Whither France? (1934)
|Written||9 November 1934|
In these pages we wish to explain to the advanced workers the fate of France in the years to come. For us, France is neither the Bourse, nor the banks, nor the trusts, nor the government, nor the state, nor the church – all these are the oppressors of France – it is the working class and the exploited peasantry.
The Collapse of Bourgeois Democracy[edit source]
After the war a series of brilliantly victorious revolutions occurred in Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and later in Spain. But it was only in Russia that the proletariat took full power into its hands, expropriated its exploiters, and knew how to create and maintain a workers’ state. Everywhere else the proletariat, despite its victory, stopped half way because of the mistakes of its leadership. As a result, power slipped from its hands, shifted from left to right and fell prey to Fascism. In a series of other countries power passed into the hands of a military dictatorship. Nowhere were the parliaments capable of reconciling class contradictions and assuring the peaceful development of events. Conflicts were solved arms in hand.
The French people for a long time thought that Fascism had nothing whatever to do with them. They had a republic in which all questions were dealt with by the sovereign people through the exercise of universal suffrage. But on February 6, 1934, several thousand Fascists and royalists, armed with revolvers, clubs and razors, imposed upon the country the reactionary government of Doumergue, under whose protection the Fascist bands continue to grow and arm themselves. What does tomorrow hold?
Of course in France, as in certain other European countries (England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries), there still exist parliaments, elections, democratic liberties, or their remnants. But in all these countries the class struggle is sharpening, just as it did previously in Italy and Germany. Whoever consoles himself with the phrase, “France is not Germany”, is hopeless. In all countries the same historic laws operate, the laws of capitalist decline. If the means of production remain in the hands of a small number of capitalists, there is no way out for society. It is condemned to go from crisis to crisis, from need to misery, from bad to worse. In the various countries the decrepitude and disintegration of capitalism are expressed in diverse forms and at unequal rhythms. But the basic features of the process are the same everywhere. The bourgeoisie is leading its society to complete bankruptcy. It is capable of assuring the people neither bread nor peace. This is precisely why it cannot any longer tolerate the democratic order. It is forced to smash the workers by the use of physical violence. The discontent of the workers and peasants, however, cannot be brought to an end by the police alone. Moreover, it is often impossible to make the army march against the people. It begins by disintegrating and ends with the passage of a large section of the soldiers over to the people’s side. That is why finance capital is obliged to create special armed bands, trained to fight the workers just as certain breeds of dog are trained to hunt game. The historic function of Fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.
The Fascists find their human material mainly in the petty bourgeoisie. The latter has been entirely ruined by big capital. There is no way out for it in the present social order, but it knows of no other. Its dissatisfaction, indignation and despair are diverted by the Fascists away from big capital and against the workers. It may be said that Fascism is the act of placing the petty bourgeoisie at the disposal of its most bitter enemies. In this way big capital ruins the middle classes and then with the help of hired Fascist demagogues incites the despairing petty bourgeois against the worker. The bourgeois régime can be preserved only by such murderous means as these. For how long? Until it is overthrown by proletarian revolution.
The Beginning of Bonapartism in France[edit source]
In France the movement from democracy toward Fascism is only in its first stage. Parliament exists, but it no longer has the powers it once had and it will never retrieve them. The parliamentary majority, mortally frightened after February 6, called to power Doumergue, the saviour, the arbiter. His government holds itself above parliament. It bases itself not on the “democratically” elected majority but directly and immediately upon the bureaucratic apparatus, the police and the army. This is precisely why Doumergue can permit no liberty for the civil servants or in general for employees of the state. He needs a docile and disciplined bureaucratic apparatus on whose summit he can maintain himself without danger of falling. The parliamentary majority, scared of the Fascists and the “common front”, is forced to bow before Doumergue.
At the present time much is being written about the forthcoming “reform” of the constitution, on the right to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, etc. All these questions have only a juridical interest. In the political sense, the question is already solved. Reform has been accomplished without the trip to Versailles. The appearance on the arena of armed Fascist bands has enabled finance capital to raise itself above parliament. In this consists now the essence of the French constitution. All else is illusion, phraseology or conscious dupery.
The present role of Doumergue (like that of his possible successors, of the type of Tardieu) is nothing new. It is a role analogous to that played, in different circumstances, by Napoléon I and Napoléon III. The essence of Bonapartism consists in this: basing itself on the struggle of two camps, it “saves” the “nation” with the help of a bureaucratic-military dictatorship. Napoléon I represented the Bonapartism of the bourgeoisie’s impetuous youth. The Bonapartism of Napoléon III developed when the bourgeoisie was already slightly bald. In the person of Doumergue we meet the senile Bonapartism of capitalist decline.
The Doumergue government represents the first step of the passage from parliamentarianism to Bonapartism. To keep his balance, Doumergue needs at his right hand the Fascist and other bands which brought him to power. To demand of him that he dissolve the Patriotic Youth, the Croix de Feu, the Camelots du Roi, etc. – not on paper but in reality – is to demand that he cut off the branch upon which he rests.
Temporary oscillations to one side or the other are, of course, possible. Thus, a premature Fascist offensive might provoke a certain shift to the “left” at the top of the government. Doumergue would temporarily give way not to Tardieu but to Herriot. But in the first place, no one has ever said that the Fascists would attempt a premature coup d’état. Secondly, a temporary shift to the left at the top would not change the general course of development. It would only postpone the showdown.
There is no longer any path back to a peaceful democracy. Events are leading inevitably and irresistibly to a conflict between the proletariat and Fascism.
Will Bonapartism Last Long?[edit source]
How long can the present transitional Bonapartist régime stand? Or in other words: how much time has the proletariat to prepare itself for the decisive battle? To this question it is impossible, naturally, to give an exact reply. But certain factors can be established for the purposes of evaluating the tempo at which the whole process is developing. For this the foremost element is the question of the immediate fate of the Radical Party.
The very appearance of the present Bonapartist régime links it, as we have said, to the beginning of a civil war between the extreme political camps. It finds its principal material support in the police and the army. But it also has a political support on the left – the Radical Socialist Party. The base of this mass party is in the petty bourgeoisie of town and country. Its summit is occupied by “democratic” agents of the big bourgeoisie of town and country who have given the people occasional small reforms and, more often, democratic phrases, who have saved it daily (in words) from reaction and clericalism, but who, in all important questions, have carried out the policy of big capital.
Under the threat of Fascism, and still more under the threat of the proletariat, the Radical Socialists have found themselves obliged to pass from the camp of Bonapartism. Like the camel under its driver’s whip, Radicalism gets down on its four knees to let capitalist reaction sit between its humps. Without the political support of the Radicals, the Doumergue government would at the present moment be impossible.
If the political evolution of France is compared with that of Germany, the Doumergue government and its possible successors correspond to the Brüning, Papen and Schleicher governments which filled in the gap between Weimar and Hitler. There is, however, a difference which, politically, can assume enormous importance. German Bonapartism came upon the scene when the democratic parties had collapsed and the Nazis were growing at a prodigious rate. The three Bonapartist governments in Germany, having a very feeble base of their own, were balanced on the tight rope stretched across the abyss between two hostile camps – the proletariat and Fascism. All three of these governments fell quickly. The camp of the proletariat was split and unprepared for the struggle, disoriented, duped and betrayed by its leaders. The Nazis were able to take power almost without a struggle.
French Fascism does not yet represent a mass force. On the other hand, Bonapartism finds support, neither sure nor very stable but nevertheless a mass support, in the Radicals. Between these two facts there is an inner link. By the social character of its base, Radicalism is the party of the petty bourgeoisie. Fascism can only become a mass force by conquering the petty bourgeoisie. In other words, Fascism can develop in France above all at the expense of the Radicals. This process is already under way, although still in its early stages.
The Role of the Radical Party[edit source]
The last district elections gave results which could and should have been anticipated. The flanks, i.e., the reactionaries and the workers’ bloc, gained and the centre, i.e., the Radicals, lost. But gains and losses are still negligible. If it were a question of parliamentary elections, these phenomena would have undoubtedly taken on much more considerable dimensions. The displacements which have been noted have for us an importance not in themselves but only as symptoms of changes in the consciousness of the masses.
They show that the petty-bourgeois centre has already begun to give way to the two extreme camps. That means that the remnants of the parliamentary régime are going to be increasingly eaten away. The extreme camps are going to grow. Clashes between them are approaching. It is not difficult to understand that this process is absolutely inescapable.
The Radical Party is the party with whose aid the big bourgeoisie preserves the hopes of the petty bourgeoisie in a progressive and peaceful improvement of its situation. This role of the Radicals was possible only so long as the economic situation of the petty bourgeoisie remained supportable and tolerable, so long as mass ruin was averted, so long as the petty bourgeoisie retained its hope in the future. To be sure, the program of the Radicals has always remained on paper. They have brought about no serious social reform on behalf of the toilers nor could they have done so. It was not permitted by the big bourgeoisie which holds on to all the real levers of power, the banks and the Bourse, the press, the higher officials, key diplomats and the general staff.
From time to time the Radicals handed out petty alms to their clientele, especially on a provincial scale, and, with the help of these handouts, preserved the illusions of the popular masses. Thus it went until the last crisis. It has now become clear to the most backward peasant that it is not a matter of an ordinary, passing crisis, of which there were not a few before the war, but of a crisis of the whole social system. It calls for bold, decisive measures. What ones? The peasant does not know. No one has told him what he should have been told.
Capitalism has brought the means of production to such a level that they are paralysed by the misery of the popular masses, ruined by the self-same capitalism. The whole system has thereby begun to decline, decompose, and rot. Capitalism not only cannot give the toilers new social reforms, nor even petty alms. It is forced to take back what it once gave. All of Europe has entered an era of economic and political counter-reforms. The policy of despoiling and suffocating the masses stems not from the caprices of the reaction but from the decomposition of the capitalist system. That is the fundamental fact which must be assimilated by every worker if he is not to be duped by hollow phrases.
That is precisely why the democratic reformist parties are disintegrating and losing their forces one after another throughout Europe. The same fate also awaits the French Radicals. Only fools can think that the capitulation of Daladier or the treason of Herriot in the face of the worst reaction results from fortuitous, temporary causes or from the lack of character in these two lamentable leaders. No! Great political phenomena always have profound social causes. The decline of the democratic parties is a universal phenomenon whose causes rest in the disintegration of capitalism itself. The big bourgeoisie says to the Radicals: “Now is no time for joking. If you do not stop flirting with the socialists and coyly promising the people mountains and miracles, I will call in the Fascists. Understand that February 6 was only a first warning!” After which the Radical camel gets down on his four knees. There is nothing else he can do.
But Radicalism will not find its salvation along that road. Linking its fate in the eyes of the people to the fate of the reaction, it inevitably hastens its own end. The loss of votes and mandates in the district elections is only a beginning. The process of the collapse of the Radical Party will unfold with increasing speed. The whole question is to know in whose favour this inevitable and irresistible collapse will take place – in favour of the proletarian revolution or Fascism.
Will it be revolutionary socialism or Fascist reaction which will first offer the middle classes, boldly and broadly, the most convincing program and, what is the most important, win their confidence by demonstrating in words and deeds its ability to smash every obstacle on the road to a better future?
On this question depends the fate of France for many years to come. Not only of France, but of all Europe. Not only of Europe, but of the entire world.
The “Middle Classes”, the Radical Party and Fascism[edit source]
Since the victory of the Nazis in Germany there has been much talk in the parties and groups of the French “left” of the necessity for staying close to the “middle classes” to bar the road to Fascism. The fraction of Renaudel and Co. split from the Socialist Party for the particular purpose of drawing near to the Radicals. But at the moment that Renaudel, who lives on the ideas of 1848, extended both hands to Herriot, the latter had both his engaged, the one by Tardieu, the other by Louis Marin.
From this, however, it does not at all follow that the working class can turn its back on the petty bourgeoisie, leaving it to its fate. Oh, no! To approach the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie of the cities, to draw them to our side, is the necessary condition of the success of the struggle against Fascism, not to speak of the conquest of power. Only the problem must be correctly posed, and for that it is necessary to understand clearly the nature of the “middle classes”. Nothing is more dangerous in politics, especially in a critical period, than to repeat general formulas without examining their social content.
Contemporary society is composed of three classes: the big bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the “middle classes”, or the petty bourgeoisie. The relations among these three classes determine in the final analysis the political situation in the country. The fundamental classes of society are the big bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Only these two classes can have a clear, consistent, independent policy of their own. The petty bourgeoisie is distinguished by its economic dependence and its social heterogeneity. Its upper stratum is linked directly to the big bourgeoisie. Its lower stratum merges with the proletariat and even falls to the status of lumpen proletariat. In accordance with its economic situation, the petty bourgeoisie can have no policy of its own. It always oscillates between the capitalists and the workers. Its own upper stratum pushes it to the right; its lower strata, oppressed and exploited, are capable in certain conditions of turning sharply to the left. These contradictory relations among the different strata of the “middle classes” always determine the confused and thoroughly bankrupt policy of the Radicals, their vacillations between the cartel with the Socialists to calm the base, and the national bloc with the capitalist reaction to save the bourgeoisie. The final decomposition of Radicalism begins when the big bourgeoisie, itself in an impasse, permits it to vacillate no longer.
The petty bourgeoisie, the ruined masses of city and country, begins to lose patience. It assumes an attitude more and more hostile towards its own upper stratum. It becomes convinced of the bankruptcy and the perfidy of its political leadership. The poor peasant, the artisan, the petty merchant become convinced that an abyss separates them from all these mayors, all these lawyers and political businessmen of the type of Herriot, Daladier, Chautemps and Co., who by their mode of life and their conceptions are big bourgeois. It is precisely this disillusionment of the petty bourgeoisie, its impatience, its despair, that Fascism exploits. Its agitators stigmatize and execrate the parliamentary democracy which supports careerists and grafters but gives nothing to the toilers. These demagogues shake their fists at the bankers, the big merchants and the capitalists. Their words and gestures correspond to the feelings of the small proprietors bogged up a blind alley. The Fascists show boldness, go out into the streets, attack the police, and attempt to drive out parliament by force. That makes an impression on the despairing petty bourgeois. He says to himself: “The Radicals, among whom there are too many swindlers, have definitely sold themselves to the bankers; the Socialists have promised for a long time to abolish exploitation but they never pass from words to deeds, the Communists one cannot understand at all – today it is one thing tomorrow another; let’s see if the Fascists cannot save us.”
Must the “Middle Classes” Inevitably Go Over to Fascism?[edit source]
Renaudel, Frossard and their similars imagine that the petty bourgeoisie is attached above all to democracy, wherefore it is necessary to hang on to the coat tails of the Radicals. What monstrous confusion! Democracy is only a political form. The petty bourgeoisie is not concerned with the shell but with the kernel. It wants to save itself from misery and ruin. If democracy proves impotent – then to the devil with democracy! Every petty bourgeois reasons or feels this way.
The principal social and political source of Fascism is in the growing revolt of the lower petty bourgeoisie against its own, “educated” upper layers in the municipalities, the districts and in parliament. To this must be added the hatred of the crisis-shattered intellectual youth for the lawyers, the deputies and the parvenu ministers. Here also the lower petty-bourgeois intellectuals rebel against those above them.
Does this mean that the passage of the petty bourgeoisie to Fascism is inevitable and inescapable? No, such a conclusion would be shameful fatalism.
What is really inevitable and inescapable is the doom of Radicalism and all the political groupings which link themselves to its fate.
Under conditions of capitalist decline there is no longer any place for a party of democratic reforms and “peaceful” progress. Whatever path events take in France, Radicalism will disappear from the scene, rejected and dishonoured by the petty bourgeoisie which it has definitely betrayed.
Every conscious worker will become convinced by the experience of every passing day that our prediction corresponds to reality. New elections will bring defeats for the Radicals. Whole sections will cut away one after another, the popular masses below and groups of frightened careerists above. Departures, splits, betrayals will follow uninterruptedly. No manoeuvre nor any bloc will save the Radical Party. It will draw into the abyss with it the “party” of Renaudel-Deat & Co. The end of the Radical Party is the inevitable result of the fact that bourgeois society can no longer overcome its difficulties with the help of so-called democratic methods. The split between the base of the petty bourgeoisie and its summit is inevitable.
But that does not at all mean that the masses who follow Radicalism must infallibly place their hopes in Fascism. Certainly the most demoralized section, the most declassed and the most avid of the youth of the middle classes have already made their choice in that direction. It is out of this reservoir particularly that the Fascist bands are taking form. But the basic masses of city and country have not yet made their choice. They hesitate before a great decision. It is precisely because they are hesitating that they still continue, although already without confidence, to vote for the Radicals. This situation of hesitation, of irresolution, will not, however, last for years, but for months.
Political developments in the coming period will move at a febrile rhythm. The petty bourgeoisie will reject the demagogy of Fascism only if it puts its faith in the reality of another road. That other road is the road of proletarian revolution.
Is it True That the Petty Bourgeoisie Fears Revolution?[edit source]
Parliamentary cretins who consider themselves connoisseurs of the people like to repeat: “One must not frighten the middle classes with revolution. They do not like extremes”. In this general form this affirmation is absolutely false. Naturally, the petty proprietor prefers order so long as business is going well and so long as he hopes that tomorrow it will go better.
But when this hope is lost, he is easily enraged and is ready to give himself over to the most extreme measures. Otherwise, how could he have overthrown the democratic state and brought Fascism to power in Italy and Germany? The despairing petty bourgeois sees in Fascism, above all, a fighting force against big capital, and believes that, unlike the working-class parties which deal only in words, Fascism will use force to establish more “justice”. They understand that one cannot forgo the use of force.
It is false, thrice false, to affirm that the present petty bourgeoisie is not going to the working-class parties because it fears “extreme measures”. Quite the contrary. The lower petty bourgeoisie, its great masses, only see in the working-class parties parliamentary machines. They do not believe in their strength, nor in their capacity to struggle, nor in their readiness this time to conduct the struggle to the end.
And if this is so, is it worth the trouble to replace Radicalism by its parliamentary confrères on the left? That is how the semi-expropriated, ruined and discontented proprietor reasons or feels. Without an understanding of this psychology of the peasants, the artisans, the employees, the petty functionaries, etc., – a psychology which flows from the social crisis – it is impossible to elaborate a correct policy. The petty bourgeoisie is economically dependent and politically atomized. That is why it cannot conduct an independent policy. It needs a “leader” who inspires it with confidence. This individual or collective leadership, i.e., a personage or party, can be given to it by one or the other of the fundamental classes – either the big bourgeoisie or the proletariat. Fascism unites and arms the scattered masses. Out of human dust it organizes combat detachments. It thus gives the petty bourgeoisie the illusion of being an independent force. It begins to imagine that it will really command the state. It is not surprising that these illusions and hopes turn the head of the petty bourgeoisie!
But the petty bourgeoisie can also find a leader in the proletariat. This was demonstrated in Russia and partially in Spain. In Italy, in Germany and in Austria the petty bourgeoisie gravitated in this direction. But the parties of the proletariat did not rise to their historic task.
To bring the petty bourgeoisie to its side, the proletariat must win its confidence. And for that it must have confidence in its own strength.
It must have a clear program of action and must be ready to struggle for power by all possible means. Tempered by its revolutionary party for a decisive and pitiless struggle, the proletariat says to the peasants and petty bourgeoisie of the cities: “We are struggling for power. Here is our program. We are ready to discuss with you changes in this program. We will employ violence only against big capital and its lackeys, but with you toilers, we desire to conclude an alliance on the basis of a given program.” The peasants will understand such language. Only, they must have faith in the capacity of the proletariat to seize power.
But for that it is necessary to purge the united front of all equivocation, of all indecision, of all hollow phrases. It is necessary to understand the situation and to place oneself seriously on the revolutionary road.
An Alliance with the Radicals Would be an Alliance Against the Middle Class[edit source]
Renaudel, Frossard and their similars seriously imagine that an alliance with the Radicals is an alliance with the “middle classes” and consequently a barrier against Fascism. These men see nothing but parliamentary shadows. They ignore the real evolution of the masses and chase after the “Radical Party” which has outlived itself and which in the meantime turns its back on them. They think that in an era of great social crisis an alliance of classes set in motion can be replaced by a bloc with a parliamentary clique that is compromised and doomed to extinction. A real alliance of the proletariat and the middle classes is not a question of parliamentary statistics but of revolutionary dynamics.
This alliance must be created and forged in the struggle. The whole meaning of the present political situation resides in the fact that the despairing petty bourgeoisie is beginning to break from the yoke of parliamentary discipline and from the tutelage of the conservative “radical” clique which has always fooled the people, and which has now definitely betrayed it. To join in this situation with the Radicals means to condemn oneself to the scorn of the masses, and to push the petty bourgeoisie into the embrace of Fascism as the sole saviour.
The working-class party must occupy itself not with a hopeless effort to save the party of the bankrupts. It must, on the contrary, with all its strength, accelerate the process of liberation of the masses from Radical influence. The more zeal and the more boldness it applies to this task, the more surely and rapidly will it prepare a real alliance of the working class with the petty bourgeoisie. It is necessary to place oneself at their head and not at their tail. History is working quickly. Woe to him who lags behind!
When Frossard denies the right of the Socialist Party to expose, weaken and speed the disintegration of the Radical Party, he comes forward not as a socialist but as a conservative radical. Only that party has the right to historical existence which believes in its own program and strives to rally the whole people to its banner. Otherwise it is not a party but a parliamentary coterie, a clique of careerists. It is not only the right but the elementary duty of the proletarian party to free the toiling masses from the fatal influence of the bourgeoisie. This historic task takes on a particular sharpness at the present time, for the Radicals are more than ever striving to cover up the reaction, to lull and dupe the people and in this way prepare for the victory of Fascism. And the left Radicals? They capitulate to Herriot, just as Herriot capitulates to Tardieu.
Frossard would have the alliance of the Socialists and the Radicals end in a government of the “left” which will dissolve the Fascist organizations and save the republic. It is difficult to imagine a more monstrous amalgam of democratic illusions and police cynicism. When we say – we speak of this in more detail below – that what is needed is a workers’ militia, Frossard and his satellites object: “Against Fascism one must fight not with physical but with ideological means”. When we say only a bold mobilization of the masses, which is only possible in a struggle against Radicalism, is capable of mining the ground under Fascism, the same gentlemen reply to us: “No, only the police government of Daladier-Frossard can save us.”
What pitiful prattle! For the Radicals have held the power, and if they voluntarily ceded it to Doumergue, it was not because they lacked the aid of Frossard but because they feared Fascism, because they feared the big bourgeoisie which threatened it with royalist razors, and because they feared still more the proletariat which was beginning to marshal itself against Fascism. To cap it all, Frossard himself, taking fright at the alarm of the Radicals, advised Daladier to capitulate.
If one supposes for an instant – an obviously unlikely hypothesis – that the Radicals had consented to break the alliance with Doumergue for the alliance with Frossard, the Fascist bands, this time with the direct collaboration of the police, would have come into the streets trebly numerous, and the Radicals, together with Frossard, would have immediately crawled under the tables or hidden themselves in their ministerial toilets.
But let us make one more fantastic hypothesis: the police of Daladier-Frossard “disarm the Fascists”. Does that settle the question? And who will disarm the same police, who with the right hand will give back to the Fascists what they will have taken from them with the left? The comedy of disarmament by the police will only have caused the authority of the Fascists to increase as fighters against the capitalist state. Blows against the Fascist gangs can prove effective only to the extent that these gangs are at the same time politically isolated.
Meanwhile, the hypothetical government of Daladier-Frossard would give nothing either to the workers or to the petty-bourgeois masses because it would be unable to attack the foundations of private property, and without expropriation of the banks, the great commercial enterprises, the key branches of industry and transport, without foreign trade monopoly, and without a series of other profound measures, there is no possible way of coming to the aid of the peasant, the artisan, the petty merchant. By its passivity, its impotence, its lies, the government of Daladier-Frossard would provoke a tempest of revolt in the petty bourgeoisie, and would push it definitely on the road to Fascism, if . if this government were possible. It is necessary to recognize, however, that Frossard is not alone. The same day (October 24) on which the moderate Zyromsky came out in Le Populaire against the attempt of Frossard to revive the cartel, Cachin spoke up in l’Humanité to defend the idea of a bloc with the Radical Socialists. He, Cachin, greeted with enthusiasm the fact that the Radicals had declared for the “disarmament of the Fascists”.
Certainly, the Radicals declared themselves for the disarmament of everyone – workers’ organizations included. Certainly, in the hands of a Bonapartist state, such a measure would be directed especially against the workers. Certainly, the “disarmed” Fascists would receive on the morrow double their arms, not without the aid of the police. But why trouble with sombre reflections? Every man needs to hope. So there is Cachin travelling in the footsteps of Wels and Otto Bauer who also in their time sought salvation in the disarmament to be effected by the police of Brüning and Dollfuss.
Executing the latest turn of 180 degrees, Cachin identifies the Radicals with the middle classes. He sees oppressed peasants only through the prism of Radicalism. The alliance with the petty toiling proprietors is represented by him only in the form of a bloc with the parliamentary careerists who are at last beginning to lose the confidence of the petty proprietors.
Instead of nourishing and fanning the nascent revolt of the peasant and the artisan against the “democratic” exploiters and guiding this revolt in the direction of an alliance with the proletariat, Cachin is preparing to support the bankrupt Radicals with the authority of the “common front”, and thus to drive the revolt of the most exploited petty bourgeoisie along the road of Fascism.
Theoretical sloppiness always takes cruel vengeance in revolutionary politics. “Anti-Fascism”, like Fascism, are for the Stalinists not concrete conceptions but two great empty sacks into which they stuff anything that comes into their hands. For them Doumergue is a Fascist just as before that Daladier was also for them a Fascist. In point of fact, Doumergue is a capitalist exploiter of the Fascist wing of the petty bourgeoisie just as Herriot is an exploiter of the radical petty bourgeoisie. At the present time these two systems combine in the Bonapartist régime. Doumergue is also, after his fashion, an “anti-Fascist”, since he prefers a military and police dictatorship of big capital to a civil war whose issue is always uncertain. For fear of Fascism and still more for fear of the proletariat, the “anti-Fascist” Daladier joins with Doumergue. But the régime of Doumergue is inconceivable without the existence of the Fascist gangs. An elementary Marxian analysis thus shows the utter futility of the idea of an alliance with the Radicals against Fascism!
The Radicals themselves will take pains to show in action how fantastic and reactionary are the political day dreams of Frossard and Cachin.
The Workers’ Militia and its Opponents[edit source]
To struggle, it is necessary to conserve and strengthen the instrument and the means of struggle – organizations, the press, meetings, etc. Fascism threatens all of that directly and immediately. It is still too weak for the direct struggle for power but it is strong enough to attempt to beat down the working-class organizations bit by bit, to temper its bands in its attacks, and to spread dismay and lack of confidence in their forces in the ranks of the workers.
Fascism finds unconscious helpers in all those who say that the “physical struggle” is impermissible or hopeless, and demand of Doumergue the disarmament of his Fascist guard. Nothing is so dangerous for the proletariat, especially in the present situation, than the sugared poison of false hopes. Nothing increases the insolence of the Fascists so much as “flabby pacifism” on the part of the workers’ organizations. Nothing destroys the confidence of the middle classes in the working class as temporizing, passivity, and the absence of the will to struggle.
Le Populaire and especially l’Humanité write every day: “The united front is a barrier against Fascism”; “the united front will not permit “; “the Fascists will not dare”; etc. These are phrases. It is necessary to say squarely to the workers, Socialists, and Communists: do not allow yourselves to be lulled by the phrases of superficial and irresponsible journalists and orators. It is a question of our heads and the future of socialism. It is not that we deny the importance of the united front. We demanded it when the leaders of both parties were against it. The united front opens up numerous possibilities but nothing more. In itself, the united front decides nothing. Only the struggle of the masses decides. The united front will reveal its value when Communist detachments will come to the help of Socialist detachments and vice versa in the case of an attack by the Fascist bands against Le Populaire or l’Humanité. But for that, proletarian combat detachments must exist and be educated, trained and armed. And if there is not an organization of defence, i.e., a workers’ militia, Le Populaire and l’Humanité will be able to write as many articles as they like on the omnipotence of the united front but the two papers will find themselves defenceless before the first well-prepared attack of the Fascists.
We propose to make a critical study of the “arguments” and the “theories” of the opponents of the workers’ militia who are very numerous and influential in the two working-class parties.
“We need mass self-defence and not the militia”, we are often told. But what is this “mass self-defence” without combat organizations, without specialized cadres, without arms? To give over the defence against Fascism to unorganized and unprepared masses left to themselves would be to play a role incomparably lower than the role of Pontius Pilate. To deny the role of the militia is to deny the role of the vanguard. Then why a party? Without the support of the masses, the militia is nothing. But without organized combat detachments, the most heroic masses will be smashed bit by bit by the Fascist gangs. It is nonsense to counterpose the militia to self-defence. The militia is an organ of self-defence.
“To call for the organization of a militia”, say some opponents who, to be sure, are the least serious and honest, “is to engage in provocation.” This is not an argument but an insult. If the necessity for the defence of the workers’ organizations flows from the whole situation, how then can one not call for the creation of the militia? Perhaps they mean to say that the creation of a militia “provokes” Fascist attacks and government repression. In that case this is an absolutely reactionary argument. Liberalism has always said to the workers that by their class struggle they “provoke” the reaction.
The reformists repeated this accusation against the Marxists, the Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks. These accusations reduced themselves, in the final analysis, to the profound thought that if the oppressed do not baulk, the oppressors will not be obliged to beat them. This is the philosophy of Tolstoy and Gandhi but never that of Marx and Lenin. If l’Humanité wants hereafter to develop the doctrine of “non-resistance to evil by violence”, it should take for its symbol not the hammer and sickle, emblem of the October revolution, but the pious goat which provides Gandhi with his milk.
“But the arming of the workers is only opportune in a revolutionary situation, which does not yet exist.” This profound argument means that the workers must permit themselves to be slaughtered until the situation becomes revolutionary. Those who yesterday preached the “third period” do not want to see what is going on before their eyes. The question of arms itself has only come forward because the “peaceful”, “normal”, “democratic” situation has given way to a stormy, critical and unstable situation which can transform itself into a revolutionary as well as a counter-revolutionary situation.
This alternative depends above all on whether the advanced workers will allow themselves to be attacked with impunity and defeated bit by bit or will reply to every blow by two of their own, arousing the courage of the oppressed and uniting them around their banner. A revolutionary situation does not fall from the skies. It takes form with the active participation of the revolutionary class and its party.
The French Stalinists now argue that the militia did not safeguard the German proletariat from defeat. Only yesterday they completely denied any defeat in Germany and asserted that the policy of the German Stalinists was correct from beginning to end. Today they see the entire evil in the German workers’ militia (Rote Front). Thus from one error they fall into a diametrically opposite one no less monstrous. The militia in itself does not settle the question. A correct policy is necessary. Meanwhile the policy of Stalinism in Germany (“social fascism is the chief enemy”, the split of the trade unions, the flirtation with nationalism, putschism) fatally led to the isolation of the proletarian vanguard and to its shipwreck. With an utterly worthless strategy no militia could have saved the situation.
It is nonsense to say that in itself the organization of the militia leads to adventures, provokes the enemy, replaces the political struggle by physical struggle, etc. In all these phrases there is nothing but political cowardice.
The militia, as the strong organization of the vanguard, is in fact the surest defence against adventures, against individual terrorism, against bloody spontaneous explosions.
The militia is at the same time the only serious way of reducing to a minimum the civil war which Fascism imposes upon the proletariat. Let the workers, despite the absence of a “revolutionary situation”, occasionally correct the “papa’s son” patriots in their own way and the recruitment of new Fascist bands will become incomparably more difficult.
But here the strategists, tangled in their own reasoning, bring forward against us still more stupefying arguments. We quote textually: “If we reply to the revolver shots of the Fascists with other revolver shots”, writes l’Humanité of October 23 (1934), “we lose sight of the fact that Fascism is the product of the capitalist régime and that in fighting against Fascism it is the entire system which we face”. It is difficult to accumulate in a few lines greater confusion of more errors. It is impossible to defend oneself against the Fascists because they are “a product of the capitalist régime”. That means we have to renounce the whole struggle, for all contemporary social evils are “products of the capitalist system”.
When the Fascists kill a revolutionist or burn down the building of a proletarian newspaper, the workers’ are to sigh philosophically: “Alas! Murders and arson are products of the capitalist system”, and go home with easy consciences. Fatalist prostration is substituted for the militant theory of Marx, to the sole advantage of the class enemy. The ruin of the petty bourgeoisie is, of course, the product of capitalism. The growth of the Fascist bands is, in turn, a product of the ruin of the petty bourgeoisie. But on the other hand, the increase in the misery and the revolt of the proletariat are also products of the sharpening of the class struggle. Why, then, for the “Marxists” of l’Humanité are the Fascist bands the legitimate product of capitalism and the workers’ militia the illegitimate product of the Trotskyists? It is impossible to make head or tail of this.
“We have to deal with the whole system”, we are told. How? Over the heads of human beings? The Fascists in the different countries began with their revolvers and ended by destroying the whole “system” of workers’ organizations. How else to check the armed offensive of the enemy if not by an armed defence in order, in our turn, to go over to the offensive?
l’Humanité now admits defence in words, but only in the form of “mass self-defence”. The militia is harmful because, you see, it divides the combat detachments from the masses. But why then are there independent armed detachments among the Fascists who are not cut off from the reactionary masses but who, on the contrary, arouse the courage and embolden the masses by their well-organized attacks? Or perhaps the proletarian mass is inferior in combative quality to the declassed petty bourgeoisie?
Hopelessly tangled, l’Humanité finally begins to hesitate: it appears that mass self-defence requires the creation of special “self-defence groups”. In the place of the rejected militia special groups or detachments are proposed. It would seem at first sight that there is a difference only in the name. Certainly the name proposed by l’Humanité means nothing. One can speak of “mass self-defence” but it is impossible to speak of “self-defence groups” since the purpose of the groups is not to defend themselves but the workers’ organizations. However, it is of course not a question of the name. The “self-defence groups”, according to l’Humanité, must renounce the use of arms in order not to fall into “putschism”. These sages treat the working class like an infant who must not be allowed to hold a razor in his hands. Razors, moreover, are the monopoly, as we know, of the Camelots du Roi, who are a legitimate “product of capitalism” and who with the aid of razors have overthrown the “system” of democracy. In any case, how are the “self-defence groups” going to defend themselves against the Fascist revolvers? “Ideologically”, of course. In other words: they can only hide themselves. Not having what they require in their hands, they will have to seek “self-defence” in their feet. And the Fascists will in the meanwhile sack the workers’ organizations with impunity. But if the proletariat suffers a terrible defeat, it will at any rate not have been guilty of “putschism”. This fraudulent chatter, parading under the banner of “Bolshevism” arouses only disgust and loathing.
During the “third period” of happy memory, when the strategists of l’Humanité were afflicted with barricade delirium, “conquered” the streets every day and stamped as “social fascist” everyone who did not share their extravagances, we predicted: “The moment these gentlemen burn the tips of their fingers, they will become the worst opportunists.” That prediction has now been completely confirmed. At a time when within the Socialist Party the movement in favour of the militia is growing and strengthening, the leaders of the so-called Communist Party run for the hose to cool down the desire of the advanced workers to organize themselves in fighting columns. Could one imagine a more demoralizing or more damning work than this?
A Workers’ Militia Must Be Built[edit source]
In the ranks of the Socialist Party sometimes this objection is heard: “A militia must be formed but there is no need of shouting about it.” One can only congratulate comrades who wish to protect the practical side of the business from inquisitive eyes and ears. But it would be much too naïve to think that a militia could be created unseen and secretly within four walls. We need tens and later hundreds of thousands of fighters. They will come only if millions of men and women workers, and behind them the peasants, understand the necessity for the militia and create around the volunteers an atmosphere of ardent sympathy and active support. Conspiratorial care can and must envelop only the technical aspect of the matter. The political campaign must be openly developed, in meetings, factories, in the streets and on the public squares.
The fundamental cadres of the militia must be the factory workers grouped according to their place of work, known to each other and able to protect their combat detachments against the provocations of enemy agents far more easily and more surely than the most elevated bureaucrats. Conspirative general staffs without an open mobilization of the masses will at the moment of danger remain impotently suspended in mid-air. Every working-class organization has to plunge into the job. In this question there can be no line of demarcation between the working-class parties and the trade unions. Hand in hand they must mobilize the masses. The success of the people’s militia will then be fully assured.
“But where are the workers going to get arms?” object the sober “realists”, – that is to say, frightened philistines – “the enemy has rifles, cannon, tanks, gas and aircraft. The workers have a few hundred revolvers and pocket knives.”
In this objection everything is piled up to frighten the workers. On the one hand, our sages identify the arms of the Fascists with the armament of the state. On the other, they turn towards the state and demand that it disarm the Fascists. Remarkable logic! In fact their position is false in both cases. In France the Fascists are still far from controlling the state. On February 6 they entered into armed conflict with the state police. That is why it is false to speak of cannon and tanks when it is a matter of the immediate armed struggle against the Fascists. The Fascists, of course, are richer than we. It is easier for them to buy arms. But the workers are more numerous, more determined, more devoted, when they are conscious of a firm revolutionary leadership.
In addition to other sources, the workers can arm themselves at the expense of the Fascists by systematically disarming them.
This is now one of the most serious forms of the struggle against Fascism. When workers’ arsenals will begin to stock up at the expense of the Fascist arms depots, the banks and trusts will be more prudent in financing the armament of their murderous guards. It would even be possible in this case – but in this case only – that the alarmed authorities would really begin to prevent the arming of the Fascists in order not to provide an additional source of arms for the workers. We have known for a long time that only a revolutionary tactic engenders, as a by-product, “reforms” or concessions from the government.
But how to disarm the Fascists? Naturally, it is impossible to do so with newspaper articles alone. Fighting squads must be created. An intelligence service must be established. Thousands of informers and friendly helpers will volunteer from all sides when they realize that the business has been seriously undertaken by us. It requires a will to proletarian action.
But the arms of the Fascists are of course not the only source. In France there are more than one million organized workers. Generally speaking, this number is small. But it is entirely sufficient to make a beginning in the organization of a workers’ militia. If the parties and unions armed only a tenth of their members, that would already be a force of 100,000 men. There is no doubt whatever that the number of volunteers who would come forward on the morrow of a “united front” appeal for a workers’ militia would far exceed that number. The contributions of the parties and unions, collections and voluntary subscriptions would within a month or two make it possible to assure the arming of 100,000 to 200,000 working-class fighters. The Fascist rabble would immediately sink its tail between its legs. The whole perspective of development would become incomparably more favourable.
To invoke the absence of arms or other objective reasons to explain why no attempt has been made up to now to create a militia, is to fool oneself and others. The principal obstacle – one can say the only obstacle – has its roots in the conservative and passive character of the leaders of the workers’ organizations. The sceptics who are the leaders do not believe in the strength of the proletariat. They put their hope in all sorts of miracles from above instead of giving a revolutionary outlet to the energies pulsing below. The Socialist workers must compel their leaders to pass over immediately to the creation of the workers’ militia or else give way to younger, fresher forces.
The Arming of the Proletariat[edit source]
A strike is inconceivable without propaganda and without agitation. It is also inconceivable without pickets who, when they can, use persuasion, but when obliged, use force. The strike is the most elementary form of the class struggle which always combines, in varying proportions, “ideological” methods with physical methods. The struggle against Fascism is basically a political struggle which needs a militia just as the strike needs pickets. Basically, the picket is the embryo of the workers’ militia. He who thinks of renouncing “physical” struggle must renounce all struggle, for the spirit does not live without flesh.
Following the splendid phrase of the great military theoretician, Clausewitz, war is the continuation of politics by other means. This definition also fully applies to civil war. Physical struggle is only “another means” of the political struggle. It is impermissible to oppose one to the other since it is impossible to check at will the political struggle when it transforms itself, by force of inner necessity, into a physical struggle.
The duty of a revolutionary party is to foresee in time the inescapability of the transformation of politics into open armed conflict, and with all its forces to prepare for that moment just as the ruling classes are preparing.
The militia detachments for defence against Fascism are the first step on the road to the arming of the proletariat, not the last. Our slogan is:
Arm the proletariat and the revolutionary peasants.
The workers’ militia must in the final analysis embrace all the toilers. To fulfil this program completely would be possible only in a workers’ state into whose hands would pass all the means of production and consequently also all the means of destruction, i.e., all the arms and the factories which produce them.
However, it is impossible to arrive at a workers’ state with empty hands. Only political invalids like Renaudel can speak of a peaceful, constitutional road to socialism. The constitutional road is cut by trenches held by the Fascist bands. There are not a few trenches before us. The bourgeoisie will not hesitate to resort to a dozen coups d’état aided by the police and the army, to prevent the proletariat from coming to power.
A workers’ socialist state can be created only by a victorious revolution.
Every revolution is prepared by the march of economic and political development, but it is always decided by open armed conflicts between hostile classes. A revolutionary victory can become possible only as a result of long political agitation, a lengthy period of education and organization of the masses.
But the armed conflict itself must likewise be prepared long in advance.
The advanced workers must know that they will have to fight and win a death struggle. They must reach out for arms, as a guarantee of their emancipation.
In an era as critical as the present, the party of the revolution must unceasingly preach to the workers the need for arming themselves and must do everything to assure the arming, at least, of the proletarian vanguard. Without this, victory is impossible.
The most recent electoral victories of the British Labour Party do not at all invalidate what is said above. Even if we were to allow that the next parliamentary elections will give the Labour Party an absolute majority, which is not assured in any case; if we were further to allow that the party would actually take the road of socialist transformations – which is scarcely probable – it would immediately meet with such fierce resistance from the House of Lords, the king, the banks, the stock market, the bureaucracy, the press, that a split in its ranks would become inevitable, and the left, more radical wing would become a parliamentary minority. Simultaneously the Fascist movement would acquire an unprecedented sweep. Alarmed by the municipal elections, the British bourgeoisie is no doubt already actively preparing for an extra-parliamentary struggle actively while the tops of the Labour Party lull the proletariat with the successes and are compelled, unfortunately, to see the British events through the rosy spectacles of Jean Longuet. In point of fact, the less the leaders of the Labour Party prepare for it, the more cruel will be the civil war forced upon the proletariat by the British bourgeoisie.
“But where will you get arms for the whole proletariat?” object once more the sceptics who mistake their own inner futility for an objective impossibility. They forgot that the same question has been posed before every revolution in history. And despite everything, victorious revolutions mark important stages in the development of humanity.
The proletariat produces arms, transports them, erects the buildings in which they are kept, defends these buildings against itself, serves in the army and creates all its equipment. It is neither locks nor walls which separate the proletariat from arms, but the habit of submission, the hypnosis of class domination and nationalist poison.
It is sufficient to destroy these psychological walls – and no wall of stone will stand in the way. It is enough that the proletariat should want arms – and it will find them. The task of the revolutionary party is to awaken this desire and to facilitate its realization.
But here Frossard and hundreds of frightened parliamentarians, journalists and trade-union officials, advance their last argument, the weightiest: “Can serious men in general place their hopes in the success of physical struggle after the recent tragic experiences in Austria and Spain? Think of present day technique, tanks, gas, aircraft!!” This argument only shows that a number of “serious men” not only want to learn nothing but in their fear even forgot what little they ever learned.
The history of the last 20 years demonstrates with particular clarity that the fundamental problems in the relations among classes, as among nations, are settled by physical force. The pacifists have long hoped that the growth of military technique would make war impossible. The philistines have repeated for decades that the growth of military technique would make revolution impossible. However, wars and revolutions continue. Never have there been so many revolutions, including victorious revolutions, as there have been since the last war which uncovered all the might of military technique.
Frossard and Co. offer old clichés as though they were the latest discoveries, invoking instead of automatic rifles and machine guns, tanks and bombing planes. We reply: behind each machine there are men who are linked not only by technical but by social and political bonds. When historic development poses before society an un-postponable revolutionary task as a question of life or death, when there exists a progressive class with whose victory is joined the salvation of society – then the development itself of the political struggle opens up before the revolutionary class the most varied possibilities – as much to paralyse the military force of the enemy as to win it over, at least partially. In the mind of a philistine these possibilities always appear as “lucky accidents” which will never be repeated. In fact, in the most unexpected but fundamentally natural combinations, possibilities of every sort open up in every great, i.e., truly popular, revolution. But despite everything victory does not come of itself.
To utilize the favourable possibilities it is necessary to have a revolutionary will, an iron determination to conquer, a bold and perspicacious leadership. l’Humanité agrees in words with the slogan of “arming the workers” but only to renounce it in deeds. At the present time, according to this paper, it is inadmissible to advance a slogan which is only opportune “in a full revolutionary crisis”. It is dangerous to load your rifle, says the “too-prudent” hunter so long as the game remains invisible. But when the game puts in an appearance it is a little too late to load the rifle. Do the strategists of l’Humanité really think that in “the full revolutionary crisis” they will be able without any preparation to mobilize and arm the proletariat? To secure a large quantity of arms, one needs a certain quantity on hand. One needs military cadres. One needs the invincible desire of the masses to secure arms. One needs uninterrupted preparatory work not only in the gymnasiums but in indissoluble connection with the daily struggle of the masses. This means:
It is necessary immediately to build the militia and at the same time to carry on propaganda for the general armament of the revolutionary workers and peasants.
But the Defeats in Austria and Spain ...[edit source]
The impotence of parliamentarianism in the conditions of the crisis of the whole capitalist system is so obvious that the vulgar democrats in the camp of the workers (Renaudel, Frossard and their imitators) do not find a single argument to defend their petrified prejudices. All the more readily do they seize upon every defeat and every failure suffered along the revolutionary road. The development of their thought is this: if pure parliamentarianism offers no way out, armed struggle does no better. The defeats of the proletarian insurrections in Austria and in Spain are now, of course, their choice argument. In fact, in their criticism of the revolutionary method the theoretical and political bankruptcy of the vulgar democrats appears still more clearly than in their defence of the methods of rotting bourgeois democracy.
No one has said that the revolutionary method automatically assures victory. What is decisive is not the method in itself but its correct application, the Marxist orientation in events, powerful organization, the confidence of the masses won through long experience, a perspicacious and bold leadership. The issue of every struggle depends upon the moment and conditions of the conflict and the relation of forces. Marxism is quite far from the thought that armed conflict is the only revolutionary method, or a panacea good under all conditions. Marxism in general knows no fetishes, neither parliamentary nor insurrectional. There is a time and place for everything. There is one thing that one can say at the beginning:
On the parliamentary road the socialist proletariat nowhere and never conquered power nor ever even as yet has drawn close to it.
The governments of Scheidemann, Hermann Müller, MacDonald, had nothing in common with socialism. The bourgeoisie permitted the Social Democrats and Labourites to come to power only on condition that they defend capitalism against its enemies. They scrupulously fulfilled this condition. Purely parliamentary, anti-revolutionary socialism nowhere and never resulted in a socialist ministry. It did succeed in producing loathsome renegades who exploited the workers’ party to carve out cabinet careers – Millerand, Briand, Viviani, Laval, Paul-Boncour, Marquet.
On the other hand, historical experience shows that the revolutionary method can lead to the conquest of power by the proletariat – in Russia in 1917, in Germany and Austria in 1918, in Spain in 1930. In Russia there was a powerful Bolshevik Party which prepared for the revolution over a long period of years and knew solidly how to take over power.
The reformist parties of Germany, Austria and Spain did not prepare the revolution, did not lead it, but suffered it.
Frightened by the power which had come into their hands against their own will, they benevolently handed it over to the bourgeoisie. In this way they undermined the confidence of the proletariat in itself and, further, the confidence of the petty bourgeoisie in the proletariat. They prepared the conditions for the growth of Fascist reaction and fell victims to it.
Civil war, we have said, following Clausewitz, is a continuation of politics but by other means. This means that the result of the civil war depends for one-fourth, not to say one-tenth, upon the development of the civil war itself, its technical means, its purely military leadership, and for three-fourths, if not for nine-tenths, on the political preparation. Of what does this political preparation consist? It is in the revolutionary cohesion of the masses, in their liberation from servile hopes in the clemency, generosity and loyalty of “democratic slave-owners”, in the education of revolutionary cadres who know how to defy official public opinion and who know how to display towards the bourgeoisie one-tenth the implacability which the bourgeoisie displays towards the toilers. Without this temper, civil war when conditions force it – and they always end by forcing it – will take place under conditions most unfavourable for the proletariat, will depend upon many hazards and then, even in case of military victory, power can escape the hands of the proletariat. Whoever does not foresee that the class struggle leads inevitably to armed conflict is blind. But he is no less blind who fails to see behind this armed conflict and its outcome the whole previous policy of the classes in struggle.
What was defeated in Austria was not the method of insurrection but Austro-Marxism and in Spain unprincipled parliamentary reformism.
In 1918, the Austrian Social Democracy handed over to the bourgeoisie, behind the back of the proletariat, the power which the latter had won. In 1927, it not only turned away in cowardly fashion from the proletarian insurrection which had every chance of victory, but led the workers’ Schutzbund against the insurgent masses. Thus it prepared the victory of Dollfuss. Bauer and Co. said: “We desire peaceful evolution but if the enemy loses his head and attacks us, then”
This formula appeared very “wise” and very “realistic”. Unfortunately, it is on this Austro-Marxist model that Marceau Pivert also constructs his reasoning: “If – then”. In fact, this formula is a snare for the workers. It lulls them and deceives them. “If” means that the forms of the struggle depend upon the goodwill of the bourgeoisie and not upon the absolute irreconcilability of class interests. “If” means that if we are wise, prudent, conciliatory, the bourgeoisie will be loyal and everything will proceed peacefully.
Running after the phantom “if”, Otto Bauer and the other leaders of the Austrian Social Democracy passively retreated before the reaction, ceded one position after another, demoralized the masses, retreated again, until they found themselves in the final impasse. There on the last redoubt they accepted battle and lost it.
In Spain events took a different course but the causes of the defeat were basically the same. The Socialist Party, like the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, shared power with the republican bourgeoisie to prevent the workers and peasants from carrying the revolution to its conclusion. For two years the Socialists in power helped the bourgeoisie disembarrass itself of the masses by crumbs of national, social and agrarian reforms. Against the most revolutionary strata of the people, the Socialists used repression.
The result was twofold. Anarcho-syndicalism, which would have melted like wax in the heat of revolution had the workers’ party pursued a correct course, was strengthened and drew around it the militant layers of the proletariat. At the other pole, social catholic demagogy succeeded in skilfully exploiting the discontent of the masses with the bourgeois-socialist government.
When the Socialist Party was sufficiently compromised, the bourgeoisie drove it from power and took over the offensive on the whole front. The Socialist Party had to defend itself under the most unfavourable conditions which had been prepared for it by its own previous policy. The bourgeoisie already had a mass support at the right. The anarcho-syndicalist leaders, who during the course of the revolution committed all the mistakes typical of these professional confusionists, refused to support the insurrection led by the traitor “politicians”. The movement did not take on a general character but remained sporadic. The government directed its blows at the scattered sections of the workers. The civil war forced by the reaction ended in the defeat of the proletariat.
From the Spanish experience it is not difficult to draw conclusions against socialist participation in a bourgeois government. The conclusion itself is indisputable but utterly insufficient. The alleged “radicalism” of Austro-Marxism is in no sense any better than Spanish ministerialism. The difference between them is technical, not political. Both waited for the bourgeoisie to give them “loyalty” for “loyalty”. Both led the proletariat to catastrophe.
In Spain as in Austria it was not revolutionary methods which were defeated but opportunist methods in a revolutionary situation. It is not the same thing!
We shall not stop here on the policy of the Communist International in Austria and in Spain. We refer the reader to the files of La Vérité and a series of pamphlets of recent years. In an exceptionally favourable situation the Austrian and Spanish Communist Parties, fettered by the theory of the “third period” and “social Fascism”, etc., found themselves doomed to complete isolation. Compromising the methods of revolution by the authority of “Moscow” they barred, thereby, the road to a truly Marxist, truly Bolshevik policy. The fundamental faculty of revolution is to submit to a rapid and pitiless examination all doctrines and all methods. The punishment almost immediately follows the crime.
The responsibility of the Communist International for the defeats of the proletariat in Germany, Austria and in Spain is incommensurable. It is not sufficient to carry out a “revolutionary” policy (in words). A correct policy is needed. No one has yet found any other secret of victory.
The United Front and the Struggle for Power[edit source]
We have already said that the united front of the Socialist and Communist Parties embodies immense possibilities. If only it wants it seriously, it will tomorrow become master in France. But the will must be there.
The fact that Jouhaux and, in general, the bureaucracy of the CGT remain outside the united front preserving their “independence” seems to contradict what we say. But that is only at first sight. In an epoch of great tasks and great dangers which bring the masses to their feet, the barriers between the political and trade-union organizations of the proletariat disappear. The workers want to know how to save themselves from capital, and they are scarcely concerned with the “independence” of Jouhaux from proletarian policy (on bourgeois policy Jouhaux is, alas, quite dependent). If the proletarian vanguard represented in the united front correctly treads the path of struggle, all the obstacles established by the trade-union bureaucracy will be overthrown by the living torrent of the proletariat. The key to the situation is now in the united front. If it does not use this key it will play the lamentable role which would inevitably have been played by the united front of the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries in Russia in 1917, if the Bolsheviks had not prevented them from doing so.
We shall not speak of the Socialist and Communist Parties in particular because both have renounced their independence in favour of the united front. As soon as the two working-class parties, which sharply competed in the past, renounced mutual criticism and the winning of adherents from each other, by that alone they ceased to exist as distinct parties. To invoke “principled differences” which remain, changes nothing. As soon as principled differences are not manifested openly and actively, at a moment as laden with responsibility as the present, they cease thereby to exist politically. They are like treasure which rests on the bottom of the ocean. We do not predict whether the common work will end in fusion but for the present period, which is of decisive importance for the destiny of France, the united front operates like an incomplete party constructed on the federalist principle.
What does the united front want? Until now it has not told the masses. The struggle against Fascism? But until now the united front has not explained how it proposes to fight against Fascism. Besides, a purely defensive bloc against Fascism could only suffice if in everything else the two parties preserved complete independence. But no, we have a united front which embraces almost the entire public activity of the two parties and excludes their reciprocal struggle to win the majority of the proletariat. From this situation all the consequences must be drawn. The first and the most important is the struggle for power. The aim of the united front can be only a government of the united front, i.e., a Socialist-Communist government, a Blum-Cachin ministry.
This must be said openly. If the united front takes itself seriously – and it is only on this condition that the popular masses will take it seriously – it cannot divest itself of the slogan of conquest of power. By what means? By every means which leads to that end.
The united front does not renounce parliamentary struggle but it utilizes parliament above all to unmask its impotence and to explain to the people that the present government has an extra-parliamentary base and that it can be overthrown only by a powerful mass movement.
The struggle for power means the utilization of all the possibilities provided by the semi-parliamentary Bonapartist régime to overthrow this régime by a revolutionary push, to replace the bourgeois state by a workers’ state.
The last district elections showed an increase in the Socialist and especially the Communist vote. In itself this fact settles nothing. The German Communist Party on the eve of its collapse had an incomparably more striking increase of votes. New, broad strata of the oppressed are driven to the left by the whole situation, independently even of the policy of the extreme parties. The French Communist Party gained more votes because by tradition it remains, despite its present conservative policy, the “extreme left”. The masses showed by this their tendency to give the working-class parties an impulsion to the left, for the masses are infinitely more to the left than their parties. Further testimony of this is the revolutionary spirit of the socialist youth. It must not be forgotten that the youth is the sensitive barometer of the whole class and its vanguard!
If the united front does not emerge from passivity or, worse still, if it enters upon an unworthy romance with the Radicals, then to the “left” of the united front, Anarchists, Anarcho-syndicalists and other similar groupings of political disintegration will be strengthened. At the same time apathy, precursor of catastrophe, will make headway.
On the other hand, the united front, assuring its rear and its flanks against the Fascist bands, opens up a broad political offensive under the slogan of conquest of power. It will awaken an echo so powerful as to exceed the most optimistic expectations.
Only hollow charlatans for whom great mass movements shall always remain a book sealed with seven seals can fail to understand this.
Not a Program of Passivity but a Program of Revolution[edit source]
The struggle for power must begin with the fundamental idea that if opposition to further aggravation of the situation of the masses under capitalism is still possible, no real improvement of their situation is conceivable without a revolutionary invasion of the right of capitalist property. The political campaign of the united front must base itself upon a well-elaborated transition program, i.e., on a system of measures which with a workers’ and peasants’ government can assure the transition from capitalism to socialism.
Now a program is needed not to ease the conscience but to guide revolutionary action. What is a program worth if it remains a dead letter? The Belgian Workers’ Party, for example, adopted the pompous plan of De Man with all its “nationalizations”. But what sense was there in it when the party did not lift its little finger to realize it? Programs of Fascism are fantastic, false, demagogic. But Fascism carries on a fierce struggle for power. Socialism can advance the most scientific program but its value will be equal to zero if the vanguard of the proletariat does not unfold a bold struggle to capture the state. The social crisis in its political expression is the crisis of power. The old master of society is bankrupt. A new master is needed.
If the revolutionary proletariat does not take power, Fascism will inevitably take it!
A program of transitional demands for “the middle classes” can naturally assume great importance if this program corresponds, on the one hand, to the real needs of the middle classes, and on the other, to the demands of the development towards socialism. But once more the centre of gravity does not exist now in a special program. The middle classes have seen many programs. What they need is confidence that the program will be realized. The moment the peasant says: “This time it seems that the working-class parties will not retreat” – the cause of socialism is won.
But for that it is necessary to show in action that we are firmly prepared to smash every obstacle in our path.
There is no need of inventing means of struggle. They are provided by the whole history of the world working-class movement.
A concentrated campaign in the working-class press pounding steadily on the same key; real socialist speeches from the tribune of parliament, not by tame deputies but by leaders of the people; the utilization of every electoral campaign for revolutionary purposes; repeated meetings to which the masses come not merely to hear the speakers but to get the slogans and directives of the hour; the creation and strengthening of the workers’ militia; well organized demonstrations driving the reactionary bands from the streets; protest strikes; an open campaign for the unification and enlargement of the trade-union ranks under the banner of resolute class struggle; stubborn, carefully calculated activity to win the army over to the cause of the people; broader strikes; more powerful demonstrations; the general strike of toilers of town and country; a general offensive against the Bonapartist government for the workers’ and peasants’ power.
There is still time to prepare for victory. Fascism has not yet become a mass movement. The inevitable decomposition of Radicalism will mean, however, the narrowing of the base of Bonapartism, the growth of the two extreme camps and the approach of the showdown. It is not a question of years but of months. The length of this period is not fixed by anyone but depends upon the struggle of living forces and above all upon the policy of the proletariat and its united front.
The potential forces of the revolution exceed by far the forces of Fascism and in general of the whole united reaction. Sceptics who think that all is lost must be pitilessly driven out of the workers’ ranks. From the depths of the masses come vibrant echoes to every bold word, every truly revolutionary slogan. The masses want the struggle.
It is not the spirit of combination among parliamentarians and journalists, but the legitimate and creative hatred of the oppressed for the oppressors which is today the single most progressive factor in history. It is necessary to turn to the masses, toward their deepest layers. It is necessary to appeal to their passions and to their reason. It is necessary to reject the false “prudence” which is a synonym for cowardice and which, at great historical turning points, amounts to treason. The united front must take for its motto the formula of Danton: “De l’audace, toujours de l’audace, et encore de l’audace.” To understand the situation fully and to draw from it all the practical conclusions, boldly and without fear and to the end, is to assure the victory of socialism.