The Situation in France and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninist Group of the SFIO

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The bombshell of the law on two-year conscription and the consequent reintroduction of conscription in Germany have put France in an atmosphere of fevered preparation for war. The only "chance of peace" now lies in the uncertainty of the result of an armed conflict, which still prevails on both sides.

It is at this moment that military circles are contemplating with anticipation the possibility of a preventive strike. The Bonapartist and fascist reaction is whipping up the chauvinist passions of the Paris petty bourgeoisie with a very vigorous campaign and using systematic blackmail to force the government on to the path of militarization of the nation (the law on passive resistance, the Pernot proposals) and of merciless repression of any attempt at protest by the workers (persecution of the leaders of the Socialist and Communist youth leagues, persecution of l'Humanité, prohibition of demonstrations by leftist veterans against the two-year service period).

Premier Flandin, who recently confirmed his intention of "punishing" both the "enemies of the country” and the agitators of the right, yesterday delivered proof of his Bonapartist character by moving sharply to the right under the "chastisements" of the royalists and fascists. He first of all promised to free the year's conscripts still in service, on grounds of "honor," but did not hesitate to take an opposite decision, when L'Écho de Paris and Jour put out some strong articles, and to prolong by three months the period of military service for the contingent due for release. The result of this was vigorous resistance in the barracks. The passivity of the workers' parties, however, made it impossible to use this to the advantage of the revolutionary cause.

In the economic field, the massive orders for war material produced a sudden revival in the production of the industries concerned. For precisely this reason there was an observable fall in the unemployment-weekly-growth curve (the statistics show 28,000 less unemployed for the last week). This, however, shows nothing but a momentary assuagement, which is, moreover, limited to a single industry and cannot be interpreted as an indication of a general rise in overall production. It is, nevertheless, enough for the bourgeoisie again to see war as the only way out of the crisis. The state had to make additional expenditure of several billion, while its budget was already showing a deficit Thus when the chambers meet, they will be faced in all its sharpness with the problem of working out what to do about this expenditure, in other words, what means to use to bleed the workers again: inflation or deflation.

The news of the devaluation of the Belgian franc brought panic into the hearts of the Bourse [French stock exchange], which immediately sacrificed fixed-interest stocks. To bring back calm, the government promised quickly to circulate gold coins, but in such a small ratio that it is clear that it is only a platonic satisfaction for the zealous supporters of gold currency, and not at all an attempt to forestall devaluation. What means will the Flandin government choose to get its billions, which it cannot possibly get in an ordinary way?

The easiest way is certainly inflation, which would have the support of exporter and speculator circles. The experience of the world war also shows that all layers of the bourgeoisie come together in the long run when that final way out comes into question. But since it also brings with it sacrifices for amassed wealth, it is only used when the situation is utterly desperate, Le., when there is no longer any chance of getting sacrifices from the toiling masses by a direct and brutal amputation. For this reason French big industry has not yet been won over for inflation. One of their spokesmen, de Wendel, owner of one of the biggest fortunes in the country, emphasizes that he prefers a continuation of the policy of deflation, Le., of sacrifices demanded from the creditors of the state (rentiers, civil servants and pensioners). This is also the opinion of the "Comité de salut économique" ("Committee of economic welfare?) of the fascist Nicolle. The present finance minister Germain-Martin, the faithful officeholder of big capital, also seems to incline in this direction.

It therefore looks as if before the leap into inflation the bourgeoisie still wants to attempt with a last wild effort to squeeze the last drop out of the exploited. But this makes it necessary to strengthen the state apparatus still more, and means for Flandin the compulsion to move still farther right or else, after a new coup de main [surprise attack] like that of February 6, to yield his place to a Doumergue or a Tardieu. The latter, who at the moment is undergoing a decontamination cure at the seaside, declared in an interview he gave Jour that an "active minority" would have to open the country's eyes, and that it would not come to power "under the conditions of the present ill-starred and irreparable (nefaste et imperfectible) parliament," but only through "a useful action."

At the same time, Flandin is upbraided and publicly provoked by the fascist and reactionary bands who, in the matter of the two-year conscription, very ably held him above water "like the rope holds the hanged man." With this they all make preparations, by organizing mobilization exercises (4,000 "Croix de Feu" in Reims) and the like, and especially by nocturnal demolitions of the premises of the Socialist Party (rue Feydeau). The Socialist youth groups originally wanted on their own initiative to take on the protection of these premises. The Socialist leaders of the CAP [the SFIO National Council], however, forbade this on the pretext that the building did not belong to the party. Furthermore, in the countryside one can observe symptoms of the growing fascist influence at the expense of the traditional democratic parties. The peasant agitator Dorgùres gained a considerable number of votes from the Radicals at an election in Chautemps’s district

What attitude do the workers' parties, the united front, take in this situation of a course for war, of strengthening the repressive apparatus and of raging fascist agitation? No serious action was undertaken against the two-year conscription. The Socialist leaders Blum, Paul Faure and in fact all the parliamentarians have already given the assurance that they are ready for the holy alliance "in the event of a decided attack from Hitler Germany." Blum declared this in the Chamber in the name of the Socialists and Communists, without the latter making any denial. The SFIO and the CP support the same international policy: assistance pacts, defense. L’HumanitĂ© is waging a campaign against the "traitors" in the camp of the bourgeoisie, Le., the French fascists who want to "talk with Hitler." The poet Vaillant-Couturier is showing, more and more, the ambition to follow the tradition of DĂ©roulĂšdeand is hurrying "to the aid of French culture." Cachin is preparing to play the same role as in 1914.

The manifesto signed by the various "Communist" Parties of the West declares without any reservation: "In the case of a counterrevolutionary war against the fatherland of socialism, we shall support the Red Army of the Soviet Union and fight for the defeat of German imperialism and its allies and for the defeat of any power that wages war on the Soviet Union. We shall further by every means, even at the cost of our lives, the victory of the Soviet Union in its struggle against all who attack that country of socialism" (I'Humanité, April 18, 1935). The CP manifesto for the local elections of May 1935 takes up the same theme in the same terms and calls on "the community (union) of all Frenchmen."

A no-less-criminal pacifism can be discerned in the fight of both leaderships against fascism, in which both continue to demand of Flandin the dissolution of the fascist leagues. The Stalinists openly reject the idea of the [workers'] militia itself. In the course of a discussion meeting between the responsible Stalinists for the Paris area and one of our comrades in the Paris fifteenth arrondissement on the topic "militia or self-defense of the masses," the responsible Stalinists declared that the slogan of the militia was a sectarian error and that no special organization was necessary to ensure physical defense, that the example of the Vienna Schutzbund clearly showed the danger of such an organization.

Our conclusion is that the multiplication of the two leaderships can produce only defeat unless the third factor gains the upper hand in the selection process of the struggle, that is, the vanguard that is forming around our Bolshevik-Leninist tendency.

Today no one can deny that the favorable environment for the formation of this vanguard, as far as France is concerned, is constituted by the Socialist left. It is here that the revolutionary slogans are coming from now. One need only read the articles of Marceau Pivert, the leader of the left On the question of war and the question of the militia, he combats both the standpoints of the Social Democrats and those of the Stalinists and supports our slogans. He is not just a man of goodwill, but the representative of the leadership of a thoroughly active tendency that is developing strongly toward our positions. The main question is whether this vanguard will be capable of setting up, at the right time, the close link with the masses, freeing them of the poison of Stalinism, centrism and reformism and sweeping them along on to the revolutionary path, the path of the conquest of power. Our Bolshevik-Leninist Group has hitherto had to carry on internal propaganda work within the SFIO. From now on, it will turn its efforts with doubled intensity toward developing and separating out the vanguard more and more clearly.

The tendency in the SFIO that is followed by sound elements must serve as a lever to get into motion the unorganized mass that contains very militant elements, which, however, as a result of the inactive attitude of the workers’ parties are full of mistrust. This poses for us a very big task, not only in political respects but also in respect to material effort La VĂ©ritĂ© as a weekly organ will no longer suffice for this. From the moment when the link with the masses is achieved, when we have brought the mass and the best elements of the SFIO and the CP to the consciousness that they can And a leadership in our direction, the movement may take on a very accelerated character and present us with great and immediate opportunities. All Bolshevik-Leninists in the world must understand this situation and double their efforts to display their practical and political solidarity with our French section.

P. S. The question of organic unity is at present being discussed by the leaderships in a unification commission. The CP — which originally declined to take part in the work of this commission, which also includes the PUPists — has changed its mind and has taken part in the last session. This is a matter of agreement on the principles of a united party. The old reactionary Lebas (SFIO) is leading the dance. From all the things one has heard of these secret negotiations behind the scenes, it looks very much as if the CP is determined to give up the last vestiges of Leninism in order to provide proof of its desire for a reconciliation with the social reformists and patriots.

The Bolshevik-Leninists had asked for meetings between the Socialist sections and the Communist branches in order to discuss unity, not because they are for the watchwords "organic unity” but because, in the course of these discussions, there existed the possibility of setting forth the principles of a truly revolutionary party. If organic unity comes about, we will organize on the basis of this organic unity to carry on our propaganda and to create the vanguard through a process of continuous differentiation. It is correctly said that organic unity among the masses is progressive because for us it means a lasting contact with the elements making up the base of the CP. But it must also be seen that it can have catastrophic results among the masses because (and it does this in large numbers) it means the merging of the Social Democracy and Stalinism. Without fighting against organic unity — which, in the absence of a revolutionary party, presents the most favorable milieu for its formation — the Bolshevik-Leninists point out that what is needed most is not organic unity but a revolutionary policy carried out by a revolutionary vanguard.