Edouard Herriot - Politician of the Golden Mean
|Written||7 November 1935|
This article was written by Leon Trotsky in 1935 at the beginning of the revolutionary crisis in France. French bourgeois democracy then seemed to be the most stable In Europe. Herriot was its typical representative. Trotsky’s analysis aimed at demonstrating the utter bankruptcy of the politics and politicians of the Golden Mean, those pillars of the democratic regime.
The further developments of the crisis (the strangulation of the revolutionary movement of the French masses through the combined efforts of the People’s Front headed by the Stalinists, Socialists and the Radicals, the outbreak of the second World War and the debacle of the Third Republic) have served to confirm Trotsky’s prediction that the politics of the Golden Mean promoted by Herriot would not only be incapable of coping with fundamental social problems but would itself be swept into oblivion.
Herriot is not a purely French phenomenon. The politicians of the Golden Mean still flourish, although with increasing difficulty, in Britain and the US. But they, too, have arrived at the same impasse as their predecessors in France. They cannot survive the war.
The English and American workers can avoid the chains imposed upon their European brothers only by understanding the perfidious and impotent role of the democratic capitalist politicians of the Herriot-Roosevelt type.
The persecution of Leon Trotsky by the French authorities prevented at the time the publication of his article on Herriot. It Is now being published for the first time in any language. – THE EDITORS, FI
Edouard Herriot, Mayor of Lyons, minister without portfolio, is today the central figure in the political life of France. He occupies this position not so much by virtue of his personality as by the political function he fulfills in his party, and his party in the country. Tracing their genealogy to the Jacobins (one of their many misconceptions!), the Radicals represent the middle classes of France, i.e., the predominant mass of the population. The social crisis that broke out in France later than in other countries implies primarily a crisis of the middle classes, and consequently a crisis of their political representation: this constitutes the real basis of the crisis of parliamentary democracy. The middle classes are dissatisfied, even exasperated. At the top they are pulled toward fascism, the nether strata pull to revolution. The position of the Radicals is becoming increasingly more unstable.
The Equivocal Position of the Radicals[edit source]
But, as is well known, the fire flares most brightly just before flickering out. Today, more than ever before, the Radicals are at the focus of politics. They are being courted persistently and even importunately by the Right and the Left. The Radical leaders sit in the Laval government and affix their signatures to the Draconian financial decrees. At the same time, the Radical party as a whole participates in the “People’s Front,” which hurls bolts of rhetoric against the Laval government and its decrees. The conservative and semi-official le Temps issues daily appeals to Herriot’s patriotism and his tried and tested sagacity. L’Humanité, the organ of the Communists – very prudent, very moderate and very patriotic communists – with equal directness chants hymns in praise of Herriot’s democratism, his republican trustworthiness, and his friendship to the Soviet Union.
Herriot indubitably finds the praise of le Temps very soothing and cannot help frowning at the clumsy praise of l’Humanité. But there are two wings in his party. One ascends to the banks, the other descends to the peasantry. Edouard Herriot is compelled to “keep up a good front while playing a poor hand.” But, will the equivocal game long continue? Will the Mayor of Lyons long remain the central political figure in France?
Herriot as Orator[edit source]
The oratorical art of France is so rich in classical models, ready-made formulas, and traditional associations as to make it very difficult to distinguish oratorical individuality against the solid background of national traditions, and, especially, from out of revised and semi-moribund records. After the death of Jaurés, the athletic and impassioned master who sought to bring ideals from philosophic heavens down to the crime-splotched earth, Briand, the “charmer,” who used to justify himself by flattering the vices and weaknesses of others, was considered the best orator in France. As for Herriot, who after the death of Briand is assigned by many the first place, he has neither the devastating pathos of Jaurés nor the wheedling persuasiveness of Briand. The orator honestly reflects the “Radical” politician, he is prosaic. His eloquence strides in slippers – indeed, substantial ones – rather than on stilts. Satisfying his higher spiritual needs in the sphere of literature and music, Herriot keeps his common sense free for politics and even for the tribunal. If this orator has a pose, it is a pose of simplicity, not credulous, but not openly perfidious either.
Common sense, however, would prove much too vapid, were it not seasoned with sentimentality. Herriot readily invests his arguments with the semblance of a personal confession, and never forgets reminders of his own sincerity. If he resorts to irony, he so mitigates it with qualifications as to make it appear a form of good nature. Witnesses have remarked that Herriot, in case of need, can drawl tears, including his own. But these are tears which, after relieving the soul, dry up opportunely. His whole style is indelibly colored with an imposing, though not very self-confident, tint of the Golden Mean. Undoubtedly, an outstanding parliamentary orator, but not a great one.
Herriot takes his position consciously and persistently upon the terrain of common sense. Not without good cause does he see – at least he saw until yesterday – the mainspring of his power in his ability to think and feel as “all” dodiscounting, of course, those who think otherwise He is the “average Frenchman,” but on a larger scale, so to say, the foremost of his peers, endowed with the gift of precise exposition, with a many-sided and preeminently humanistic education, a powerful voice and a physique that inspires confidence. These are no trifles. But, perhaps, all these are not quite enough.
The best pedagogue is not he who descends to hs pupils from the heights but he who rises to new levels together with them. Herriot’s power as orator consists of such pedagogic directness of intercourse with his audience. Its secret, however, lies in the fact that Herriot lacks utterly any kind of social insight or political perspective. Together with his audience, with the resourceful aid of common sense, he strives to find a way out of difficulties, and it must often seem to his listeners as if their leader were thinking out loud for them.
Herriot’s Logic[edit source]
No doubt, Herriot is sincerely convinced that the logic of a civilized petty bourgeois is a logic common not only to all Frenchmen but to all mankind. He reasons in such a manner as if it were possible to reduce all contradictions to a common denominator by means of arguments. He sermonizes and lectures. “We are no longer school children!” Tardieu once flung at him. And the impolite truism was met with bellows of approval from the benches on the Right, where much better knowledge obtains of what is wanted. Politics would be a very simple matter indeed were it reducible to a system of logical arguments. As a matter of fact, politics consists of clashes between social and national interests. But here the prerogatives of common sense cease, as well as Herriot’s persuasiveness as orator.
In the struggle to gain the confidence of the average Frenchman, Herriot is most concerned lest he be taken, because of his reputation as a Leftist, for an improvisor, a dilettante, or, worst of all, a dreamer. Says he, “As for myself, I have very little taste for synthesis ... In the face of all complications, the true method to apply is the method of analysis which articulates and which is native to Frenchmen.” This philosophic tirade rang in its time like an unfriendly dig at Briand who put instinct in place of analysis of problems. Herriot indubitably imitates Poincaré in his diligent assortment of quotations and classification of documents. But the numbered arguments of a notary, the beloved manner of Poincaré, have little in common with the school of Pascal and Descartes: that is not analysis as yet. Besides, politics, in contradistinction to exercises in seminaries, is not exhausted by analysis and synthesis; politics is the art of making great decisions. Analysis and synthesis serve only to orient the will. But it is obvious that the orator cannot supply what the politician lacks: the will to action.
Often, after appealing either to his political or his personal conscience, Herriot adds, on occasion, “Incidentally, that is one and the same thing.” Is that the case? As a matter of fact, the politics of Radicalism is the politics of perpetual internal conflict; its words diverge from its actions, the intentions from the results. The cause for this duality, however, lies not in the “personal conscience” of leaders but in the character of their social support.
Between Right and Left[edit source]
Passing on one of its wings into the big bourgeoisie and descending on the other to the proletariat, petty-bourgeois radicalism is doomed to the role of an unstable center. The very objective contradictions that it seeks to overcome are those which rip asunder its own ranks. Within the Radical party, Herriot himself seeks to maintain as in the past the post of center. Thanks to this he becomes the fulcrum of the centrifugal forces of modern society. Afraid of sliding to the Left, he unequivocally pulls to the Right. But all the places there are already occupied by parties and politicians in whom the big bourgeoisie puts more trust than in Herriot. At the Left, stand the Socialists in close collaboration with faded Communists.
A few years ago, Herriot was compelled to put aside his good nature and to engage in a violent battle with his Socalist “friends” in order to assure himself, as mayor, a small majority in the municipality of Lyons. In parliament, the Socialists gave the Radicals equivocal support with the aim of pushing them out of the villages as they had already pushed them out of the urban centers. From the Right wing incessant invitations came to Herriot to join the ranks of the bourgeois concentration. But Herriot at first tried to resist: for the aim of the “national” invitations, which are the specialty of le Temps, is “to encircle the Radicals and strangle them.”
“I say to you, without animosity,” – Herriot used to address himself to the Right sector of the Chamber, before he had allowed himself to be “encircled” – “that you are mistaken.” And immediately thereupon, the orator would turn to the Left wing with “And I say to you in all friendliness that you, too, are mistaken.” Such is the symmetry of the Golden Mean. But it is unstable, in our epoch which abhors symmetry. Herriot had only to appear at a session of his own fraction to be once again obliged to turn his face alternately to each wing, primarily, by the way, towards the Left, with the words, “You are mistaken.” A politician of the middle line, he would be unable to find himself unless he veered away from the flanks.
Upon diverse occasions, not always fortuitous, Herriot is given to calling upon his opponents, to admit that he and his party are not lacking, at any rate, in “virility.” Again, illusions! If by virility is understood not personal courage but political resoluteness for great actions, then French Radicalism is a direct negation of virility. Here, too, the cause lies outside of isolated individuals: the characters of leaders are selected, educated and formed in conformance with the historical cause they serve.
Radicalism and Finance Capital[edit source]
The social relations in France seem, especially alongside those of Germany, to be very stable. Kaleidoscopic as they are, the policies of the Third Republic long remained equal to herself. The cause of this stability lies in the feeble movement of her economic life and population. France hoards, accumulates, puts money in circulation but does not change her productive base. During months and years of prosperity, she extends her golden antennae far and wide, but only in order to withdraw them the moment that alarm is felt in the world atmosphere. This wisdom is negative and defensive, and besides, it comes into an ever greater contradiction with the European hegemony of the nation. The international polit,«cs of France are above all the politics of finance capital. The average Frenchman who entrusts his vote to the Radicals, and his savings to the banks, feels helpless in the ocean of world politics, with its flood and ebb tides, cross currents and whirlpools. Here, the bankers and the industrial magnates have the decisive word. Coming into conflict with them, Radicalism loses its last vestiges of virility.
Upon assuming power in 1924, and finding himself subjected to a cruel fire from the benches of the parliamentary Right, especially on the part of heavy industry and banks, Herriot placated them and justified himself with: “I place the interests of the nation above any theory.” From the scientific standpoint, this formula is astounding in its naiveté. “Theory,” i.e., the program of a party, is intended to be nothing else than a thoroughly worked-out expresson of the “interests” of the nation. By counterposing theory to “interests,” Herriot admitted ten years ago that the program of the Radicals, with all its moderateness, could find no place in the post-war reality.
The crisis of the franc and state finances in 1924 immediately placed the Radical administration face to face with the entire system of finance capital. The Bourse pretended to be in extreme terror of the Radicals. In reality, it was Herriot who felt mortal terror of the Bourse; that is why he pleaded with it not to take his program seriously. In the end, Herriot yielded his post to Poincaré. Together with his enemy Tardieu, Herriot spent two years in the “concentration” ministry, which he subsequently left only upon the categorical insistence of his party, against his own will, “with death in his heart.” Herriot’s entire constitution is such that he prefers having the authoritative representatives of big business not in the opposition but rather in his own administration. The difficulty, however, is that the Bourse’s politicians prefer to have their own administration once more, with Herriot a hostage as in 1926-1928, rather than a superarbiter vacillating between the interests of the big bourgeoisie and the illusions of the petty bourgeoisie, as in 1924 and in 1932.
The fact that, at the critical moment, Poincaré represented the banks so authoritatively has forever established his authority in the mind of Herriot. The leader of the Radicals has subsequently allowed no opportunity to pass by without reiterating, sometimes two and three times in the same speech, his profound reverence for Poincaré. Is it possible to conceive a Jacobin who would bow respectfully before the authority of ... a Necker? Yet Herriot continues to consider himself a Jacobin.
Appealing in December 1932 for the payment of the installment due on the American debt, Herriot stressed that he was only under compulsion to bear the consequences of somebody else’s policy. When the Chamber of Deputies went on record for non-payment, Herriot exclaimed: “Tomorrow somebody else may perhaps be able to tie the threads together. I shall assist him from without.” But the task of “tying the threads together” fell upon Herriot himself. Whether in questions of foreign or domestic politics, Herriot as a short term Minister and Chairman invariably began by referring to the situation which he had inherited and which predetermined his course as if someone else each time decided for him what must be done. The key to the riddle is simple: the logic of French imperialism is mightier than the sympathies of the “average Frenchman.” Upon assuming power, the Radicals are compelled to defend the self-same interests that are also served by the national bloc. They retain only freedom to choose the phraseology.
Herriot’s final argument against those who balked at paying the installment due was “You are ready to disrupt the concord of Liberty against dictatorship for the sake of 480,000,000 francs.” This does not ring at all badly in the political sound-chamber of France. But the concord between “the three great democracies” remains only a pious hope of the Radicals. The reality at that time – and it is still a reality today, though somewhat warped – was that France stood in alliance with three reactionary dictatorships, Poland, Roumania and Jugoslavia. The pacifist lawyer or school teacher is doomed to carry out policies as Minister different from those his heart desires. Hence, it is quite natural that the Radical deputies feel displeased with their Ministers and the Radical voters with their deputies. No less natural is it that the displeasure of both is doomed to impotence. Reducing the complex mechanics to its simplest formula, we must say that in all major questions the petty bourgeois is under the fatal necessity of bowing to the big bourgeois.
Platonic Ideals and Political Realities[edit source]
Shortly after the fall of his second Ministry, Herriot disclosed to the Athenian Telegraph Agency the ultimate meaning of his politics: “What I defended in my last speeches – is the morals of Plato.” In the figure of “passionately beloved” Greece, Herriot greeted the birthplace of his doctrine: “I sacrificed myself in order to remain true to my ideals.” in reality, his sacrifice was not so tragic in character; pressed by the Socialists and by his own fraction, Herriot chose to be defeated honorably upon an international issue, in expectation of the inevitable time when the Chamber of Deputies cooled off from the last elections and shifted its center of gravity to the Right. At first glance, it might appear paradoxical that this gospel of philosophic idealism should be addressed to the Greece of Venizelos and Tsaldaris which hardly serves as a model in the question of paying debts. But it is impossible not to admit that Herriot’s good intentions towards Wall Street did actually retain on this occasion their Platonic character.
It would be a mistake to consider this excessively exalted motivation for a parliamentary defeat to be nothing more than an unsuccessful turn of phrase. No. The philosophy of absolute values enters as a necessary element into Herriot’s spiritual economics. Bowing to yesterday with purely conservative humility, Herriot reconciles in the astral voids of philosophy the contradiction between his “theory” and the policies foisted upon him; this method has the added advantage of not increasing the overhead expense. Just as the cult of pure ideas did not hinder Plato himself, the “divine” broad-shouldered idealist, from trading in olive oil and dealing with slaves as beasts of burden, so the worship of eternal morals does not hinder Herriot from supporting the Versailles system. It is the merit of Platonism that it permits double-entry bookkeeping, one entry for the spirit, the other for the flesh. Were it not for fear of offending the Voltairean and the man of good morals in M. Herriot, we could say that he is motivated in the last analysis by the self-same psychologic forces that impel certain Catholic ladies in high society to divide their activity between adultery and the Church. Herriot treats history in somewhat the same manner as he does philosophy; he derives moral solace from it rather than lessons for action. Doubtful as it may seem, such a method enables him to trace his genealogy from the revolutionists of the year 1793.
The Radicals believe that of the traditions of the Jacobins they have most completely assimilated their anticlericalism and patriotism. But anti-clericalism has long ceased to be a militant doctrine; this business has been reduced to a peaceful division of labor between the secular Republic and the Catholic Church. As for patriotism, in the case of the Jacobins it was inextricably bound up with the proclamation of a revolutionary principle and its defense against feudal Europe. Herriot’s patriotism proclaims no new idea but clings closely to the patriotism of Tardieu. The shades of Robespierre and Saint-Juste have been invoiced in vain. Not for nothing did Poincaré himself say patronizingly of Herriot, “National reactions are peculiar to the man.”
Herriot’s reference to the Jacobins have always had an incorporeal character. When in need of historic examples, he quotes more readily from the “great liberal” Lamartine and even Count de Broglie. In one of his parliamentary speeches Herriot quoted a banal statement of Louis XV as proof of ... the peace-loving quality of the “French spirit”! Idealists generally treat history as a wholesale warehouse of moral tracts. Lack of discrimination in the choice of authorities to them appears to be objectivity. Least accidental, by the way, are the references to Lamartine. This peacock of a poet was not only the false historian of the Girondists but also their epigone in politics. Herriot’s Radicalism has nothing in common with the Mountain; it is the self-same Girondism, but a Girondism that passed through the fires of 1848 and 1871, and in them burned up the remnants of its illusions.
Herriot undoubtedly would have made an ideal French mayor had he not been handicapped by world contradictions, wars, and threats of war, reparations and debts, German and Italian Fascism, in short, by everything that goes to make up our epoch, not to mention the crisis, unemployment, the dissatisfaction of the functionaries, the dictatorial aspirations of Tardieu, the armed detachments of Colonel de la Rocque, and the perfidious friendship of Blum.
The Politics of Perplexity[edit source]
Herriot’s positive program, which he himself so easily disavows, consists of the withered principles of liberalism in a dilute solution of “socialism”: private initiative and personal liberty – first and foremost; but – “within a social milieu harmonized by the State”; “the producer and the consumer must understand that there is a solidarity of interests between them”; “the peasant and the worker are – brothers.” Add free education, secularization of the schc>ols, and the program of domestic policies is well nigh exhausted. Upon this foundation rises the radiant idea of “Progress,” and the image of France, torch in hand.
In the domain of foreign politics, Herriot’s policies are even less definitive – if that is conceivable. “Concord between the three great democracies”; “peace is created by having faith in peace”; “from discussion is always born conciliation”; “we do not need general ideas – what we need is to study the facts.” Behind such aphorisms the average Frenchman presupposes a program of action; as a matter of fact, nothing exists behind them save perplexity in the face of the complicated world situation.
It would be vain to seek for creative thought from the Radical leader whose religion is watchful caution. Briand managed splendidly without the categorical imperative, and without philosophic ideas in general; but his ready wit provided him in case of need with broad elastic formulas, if not with creative ideas. It is sufficient to recall – and today, it already sounds like a historic anecdote – that on September 15, 1929, during a diplomatic luncheon at which the representatives of 27 nations were gathered, Briand proposed to initiate work for the creation of the United States of Europe. There is a gesture of which Herriot is incapable! Not that he would be averse to the idea of a United States of Europe, or, if it suits you – of the whole world. A beautiful idea! An exalted idea! But much too exalted to mix with practical politics.
The theatrical post-war diplomacy with its unending personal interviews sped by airplanes, with its discussions at Geneva barren of results but brimful of plaudits, seems to have been specially created for the purpose of diverting attention away from the knots that are being drawn ever tighter. Herriot placed the greatest political importance upon his personal meetings with the former British premier, MacDonald; it was thus that “mutual understanding” was being created and renewed. The more the exalted interlocutors refrain from drawing their thoughts to their conclusion, the oftener they refer, sighing, to parliaments and public opinion, all the more do they defer questions to the next occasion, all the more do they feel constrained within the three-dimensional confines of empirical politics. MacDonald sought solace in the Old and New Testaments; Herriot, in the secular theology of idealism.
An observant foreigner cannot fail to feel amazed at the undue expansiveness reached by the vows of love for France in the speeches of French politicians of all tendencies. Given the greatest mastery of language, it is difficult each time to find a new expression for one and the same idea; small wonder that the repetitious patriotic avowals fatigue one with their monotony. Once, Herriot found it necessary to declare that his love for France was “a profound but hidden and chaste emotion.” The minutes record, “Laughter from the Right.” Indeed, it is difficult to consider an emotion as hidden, if its chastity is certified from a political tribunal.
These patriotic harangues, which do little honor to French taste, so refined as a rule, spring not so much from legitimate pride in the great role France has played in the history of mankind – indeed, such an emotion could be more restrained – as from alarm for the present international position of France which is obviously not commensurate with its actual forces. Historical remembrances serve only as a source for patriotic rhetoric; the exposed nerve behind it is the unquenched and acute alarm which cannot be concealed by mutual appeals for coolness and self-control.
Herriot, of course, always stood for disarmament. But material disarmament must be preceded by moral disarmament. Besides, genuine peace can be established only upon security. And security demands a strong French army. Until a rational reduction of armaments is achieved, the people must see the guarantee of peace in the weapons of France. Anyone failing to agree with this, thereby discloses his malice.
Imperialist Roots of Herriot’s Pacifism[edit source]
An extremely restrained orator as a rule, Herriot is unable to find words harsh enough to denounce those disbelievers who have doubts about the peaceableness of France and its government. We, on our part, do not doubt for a moment the genuineness of Herriot’s pacifism. We must only add, it is the pacifism of a conqueror. If we disregard the warlike nomads, the conquerors have always inclined to pacifism, all the more decisively the greater their victory and the sacrifices paid for it. The formula of satiated pacifism is a simple one: the vanquished must reconcile themselves to their fate and not seek to hamper the victor from enjoying the fruits of victory. After every new successful campaign Napoleon wanted to be left in peace. If he had to return to the wars again, it was only because those whom he had crushed refused to reconcile themselves to the tyranny of the conqueror. Had the Little Corporal been less contemptuous of ideology, he would have had littie difficulty in placing his concern for peace under the aegis of Plato.
At the Disarmament Conference – in which century was it? – Herriot announced solemnly, “We have come here to proclaim our aversion to all imperialism, whether open or masked.” These words would ring more convincingly had the orator taken the pains to explain what he meant by imperialism. We shall not go into theoretical definitions, but confine ourselves merely to recalling the least disputable features of imperialism. Holding backward countries by force in the status of exploited colonies is the most patent, though far from only form of imperialism. To our knowledge, Herriot has never undertaken to renounce the colonial possessions of France. France’s opposition, backed by force, to the unification of a nation within the boundaries of a national state (the questions of Anschluss, and of the Polish Corridor); the strengthening of her own hegemony by giving military and financial support to outright anti-people’s governments in other countries (Poland, Roumania, Serbia) – if all this is not imperialism, then there is no such thing as imperialism in the universe.
Territorial seizures and violence cease to be seizures and violence for Herriot once they are sanctioned by the past, or better still, by international pacts. Moral and philosophical precepts are not decisive, patriotic interests are. Imperialism is everything that runs counter to the interests of France. Imperialists therefore are to be found always outside her frontiers.
The less Herriot tends toward practical concessions to the defeated enemy, all the more generous he becomes in the sphere of philosophic reparations. Thus, during the self-same conference he quoted Immanuel Kant as having foreseen in his project of the eternal universe ... the League of Nations. One would indeed feel very sorry for the sage of Koenigsberg had he foreseen nothing better than this. But the appeal to Kant is very characteristic: the question is transplanted as usual from the realm of reality into the transcendental sphere, and besides, the reference to a German classic should stir the Germans to peaceableness. Unfortunately, left unexplained is the question of whether Kant, in his system of an eternal universe, had likewise foreseen the Versailles Treaty.
The philosophic quotation, however, proved of no avail. Hitler intrenched himself upon the ruins of the Weimar democracy. Germany’s program of arming entered as a terrible reality into the artificial regime of the Europe of Versailles. British diplomacy lifted its head, feeling itself again in its favorite role of arbitrator. Mussolini, using Hitler’s rearming as a club, presented France with an ultimatum; a free hand in Africa, as a pledge of friendship. Laval agreed to the concession. However, before the Italo-Ethiopian conflict succeeded in terminating Ethiopia’s independence, or, on the contrary, in extracting the tusks of Italian Fascism ’ it dealt a cruel blow to the international position of France. A question mark was immediately placed over her continental hegemony. France’s scurrying between Italy and England laid bare the international dependency of French imperialism with its far too narrow a demographic and an economic base. The crisis in the international position of France complicates her already profound internal crisis, tearing the ground from under the feet of Herriot’s imperialist “pacifism.” But maybe Moscow could provide a firmer support?
Herriot’s Attitudes Towards the USSR[edit source]
After the Bolsheviks had repulsed all attempts at intervention and had overcome their internal enemies, Herriot’s interest in the Soviets became tinged with his remembrances of the epoch of Jacobin terror. During his visit, in 1922, to the Soviet republic, Herriot talked with the Bolsheviks – not as a co-thinker of course, but almost as a well-wisher, as one of the heirs of the Mountain, capable of “understanding” the Bolsheviks. He was interested in the economic and cultural measures of the revolution, but especially in the successes of the Red Army. On the Soviet calendar there still remained at that time one more very difficult year, but the Civil War had ended, and the stricken country was already on the upgrade. The army, whose numbers had been greatly reduced, cleaned and spruced itself, and appeared presentable enough, at any rate, in Moscow, to be shown to a foreign guest. As I recall, Herriot visited military schools and barracks. Politics is inconceivable without guile, so orders had been issued in advance that during Herriot’s presence in the Commissariat of War the regiment on duty should march by singing beneath the windows of the office where the reception was to take place. I must say that the regiment which was under the special supervision of the then Commander-in-Chief S.S. Kamenev, a great lover of army songs, was considered a model unit. We were not mistaken in our appraisal of the “national reactions” of the democratic politician. When the window panes rattled from the initial blast of soldiers’ voices, Herriot pulled his heavy body from the armchair and displayed immediately his familiarity not only with the melody but also with the words.
In the years that followed Herriot’s relations with the Soviets worsened gradually. During his years of collaboration with Poincaré he severely censured the regime that refused over so long a period to renounce the methods of dictatorship. However, in proportion as militant nationalism grew stronger in Germany, Herriot tended to become again much better disposed toward the Soviet Union. “As a democrat, and a great-grandson of the Revolution which at times steeped its hands in blood, I refuse to fling curses and satire at Russia, now at work creating a new regime.” Let it be known, incidentally, that he, Herriot, was as far removed from Communism today as he had been from Czarism previously; but. he had no doubt that the Bolshevik regime would ultimately create petty peasant proprietors. And France would be able to lean for support upon their army. This is the task to which world history is ultimately reducible.
Thus, Herriot became a cautious but persistent apostle of military friendship with the Soviet Union. It should be said bluntly that he did so without enthusiasm, rather constrained by bitter necessity. The big bourgeoisie finally allowed a Franco-Soviet agreement within a framework which would make it tolerable for England and yet not conflict with Italy’s friendship. The future will demonstrate what this means in action. In any case, the Mayor of Lyons does not assume the title “Friend of the USSR” without guile. To be sure, the collectivization of the peasantry has dealt a certain blow to his conservative hopes of a strong peasant; but Soviet diplomacy has instead become much wiser, more cautious, and more solid. And in the wake of the Soviet diplomacy – the French Communist Party as well. At the last Congress of the Radicals Herriot spoke demonstratively about his friend Litvinov (“Yes, my friend Litvinov”). This does not prevent him, however, from remaining in the ministry of Laval who with much greater assurance, and justification speaks of “his friend Mussolini.”
It is not excluded that Herriot may become Laval’s successor, and carry on the friendship with Mussolini on his. own account. But for how long?
It is not in place here to enter into political speculation, all the more so because the question of what will happen to Herriot personally is inseparable from the question of the future of France and of Europe as a whole. However, one can state with assurance that the political extremes will continue to swallow up the center in the future as well. The Radicals were able to assure the equilibrium of the parliamentary see-saw only so long as the country preserved a relative social equilibrium. These happy days have gone beyond recall. Herriot’s victory at the elections (May 1932) has served only to reveal the utter incapacity of his party in the face of the impending domestic and foreign catastrophes. The Radical leaders replaced one another only to reveal more and more clearly the pathetic helplessness of all groupings in the party. On February 6, 1934, Daladier, the extreme “Left” among the Radicals, ingloriously capitulated to the street demonstration of the Fascists and Royalists. He, you see, did not want a civil war. In reality, he opened wide the gates for it. The language of facts is incontestable. At a slower pace than other European countries, France is heading towards great convulsions. Radicalism will be the first victim. Whatever aspect the coming epoch may assume, it will not be the epoch of the Golden Mean.
November 7, 1935