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H.F. Roberts

Road Is Cleared for French Fascist Coup

People’s Front Abandons Defense Corps

Blum, Thorez in New Betrayal

(4 January 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 1, 4 January 1936, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In Italy in 1921 Mussolini’s Blackshirts organized and signed an agreement with the Italian Socialist Party for “mutual” disarmament. This pact, made under government auspices at a time when the country teetered on the brink of civil war, led to the disappearance of the workers’ Red Militia. Their path thus smoothed, the Blackshirts two years later took power and smashed what was left of Italian workers’ organizations.

In Germany in 1932 Heinrich Bruening’s Bonapartist government decreed the “dissolution” of military-political formations. After this “victory’’ against the Fascists, the Rote Front, workers’ combat organization, passed out of existence. And the Storm Troopers? Listen to Roehm, their leader:

“But only the uniforms and insignia had to disappear. After the dissolution, as before, the detachments of the Storm Troopers continued to train on the training grounds of the Reichswehr (German army) at Doboeritz, as on other state training grounds. Only they were no longer called the Storm Troops but the League of Popular German Sport.” (From Roehm’s Memoirs)

A year later the armed Nazi representatives of the German bourgeois state trampled underfoot the disarmed and disoriented organizations of the German working class.

The Perfidious Example Followed

In France last month the Socialist and Stalinist parties bound themselves to a similar agreement for “mutual” disarmament and dissolution. In a terrible scene of“reconciliation” in the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 6 the Socialist and Stalinist bureaucracies joined the Fascists to set the seal on the betrayal of the French workers, a betrayal not reduced one whit by the smokescreen of confusion, apology and explanation with which the events were overclouded in the days that followed. The result was perfectly clear.

The result gave the French bourgeoisie a new weapon in its systematic drive against the French workers, in preparation for new turns in the screws of exploitation under a deepening crisis, and in preparation for war.

After they had publicly disavowed any desire to organize the French workers to fight for revolutionary aims, after proclaiming their desire to avert civil war and achieve “la reconciliation française,” the Socialist and Stalinist parties claimed a great “victory” for the People’s Front. This “victory” must be examined with the utmost attention, for like all Stalinist-reformist “victories” it is in reality a shattering disaster, precursor of worse betrayals to come.

The Fascist Danger Over?

To listen to the People’s Frontists, the Fascist danger is practically over.

“Under the action of the People’s Front,” declared Cachin, “French Fascism is going through a deep crisis and the Hour of Hitlerism (de la Rocque’s zero hour) has been perforce postponed into the dim fogs of the future.” (l’Humanité, Dec. 13)

How has this miracle been performed? By a proletarian offensive against capital? But no, the voluntary disarmament in advance of the French working class has been proudly proclaimed by Blum, Cachin, Thorez and Co. It has come about through the passage of three laws by the Chamber of Deputies – three laws which upon examination turn out to be sharp weapons not against the Fascists but against the workers. And these laws were pushed through the Chamber by the People’s Front! How well the bourgeoisie knows how to use its lackeys!

On Dec. 3 the debate on the “factious leagues” opened in the French Chamber after Laval had won two successive votes of confidence with the aid of a large section of the Radical (People’s Front) votes influenced by Herriot, whose role in support of Laval was consistently covered over in the columns of l’Humanité.

(One of these votes of confidence was on the Laval-Herriot decree laws and deflation policy which was sustained by a Radical vote despite the devastating charge by Vincent Auriol, Socialist, that the Laval economic program “violated property rights” – see Populaire, Nov. 30.)

The keynote of the debate on th epolitical leagues was set by Ramette, Stalinist deputy, and Guernut, a Radical, whose declarations are prominently featured in bold type by l’Humanité on Dec. 4:

Waving the French Flag

Ramette: “While the People’s Front is realizing the union of Frenchmen behind the Tricolor and the Red Flag, the government is compromising itself with those who divide (the people) and foment civil war.”

Guernut: “These (Fascist) militias, prepared for civil war, are not for civilization but for barbarism. That is why we denounce them, condemn them and demand their dissolution.”

And in l’Humanité Vaillant-Couturier wrote:

“This is not a matter of politics nor of economic demands. It is a question of troops for civil war, armed, trained, organized in military style ... wounding or killing Frenchmen ... Against them the country raises its demand for disarmament and dissolution. The Chamber must heed.”

That day l’Humanité sedulously avoided reporting that Edouard Herriot was moving heaven and earth to have his supporters support Laval. Even Populaire did not hesitate to report – and bemoan – that fact!

La Rocque’s Army

During the course of the speeches in the Chamber on the Croix de Feu, it was revealed that Col. de la Rocque’s Fascist organization has grown to a force of 712,000 men, armed, trained, organized, equipped with guns, machine guns, armored cars and even planes. This organization – directly linked to the General Staff and the big French bourgeoisie – was to be dissolved at the request of the People’s Front by Laval, puppet of the same General Staff and the same big bourgeoisie. What a frightful comedy! But the session of Dec. 6 – which the Stalinists tried afterward to dub “comedy” – heavily underscored the threat that the future still holds.

Ybarnegaray, a Croix de Feu deputy, rose and astounded his audience by introducing a law providing for the severe punishment of any private individual found in the possession of arms.

He denied that the Croix de Feu wanted civil war (!) and declared that his “friend and brother,” de la Rocque, was interested only in “cleansing” the Republic and defending the regime.

“Can we not unite under the firm and salutary hand of the law?” asked the Fascist deputy. “Do you want to feel on your faces the hot breath of civil war?”

He then declared that dissolution was an “ineffective and dangerous” solution but proposed disarmament by all political-military groupings.

Disgusting Scene of “Reconciliation”

Leon Blum rose to answer him – as he explained afterward in Populaire – spontaneously, out of a sheer upsurge of brotherly feeling. He told the Chamber that the Socialists had a few self-defense groups, not adding that these groups were organized by Bolshevik-Leninists and other comrades of the left wing against the positive sabotage of the Stalinist and Socialist bureaucracies. Blum was making no sacrifice on his own when he offered these hard-fought groups up on the altar of national reconciliation. We quote from the account given in Populaire on Dec. 7:

Blum: I repeat – there is no analogy between our self-defense groups and the semi-military leagues – which constitute a non-national army within the nation,but I say to M. Ybarnegaray: We are ready to destroy our formations, to dissolve them. Are you?” (Applause from extreme left, left, and many center benches)

Voice from center: Do you also speak for the Communists?

Thorez: The Communist Party associates itself with the declaration made by M. Blum concerning the self-defense groups.

Guernut (Radical): “And we, who haven’t any, we associate ourselves too. (Laughter)

Blum: This exchange can end with something very definite. You say, M. Ybarnegaray, ‘We are ready to disarm.’ To any extent that our comrades are armed, we accept that also. To any extent that there exists among us formations of a semi-military character, we are ready to dissolve them. Are you?

Ybarnegaray: To the extent that our organization has a semi-military character, yes.

Up jumped Laval, congratulated the Chamber on this “triple declaration’’ and announced that he would draw the “necessary conclusions” therefrom.

That afternoon, Laval won a new vote of confidence, 351 to 219!

Blum announced:

“I express a feeling of joy and pride at the thought that such a result which was one of the essential objectives of the People’s Front should have been in part obtained.”

Thorez, however, had some additional remarks to make. Let them be described by his own confrère, Vaillant-Couturier, who wrote (l’Humanité, Dec. 7) thathe was

“... astonished to hear Leon Blum seriously put side by sidethe tiny self-defense groups of his party ... with the forces of de la Rocque ...

“Taken by surprise in the suddenness of the debate, Maurice Thorez said in a word that he ‘associated himself’ with the declaration of Leon Blum. Immediately Laval and then his press, with the help of enormous headlines, tried to make an argument against the alleged ‘combat groups’ of the Communists. And suddenly our party saw itself presented as having made a sacred union with the Croix de Feu.”

How thoroughly illogical that anybody should describe a common accord among Fascists, Socialists and Communists as a “union sacrée”!! The Stalinists were so dismayed that they headed their account of the day’s proceedings:“Sacred Union with the Enemies of the People? Never!” And how could anybody charge the Stalinist party with having “combat groups”? Listen to Valliant:

“Thorez, during the course of the day ... rose with vigor against this absurd legend. No, our party has never had any semi-military organization! ...”

In the Chamber Thorez declared:

“I associated myself with the declaration of Leon Blum, but I repeat here that the laws for the dissolution of the semi-military organizations cannot apply to us because we have not and never have had armed groups.”

Fire at the Bolsheviks

To level such a charge against the Stalinist party was foul provocation. When Ybarnegaray mounted the tribune to deny that the Croix de Feu sought civil war, he tried also to prove that the People’s Front was threateningly militant. To find an expression of the revolutionary will of the workers he had to go to Révolution, organ of the Revolutionary Socialist Youth allied to the French Bolshevik-Leninists, organ of Fred Zeller, partisan of the Fourth International! And what did he quote? He quoted passages urging the formation of a workers’ militia, urging the workers to train for mobilization against the Fascists, to arm themselves against the heavily-armed Fascists.

But, stoutly maintains l’Humanité, “this is a sheet edited by provocateurs whom we have long denounced. It is with such texts that Ybarnegaray tried to ‘prove’ that there are combat groups on the left!” Oh, no, nobody is going to pin such a malicious charge on the Stalinists!

Quoting Blum that the left has only had “small defense groups,” l’Humanité nods fervently:

“And this is true. There is no armed organization of the left, no groups organized for street fighting. No shock troops or semi-military leagues. Only the Fascist leagues are armed and militarized.”

Omits Names

What about these laws, then,that were rushed through the Chamber of Deputies on the night of Dec. 6 aimed at all and any political organizations which might take on the character of armed militia, which might cause armed demonstrations in the streets or which might “attempt by force to attack the republican form of government”?

Were they aimed at the Fascists? They were passed by a majority of 408 to 179 – hailed as a “powerful left majority” and a “victory for the People’s Front”? If they were, why was a motion, introduced by a Stalinist deputy, asking the bill to specify the names of the organizations in view, voted down by 380 to 148? This fact is buried way down in the bottom of the story published in l’Humanité and is not mentioned at all in Populaire.

In other words, the Laval-de la Rocque maneuver resulted in the passage of a law which gives the Bonapartist regime still more leeway to keep the path to Fascism clear. How easy it will be for the Croix de Feu to get itself “authorized by the War Ministry to give military training,” a condition which excepts it from the application of the law! And the Senate, passing the law this week, obligingly inserted the proviso that it shall not apply to “sport organizations” – shades of Bruening-Roehm!!

Cabinet Empowered to “Dissolve”

Such was the People’s Front victory! But wait, there is more. The law as introduced by Laval originally wanted to give the right to dissolve such political leagues to the courts. On the insistence of the People’s Front – this was hailed as an especial victory the next day – this power was taken from the courts and given to the Cabinet, which was authorized to issue a simple decree to achieve its purpose!

Leon Blum, the defender of democratic rights, explained (Populaire, Dec. 9) that this was “the only rapid, efficient method.” And Marcel Cachin, who has ’been howling for months that the courts try de la Rocque (see l’Humanité, Nov.18) explained it in more detail:

“The ministers proposed to give this job (of dissolution) to the correctional magistrates ... On that, comrades, we know where we stand. We know what the magistracy of the bourgeoisie is. Long experience shows us that it is always at the mercy of power, that it is terrible and pitiless against workers and all anti-Fascists, that it has infinite tolerance and kindliness for the Fascists ... and then,if the courts take it, there will be interminable delays ...”

The magistracy is all these things and therefore cannot be trusted to dissolve the Fascist leagues. But, pray, is the government of Pierre Laval not also all and more of these things?

Cachin writes:

“The majority of the Chamber wanted to give the Laval government efficacious weapons which it could use immediately against the armed leagues ... The Chamber wanted, and rightly, that Paganon (minister of interior) should immediately, dissolve the leagues.”

Not a magistrate but Laval-Pagano can do the job. Due process of law? Poof! What is this, oh ye defenders of democracy?

Fascists Free Their Hands

Having forced the hand of the People’s Front and caused it to expose its readiness to lay the fate of the French proletariat down on the altar of “civil peace” – the Fascists next day conveniently went back on their “promise” and de la Rocque announced resumption of “full liberty of action.” This did not please Blum who announced (Populaire, Dec. 11): “The proposition I made in the name of my friends still holds.”

On Dec. 11 the People’s Front formally announced that it “had won its first victory.”

“The chiefs of the Fascist leagues spoke of national reconciliation,” reads the formal statement published both in Populaire and l’Hu-manité. “But when it came to acting, they refused to renounce their civil war organizations. The people’s organization detests civil war. It seeks the dissolution and disarmament of semi-military organizations to bar the way to civil war. It is to spare the country from civil war that today, before the volte-face (!) of the Fascist leaders, it adjures the organizations and masses of the People’s Front to see that the Chamber laws are applied in letter and spirit.”

In other words, sacred union only awaits Fascist compliance.

The Stalinists naturally have had to fight back doubts and protests in their own ranks. “There was doubt for a moment in the minds of some, but it has now vanished,”said Thorez at a meeting Dec. 12.

Bolshevik-Leninists Real Target

On Dec. 12 the Permanent Administrative Committee of the Socialist Party congratulated Blum and his fellow-deputies for the way in which they “applied all the decisions of the party in the ever-vigilant struggle against the Fascist peril and the civil war makers.” A few days before the National Council had confirmed the expulsion from the party of the Bolshevik-Leninist leaders. The proximity of these two facts is more than eloquent. With the Stalinists it was even more striking.

On Dec. 12, under the heading in bold type: For the Union of the People of France,” l’Humanité reports the proceedings of the Political Bureau of the Stalinist party which congratulated Thorez on his conduct in the Chamber and once again “emphasized before all the workers the dastardly role of Trotskyism – advance guard of counter-revolution.”

Why? Because the Bolshevik-Leninists alone call treason by its right name. Because the Bolshevik-Leninists call for a program of revolutionary action, for a workers’ militia, for the overthrow of the Bonapartist regime, for the dissolution of the Fascists by workers’ action, for the establishment of a Workers and Peasants Government, for the formation of a new revolutionary party in France which will have done with the betrayals of the old bureaucracies; in short, for the program of the Fourth International!

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