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F.L. Demby

War Crisis Curbs Strikes in France

French Bosses Use National Defense Plans
to Break Strikes and Chain Workers to War Machine

(September 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 39, 24 September 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What has happened to the recent strikes of the French workers against the extension of the working week to 48 hours by the Daladier Government? Two weeks ago the red flag was reported waving over factories in Amiens, a general strike of the 50,000 textile workers was threatening and the Marseilles dock workers were conducting a two-month-old militant strike. Has the French government used the international crisis to mobilize its war apparatus, calling the workers to the colors and thus putting an end to the strike movement? We do know that the National Committee of the C.G.T. (trade union federation) has approved the national defense plans of the bourgeoisie.

The contrast between the morale of the French proletariat today and last year, between the course of the class struggle today and a year ago, is really amazing. Gone is the enthusiasm, spirit and militancy of the French workers. In its place reigns discouragement, disinterestedness in politics, and all the obvious characteristics of a period of social reaction. The miserable showing of July 14 was one example. The steady drift of the workers away from the C.G.T. (General Confederation of Labor) is obviously proof of the reaction.

It is easy to read the minds of these workers. They say to themselves: “We had everything. Now we have nothing. We cannot even trust our leaders. Daladier does not represent the People’s Front. Maybe the People’s Front is no good. What can we do? We might just as well enjoy ourselves in the short time that remains before we have to fight against Hitler.” This reaction and chauvinistic sweep is, of course, the logical fruit of the People’s Front. But the French proletariat does not, as a whole, yet understand this elementary truth.

It is easy for us to trace the origin and course of this reaction, because we predicted it. It is not so easy to estimate the extent and duration of the reaction. That depends on too many variable factors. True, there is certainly a legitimate economic base for a strike wave at present. But are the present strikes merely the tail-end of the whole preceding period of sharp class struggles, the last desperate gestures on the part of the leaderless workers before the vise of the reaction clamps down completely? Or, on the contrary, do these strikes mark the end of the reaction and the beginnings of a desperate upsurge on the part of the working class? A third element, which cannot be neglected, is the possibility that (as was the case in April of this year when the Blum government fell and the Daladier government came into power) the Communist Party is principally responsible for the strikes.

The Hand of the C.P.

That the C.P. is the driving force behind the strikes may seem strange, but not if one knows what has been happening recently. We know that the Stalinists did not hesitate to use the magnificent strike action of the French proletariat as blackmail against the French bourgeoisie when they thought that the formation of the Daladier government meant the abandonment of the Franco-Soviet pact and the entry of France into the politics of the Four-Power bloc. We know, too, that the 73 deputies of the C.P. voted for Daladier only on the basis of an agreement that no open steps would be taken by the French bourgeoisie to break the Franco-Soviet Pact during the summer period. If, as is quite, possible the British-French “sell-out” of Czechoslovakia is to be used as a step towards the formation of a Four-Power pact, then the motivation for previous Stalinist-in spired strikes and for the reported present opposition of the C.P. to the Daladier government is definitely understandable.

Aside from the possible repercussions of the international situation upon French domestic affairs, there is, however, another reason which might cause one to suspect the Stalinists. For the past four or five months there has been a steady drift of the French workers away from the C.P. and its periphery apparatus This has been part of, and one of the signs of, the general reaction. Numerically, the C.P. has compensated for these defections to a certain extent by extending its base amongst the petty-bourgeoisie, intellectual and lumpen elements. The bureaucracy, however, knows that not only will they not be able to exert any pressure on the French bourgeoisie if they continue to lose their working-class following, but also that not all the workers who leave their ranks will retire into political inactivity. Some will find their way to the revolutionary ranks, the Fourth International. Hence, in order to keep their following, the Stalinists are forced into action.

Economic Battles Inevitable

In spite of all the variable factors which play a part in the present struggle in France, and which are so difficult to estimate precisely, it is absolutely inevitable that the present reaction and general discouragement amongst the workers must give way to stormy battles either in the immediate present or in the very near future, unless war intervenes. The economic struggle alone, that is the general and rapid worsening of the living standards of the masses, is forcing the French working class once again onto the path of extra-parliamentary action. A pre-revolutionary situation goes through many ups and downs before the final crisis is reached, but inevitably it merges into a revolutionary crisis.

Whether the progressive elements in the C.G.T. will succeed in calling an extraordinary congress to prepare for the present struggles remains to be seen. The French workers still have time to prepare for their decisive battles these decisive battles might take place before, during or after the war), but their time is becoming increasingly short. The People’s Front has not only wasted valuable time in the last two years, but it has also, while entrenching the reaction, disarmed the workers ideologically, weakened their fighting organizations, criminally sabotaged the struggle in the colonies and placed the officers’ corps (solidly fascist) in a commanding position. What were once very favorable conditions for a revolution in France have become definitely less favorable, due especially to the betrayal of the workers by their leaders.

One thing, however, which must not be overlooked is that the French working class has a long and militant tradition of class struggle behind it. It is definitely anti-fascist. This, of course, is to guarantee that fascism will not triumph in France, but it gives the revolutionary forces an advantage. The fascist movement itself has not grown and, as a matter of fact, has had great difficulty in maintaining its positions. All forces, from extreme left to extreme right, recognize the gravity of the present situation in France, and intimate that they expect decisive battles in the fall.

The present Daladier government will surely fall then, although it is not excluded that Daladier himself will again be chosen to head the new cabinet, this time possibly a national union government. One gets the feeling, however, from a stay in France that, in spite of everything, the biggest unknown factor is what will the French workers do. It is the French working class which will have the decisive say in the coming momentous battles in France, and it is here that the great opportunity for the P.O.I. (French section of the Fourth International) lies.

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