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New International, August 1948


Notes of the Month

French Cabinets – The Wallace Campaign – Bertrand Russell


From The New International, Vol. VIV No.8, October 1948, pp. 227–230.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Everybody knows the French are an excitable and volatile people, in the same sense that “everybody knows” that Swedes are stolid, Germans love regimentation, Englishmen never see the point of a joke, Russians have dark brooding souls, Mexicans are lazy, Californians drive like crazy, and Italians are undisciplined and/or cowards. Not all of the above stereotypes have been made the basis of popular-culture theories of history, but most of them have been impressed into the role at one time or another.

It has lately been the turn of the French. If anyone thinks such stupid stuff is confined to lowbrow barbershop political analysts, he should have read some of the editorials in the press on the recent reshufflings of the French cabinet. American fingers were pointed at the spectacle with a mixture of concern, contempt, condemnation – and conceit.

For implicit in the cluck-clucking of the editorialists was the thought: Thank-God-We-Are-Not-As-These-Poor-Unfortunates. What! three cabinets overthrown in a week! or was it two, or four? How can a state get along with a system of government that makes this possible? Here in America we have a stable government, the lord be praised. The last one endured over twelve years, almost as long as Hitler’s thousand-year Reich. Democratic and all that, you understand, but stable. But gadzooks, these French!

Now, the nature of various governmental systems interests us socialists peculiarly because we have our own ideas – and aims – on the subject. A socialist government speaking for the people as workers, in workers’ councils based upon occupational representation, appears to us to be the framework best designed for the fullest democracy. And since we believe that only a government which really represents the interests of the governed can be truly stable in any long-term sense, democracy and stability do not appear to us as antagonistic principles but as complementary.

Not so the exponents of “the American system of government,” if we are to judge by their reactions to the recent gyrations of the French cabinet. For those features of the French cabinet system which render it unstable – and exposed to American sneers – are precisely those features in which it is more democratic in form than the American presidential system.

As is well known, these are primarily two. The first is the fact that a government can last only as long as it presumably represents and acts on the views of a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. In other words, the cabinet is formally responsible day by day to the elected parliament. There is no brake on the ability of the “representatives of the people” to control their executive such as is written into the U.S. Constitution in the form of the checks-and-balances system – a system devised by the Founding Fathers with malice and aforethought to prevent or delay the expression of the will of the masses (“the landless proletariat,” in Madison’s words at the Constitutional Convention).

Under present-day capitalist conditions, social pressures of all kinds – if not “the will of the masses” – are far more readily exerted on the French government than on the American. And there is no honest definition of democracy conceivable which does not therefore mean that the French system is more democratic in form.

The second relevant feature of French government is the existence of a kind of partial proportional representation in the election of the deputies. Naturally, a multiplicity of parties is encouraged since even a small group has a better chance to get a foothold and make a start. The less likely it is that any one party machine has a majority of its own, the more necessary for governments to be based on inter-party agreements rather than single-party discipline. And this multiplicity of parties is likewise a more democratic form than the artificial and fraudulent confinement of the American voter’s choice to two power and patronage machines which do not much bother to distinguish themselves from each other politically.

And so French cabinets fall and are patched together, as the tides of political feeling and movement swell, while in Washington the same faces remain for at least four years even if the complexion of the Congress changes in mid-reign (as it did in 1946).

Now, Marxist socialists propose in the workers’ council system a governmental structure which proposes to go much further in achieving a sensitive responsiveness on the part of the installed government to the elected representatives of the people – so much further as to create a different type of government altogether. It includes, for example, the liability to recall and re-election at any time of the council delegates, from top to bottom; and this in addition to the abolition of any and all autonomy on the part of the executive arm vis-à-vis the legislative.

It would seem that this might only intensify the evil which bedevils French politics – instability – but only on a superficial understanding of what is involved. The form of the French government makes instability more possible, but the French cabinets are unsteady because French society is rent by irreconcilable conflicts of classes and sections of classes locked in battle. This was most obvious in the recent topplings of the cabinet lists where the stubborn issue immediately involved was the workers’ economic demands.

French society is riven and shaken by the class struggle of the proletariat versus the capitalist class, and as a consequence the capitalist class is itself riven and shaken by the problem of how to deal with the situation. It is before the latter problem in particular that the unfortunate cabinets fall. It is the latter problem in particular which separates De Gaulle from the “democratic” MRP, for De Gaulle has a solution to this dilemma.

The general agrees with the American finger- pointers who find the root of the evil in the parliamentary latitude permitted by the governmental structure. And so he bestrides his white horse and proclaims that salvation resides in the junking of parliamentarism and parties – in favor of authoritarianism. (In passing, the echo of this fascist wisdom filters through De Gaulle’s henchman Malraux, through James Burnham, and is communicated to American socialists and liberals by Arthur Koestler as the latest in “realistic radicalism.”)

The onset of social crisis and the racking of the fabric of society by class struggle inevitably produces a crisis of parliamentarism because neither the proletariat nor the capitalist class can find a way out of desperate straits solely within its framework.

So it is in France. Socialism can “make democracy work” – degenerating capitalism cannot.

But, contrary to appearance, we really started discussing French politics because of a backlight it throws on the American political scene today.

In spite of the comparative rigidity of U.S. forms, political and social upheavals are breaking through to the parliamentary surface. They have been delayed; they are still largely unexpressed; they cannot bubble up, as under French conditions – they must blast their way to the light. But there is more than enough evidence that the deep waters are running.

Precisely because of the difference between the American and the French political structures, in part, phenomena which would promptly well forth in French politics are here shut in. Today this means first and foremost the forces making for the breakup of the existing two-party system.

After all the shouting and fury of the Wallace movement will have died down, what its more permanent significance will be is already clear. It will have shown that the two-party framework can be broken.

This is true even if the Wallace-Stalinist combine gets only a third of the vote it claims, only a half of what it secretly hopes for, or even much less than what it has now. Up to this year, one of the more popular arguments used by labor leaders against the idea of independent working-class political action was the very “practical” one based on the peculiar American political structure and the difficulties it created for any new contender – difficulties painted as well- nigh insuperable.

This argument was not only put forward, it was believed; and not only by labor leaders but by large numbers of militants.

After this year it may still be put forward – but no longer self-confidently and impatiently, only hypocritically. It may still even be believed – but no longer by large numbers of militant workers, only by a few of the most gullible and ignorant.

For the Wallace-CP drive has provided a test run. The demonstration is all the more convincing just because of the manifold counts against the Wallace outfit, because of the fact that this movement does not merit the support of labor, because of the justified refusal of the labor movement to support it. And the demonstration is still there even though the Wallace-ites will not be on the ballot in many states. Because the question which answers itself is:

If the Wallace party could get as far as it has – we are referring to the aforementioned “practical” question of overcoming the obstacles of America’s anti-democratic electoral laws and structure – what could have been achieved by an independent political movement powered by the brawny trade-union movement of the United States?

Wallace has the apparatus of the CP – no feeble adjunct, to be sure – but this apparatus is a pygmy compared to what can be built in a matter of months by a politically awakened labor movement.

Wallace has the resources of enthusiastic knots of non-Stalinist supporters and delights to boast of the wonders which can be performed by devoted Jimmy Higginses as compared with the operations of the old parties’ wardheelers. He has discovered, but only tapped a trickle from, the tremendous powerhouse of dynamic energy which can be unleashed by a movement which answers the yearning of large masses for independent political action.

An independent labor party based on the trade unions can set that powerhouse humming.

The passing reference made above to Arthur Koestler reminds us of two other things: first, the fact that this gentleman’s disgraceful escapade of a few months ago has not been mentioned in our press; and second, that it is timely to mention it now in view of a recent article by a far more intelligent man, Bertrand Russell, in an issue of the social-democratic New Leader last month (September 4).

The occasion was Koestler’s first lecture in America, at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Since the affair was sponsored by the International Rescue and Relief Committee and since this worthy organization was the beneficiary, the audience before which he spoke was predominantly liberal-labor. It was this audience – flatteringly addressed by Koestler as the “radical intelligentsia” of the city – which was subjected to the speaker’s apologia for De Gaulle as the “practical” and “realistic” alternative to French Stalinism (an apologia punctuated by a literal bow to James Burnham, seated on the platform after having just returned from his enlightening experience in alternating monologues with Andre Malraux, De Gaulle’s propaganda chief).

But that only in passing. What we wish to note, in view of Russell’s article, is the fact that Koestler unblushingly – nay, aggressively – came out in favor of a Pax Americana, i.e., domination of the world by the United States, i.e., that which the most blatant American imperialist will deny is any part of Washington’s aims, for fear of being considered ... an imperialist. To be perfectly fair to Koestler, we should not conceal the fact that he advocated this super-imperialist program in the name of – socialism.

Koestler, of course, is not a political thinker but a novelist – we quote the very caution he directed at his audience, who, however, paid for their seats to hear his political thoughts. But while this might be interpreted as a warning against taking him seriously, the same cannot be said for Bertrand Russell.

Russell has a program. We think it is worthy of wide notoriety. Lenin was fond of saying that it was difficult to find an honest adversary; in this epoch it seems to be even more difficult to find a man who is willing to think a thought through consistently to the end. We are happy to say that in Russell we find both virtues combined. He is for Washington against Moscow; he is for the former in the third world war (which he assumes) ; and he is willing to follow these thoughts where they lead.

Where do they lead him?

His starting point is the well-known necessity for world government. But he will have none of the soft-headed mush which is spewed about on this fair ideal.

The United Nations is a bust. It is less of an attempt at world government than was the old League of Nations. “The constitution of the United Nations was admirably adapted to prevent all wars except those likely to occur.” But real world government is necessary to prevent the threatened destruction of civilization as we know it.

Such a world government, he says, must have overweening armed force behind it or it is nothing. But how to achieve such a consummation devoutly to be wished ? There are only two possibilities: its creation by agreement and consent, or its creation by force. The former is, of course, the goal of the various world- government propagandists now operating. Russell does not believe it is realistic.

The conclusion seems to be that, while a world government by agreement should be our ultimate goal, and it is to be preferred if attainable, some more immediately practicable way of preventing wars may prove necessary if the human race is to survive. And the only practicable alternative to agreement, so far as I can see, is the supremacy of a single power or closely allied group of power.” [Our emphasis in these quotations unless otherwise noted – Ed.]

This former anti-imperialist (when anti-imperialism was “practicable,” naturally) follows through. “The supremacy of a single power” means that

all countries except the United States and its Allies [Russell’s insistence on adding this hopeful rider should remind us that he himself is a Britisher] would enjoy [sic] much the same status as is enjoyed under the Monroe Doctrine by the countries of Latin America.

Since it is reliably reported that the Latin Americans’ enjoyment of the same is not without alloy, one is reminded of the attitude which liberals used to take once upon a time toward Wall Street’s forcible imposition of such enjoyment on its good neighbors south of the border. But those were the days when Washington did not require persuasion by liberals to swing the imperialist Big Stick. This is obviously a different world:

Assuming a third world war, and the ultimate victory of America and her Allies, I do not, think it should be impossible to persuade public opinion in the United States of the desirability of some such policy. Other powers, at the end of the war, would have no option but to acquiesce in whatever America might demand. I think that if a world government comes about, it will probably come by such steps as I have outlined ... It will be to the interests of mankind that America and her Allies should, at first, impose their will upon the world in the matter of armaments.

But there is an obstacle to this scheme, Russell sees. It will run up against opposition. Whose ? American liberals’, who have been prejudiced against expansionism. The first task is to eradicate these backward notions, these old clichés about imperialism, the outlived formulas, the consecrated books, etc.

This may appeal to American nationalism, but would, at present, run counter to the sentiments of those Americans who consider themselves internationalists. If they are to be won over – and without them the whole movement might become merely a new imperialism [Russell’s italics] – it will be necessary to preach vigorously both the urgent need of a unitary government of the world, and the improbability of inaugurating such a government except by force.

One last point remains. If the end sought is domination of the world by a single power, won’t Russia do as well for the purpose? The whole force of Russell’s tough-minded argument is that single-power domination is the thing, and the way to it is secondary, albeit some roads are preferable to others if they are also possible. It follows that the only existing organization working realistically toward “world government” is the international Stalinist machine. It might even be argued that it is much more practicable and realistic to pitch into a going concern which is getting somewhere toward the stated goal than to publish a hortatory article in the New Leader.

Russell essays a reason for pinning the task on America alone, but here his tough logic wilts:

There are already only two fully independent states, the U.S.A. and the USSR. If either defeats the other, there will be only one fully independent state. Only a small modicum of political wisdom will then be needed to prevent the world from, again splitting up into a number of wholly separate units. I think America, but not the USSR, would possess this modicum of wisdom; I think also that, if a world war occurs, America and her Allies will win it, and will establish a world government.

Anyone who is willing to grant the modicum to both contenders would be in a quandary at this point – and in any case we are not told what this modicum of wisdom is that will exorcize the specter of national resistance against super-imperialist domination. Russell’s opinion that America will win the war is on file, but a small question intrudes: Suppose Russia wins – will Russell and his ex-internationalist band of realists seek to persuade the exponents of national resistance to tyranny that “splitting up into a number of wholly separate units” is the greater evil – i.e., preach submission as the alternative to war?

We are reluctantly forced to modify our previous hasty compliment. Russell is no more completely consistent than the rest of his neo-imperialist tribe, for the philosopher-politician refuses to face these consequences.

Yes, harder than Diogenes’ or Lenin’s task is the job of finding the man who, while willing to advocate support of imperialist war in the name of liberalism, socialism or the “interests of mankind,” is also willing to think through and accept the consequences ...

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