last months of the Blum cabinet, it was not difficult to see that the major political parties in the Peoples Front were being subjected to different social pressures, which, together with the exigencies of diplomacy and political maneuvering, were tending to pull the People’s From apart – or, at least, sufficed to show that the honeymoon period was over.

The Radicals, conscious instrument of French finance imperialism, have steadily pulled in the direction of a Bonapartist regime – at first, due chiefly to the requirements of foreign policy (alliance with England, strangling of the Spanish Revolution, rapprochement with Germany), but soon the internal situation (especially financial) forced the Senate (dominated toy the Radicals) to kick over the traces and to replace the Blum cabinet by the Chautemps cabinet. In between, the SP has been trying to make the class-collaborationist policy of the People’s Front palatable to the workers and to maintain harmony within its own ranks.

In any case, if one doubts the depth of the dissension within the Peoples Front, or, perhaps even the existence of a crisis, the smoke that has not ceased to obscure the political skies since the coming to power of Chautemps leaves little doubt as to the existence of the crisis, and, to -a lesser extent, of its nature.

Socialists Continue Old Line

The National Congress of the SP at Marseilles (July 10–14) openly revealed the crisis. Coming on top of a postponement which facilitated the CAP (Permanent Administrative Committee) in making the decision to support the Chautemp cabinet, after having cracked down on the youth by dissolving the Seine Federation and its paper, La Jeune Garde, and expelling the youth leaders, after having illegalized Pivert’s “Revolutionary Left”, there was bound to be fireworks and the Blum-Faure bureaucracy had to exert all its bureaucratic pressure to maintain its majority. But little did anyone think that the “Socialist” government bureaucracy would be so hard-pressed to maintain its majority, nor that there would be such violent incidents as the fist-fights and other turbulent scenes that many times threatened actually to stop the proceedings.

The most interesting aspect of the Congress was undoubtedly the existence of the three tendencies – Blum-Faure, Zyromski-Bracke and Pivert. To be sure, there was no opposition to the People’s Front in principle – all such opposition having already been expelled or thoroughly squelched. The differences of opinions, therefore, all took place within the framework of class-collaboration, and are, at most, the differences between reformism and centrism. The actions of the first People’s Front Government, “under Socialist leadership,” were overwhelmingly approved by 4,549 to 26.

The major debate, front page news throughout the country, was over the Blum-Faure motion to continue participation in the Chautemps cabinet. It was carried after a tumultuous session by 3,484 mandates against 1,866. The differences became clear, however, only on the debate over general policy, which included perspectives for the future of the party. Blum-Faure again carried the day for their outright reformist policy, receiving 2,949 mandates. Zyromski-Bracke received 1,545 mandates for their positions, which was to support Chautemps but to prepare immediately for the replacement of Chautemps by another Blum cabinet. In the words of Zyromski: “The Chautemps government is not in the image of the People’s Front, but is a poor substitute (ersatz) for a People’s Front Government.” Pivert indignantly denied that he was a “Trotskyite” and proposed a “fighting government” – i.e., the formation of another Blum government immediately, for which he received 894 mandates. The victory of the right-wing bureaucracy was sealed with the election of the new CAP, on which there are 18 supporters of Blum-Faure, 9 of Zyromski-Bracke and 6 of Pivert.

The Stalinists, having toyed with the slogan of “Thorez to power” (Thorez being the General Secretary of the CP and its outstanding leader at present) on July 14th, were the next to cause the political pulse to rise when, on July 29th, L’Humanité (official organ of the CP) ran a front-page editorial for the immediate consummation of organic unity. “The workers want the united party. It was a mistake to have split in 1920.” All this of course, with one eye cocked on the cantonal elections; for, under the French system of run-off elections and the People’s Front agreements organic unity would mean that the unified party (which the Stalinists would be sure to dominate as they have in Catalonia in the case of the PSUC) would gain at the expense of the Radicals.

Radicals Divided

The Radicals, themselves, were meanwhile being torn in two. The so-called left wing, dominated by Daladier-Herriot and using the notorious Chautemps, of Stavisky scandal fame, as their mouthpiece, were confident that they could continue to use the alliance with the CP and SP to their own advantage. Fortified by increasing support from the big bourgeoisie (including Le Temps)

they have so far kept the upper hand as against the so-called right wing, led by Caillaux, Bonnet and Delbos, who want to break with the CP and form a center government with Flandin, Laval and Co., more or less on the model of the old “cartel” governments.

The People’s Front has entered its stage of permanent crisis. The government must more and more function openly for what it is – the conscious instrument by which the bourgeoisie maintains its oppression of the masses. That is the real significance of the communiqué of Oct. 2. What else can it mean when “the government recalls to all citizens the necessity for public order and social discipline,” when it makes an appeal to the workers “to renounce definitely ... all occupation of factories,” when it is “resolved to put an end to the agitations and activities of certain foreigners on the soil of the republic”? All the parties of the People’s Front are afraid of one thing above all – that the workers will become fed up with the continued treachery of the People’s Front and will take matters into their own hands again, as they did in the glorious days of June 1936. That is why all the various proposals, contradictory and self-contradictory as they are, must yield before the imperative necessity for the French bourgeoisie to complete the establishment of l’union sacrèe, the national unity which will permit them to enter the coming war without any internal dissension at home.

The cantonal elections are important only insofar as they will elect the people who will then elect the members of the Senate. Undoubtedly, they will witness a “victory” for the People’s Front, especially for the Stalinists, now the strongest single party in France. Apropos of the Senate, it is necessary to recall that part of the new program of the SP, published after the Marseilles Congress, was for the reform of the Senate. When I asked Maurice Paz, member of the CAP and authoritative spokesman for Blum, “How can you expect the Radicals to carry out your new program, when the first program hasn’t been carried out,’’ he replied: “If the Radicals don’t accept our new program, we must then finish the first program.” Somewhat perplexed by this “logic,” I took my question to Jean Longuet, grandson of Karl Marx and an important cog in the reformist bureaucracy. This worthy stated quite baldly: “We have entered into an alliance with the Radicals. This entails certain responsibilities on our part, which we must be prepared to carry out.” Such is the leadership that the French workers have today!

Sharp Struggles Ahead

What a picture France presents today! The crisis is evident. Mass revolutionary leadership does not yet exist. The fascist movement is divided within itself and not yet prepared to take power. The bourgeoisie continually lower the standard of living of the workers by depreciating the franc, and incidentally weaken the position of the government as the elections approach. Hundreds of workers and peasants are being massacred in the French colonies, in Indo-China, in Algeria, in Morocco. Bonapartism rears its ugly head. Bourgeois democracy has outlived its historical usefulness. The counter-revolution is being prepared behind the backs of the People’s Front.

The results of the elections can only intensify the crisis. If the workers enter the path of direct class struggle action in the near future, the bourgeoisie may be forced to rely upon a Blum-Thorez government to strangle the revolutionary initiative of the masses. Otherwise, if war does not intervene, the government may witness a steady drift to the right. In any case, complicated as the French political scene is, we do not hesitate to predict that Chautemps will fall in the not-too-distant future and that the French workers will be face to face with a ferocious reaction, wielded by the Stalinists, militarists or fascists, or any combination of the three. No, the course has not been altered by the French cabinet! It is simply that the French bourgeoisie are preparing for tomorrow. Will the workers be ready?

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