From: The Rise of De Gaulle and the Class Struggle

The last section in this chapter deals with the coming to power of General Charles de Gaulle in France in May 1958, on the back of a political crisis triggered by the beginning of the Algerian national war of independence. De Gaulle, irreverently nicknamed 'Big Asparagus', had been the leader of the 'Free French' government based in London during the war and had led the immediate post-war government. He was followed into office by a succession of unstable governments, the longest of only 16 months duration, reflecting the social crisis in France at the time.

Already by 1958, sections of the capitalist class were preparing to cut across the chronic instability of the French parliamentary government by a shift towards Bonapartism, with de Gaulle cast in the leading role. The general would then be given new constitutional powers to form a 'strong government' to deal with the trade unions.

The pretext for this constitutional coup arose over the war in Algeria. On May 13, the reactionary officers in Algeria carried out a coup, involving the occupation of the Ministry of Algeria and other public buildings by paratroops. The officers announced the formation of a 'Committee of Public Safety' under the chairmanship of General Massu, commander of the crack paratroops division. General Salan (Commander-in-Chief, Algeria) announced on radio that the Army had 'provisionally taken over responsibility for the destiny of French Algeria'.

From his chateau near Paris, General de Gaulle issued a statement which, while avoiding any reference to Algeria, made it clear that he was ready 'to assume the powers of the Republic'. To keep up the pressure on the incumbent government of prime minister Pflimlin (referred to at one point in the text by his nick-name, 'Little Plum'), eight days later paratroops effected a coup in Corsica, isolating the island from the government in Paris and linking it to Algiers.

To the labour movement around the world, all these events recalled the rebellion of General Franco -beginning in Spanish Morocco - against the Spanish Popular Front government in July 1936. The difference was that the leaders of the French Communist and Socialist Parties played an even more despicable role than their counterparts had in Spain 22 years before.

Bearing in mind the end result of the Franco rebellion, it seemed possible in May 1958 that there was a mortal threat against the very existence of the workers' organisations in France. Yet in this situation, the Communist Party refused to mobilise the enormous support it had within the workers' movement against the conspiracy of the officers, and the leadership of the Socialists even supported the handing over of power to de Gaulle as a 'lesser evil' compared to the generals.

The background to all these events was the subject of a pamphlet, originally published as France in Crisis, written by Ted Grant and completed only two days before de Gaulle was brought into office. The pamphlet, extracts of which are published here, was reprinted in 1980 as The Rise of De Gaulle and the Class Struggle. It represents a further development from the writings on post-war Europe of 1944-8, again elaborating on the theme of Bonapartism.

As the pamphlet anticipated, de Gaulle's accession to power, forming the twenty-sixth cabinet in 14 years, heralded the development of constitutional changes in the direction of Bonapartism. But what it also anticipated were the limits of Bonapartism. Unlike a fascist movement, which is based upon a mass movement of the frenzied petit bourgeois, a Bonapartist movement lacks a stable social base from the very beginning, and therein lies its relative weakness.

Because the power of the trade unions - despite their leadership - remained intact, de Gaulle was never able to assume full and unbridled dictatorial powers. He was always constrained by the pressure of the labour movement and so was not able to do more than hold in check the aspirations of the workers, until they burst into the open in the revolutionary events of May-June 1968.

When he first assumed power he appeased and promoted those who had been responsible for the officers' rebellion of May 1958. But he was nevertheless obliged at a later stage, because of the power of the labour movement, to clip the officers' wings. In typical Bonapartist fashion, after having leaned on the right to strike blows at the left, he now leaned on the left to strike blows to the right. In this way, he was able to extricate France from the unwinnable war in Algeria - against the wishes of the French settlers, the colons - and destroy a new generals' conspiracy in the form of the OAS, the Secret Army Organisation.

The pamphlet, The Rise of De Gaulle, with the earlier writings of 1944-7, is essential background material for understanding all the subsequent developments in post-war France. It must form part of any serious study of so-called 'Gaullism' or more general studies as to the development and role of Bonapartist regimes.

– From Introduction to Western Europe after the War

(full text available on the Ted Grant archive)

The 'liberation' of France lifted the lid of the class struggle. It was achieved partly by the uprising of the Paris masses (August 1944). General de Gaulle's forces, indeed, were rushed frantically to Paris to forestall the possibility of a new Paris Commune. At the first general election in 1945 the shift in class relationships and the change in the psychology of the masses were reflected. Fascism and capitalism were completely discredited, and all the right-wing parties were overwhelmingly defeated. For the first time in history the Communist Party (CP) emerged as the strongest party, and socialists and communists together had a majority (51 per cent) of the votes: a higher proportion than the Labour Party obtained in Britain at about the same time (48 per cent).

The right wing, headed by clerical reaction, was forced, following the defeat of its open forces, to rally around the MRP (Mouvement Republicain Populaire), as in similar circumstances its Russian opposite numbers had grouped themselves around the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) after February 1917. To retain the support of small peasants and backward Catholic workers, the right was forced to take on a 'left', 'socialist' coloration. The index to the revolutionary crisis was that the CP commanded the support of the overwhelming majority of the workers, obtaining five million votes. Big sections of the middle class swung over to the Socialist Party (SP).

The symptomatic significance of this is shown by the fact that even in the revolutionary crisis of 1936, the workers' parties were still in a minority. Further irrefutable proof that France in 1944-5 was rotten-ripe for revolution lies in the fact that for the first time the majority of the workers were organised in trade unions. This is something achieved in no other country at no other time under a capitalist regime: Lenin himself made the point that such a state of affairs was all but impossible under capitalism. In fact, such was the mood of the workers that the CP took the leadership of the CGT (the French TUC), and thus led both the official and the 'unofficial' (factory committees, etc) movement of the French working class. Capitalist reaction was helpless in face of the revolutionary wave. A revolutionary policy on the part of the workers' parties would have clinched a class victory, which in turn would have lit a conflagration which could have swept Europe, including Britain. France would have stood once more at the head of the revolutionary forces throughout the world. Britain and America would have been unable to intervene.

The American and British troops, weary of war and longing to be home with their families, wanted 'out'; not only that - they themselves would have been infected, as had the German soldiers before them, by the agitation-propaganda of the revolution (witness Russia 1917). This point is underwritten by the fact that the USA was unable even to intervene directly against the Chinese revolution at a later stage: if not in China, how much less in France? The ruling class had to play for time. They were in a similar position to that which they occupied in 1936, except that at least temporarily - they were far weaker. At such times, as Lenin so often pointed out, the capitalists turn for comfort to a coalition with the Labour and trade-union leaders. But this time the most pernicious role was reserved for the leaders of the so-called 'Communist' Party.

At that stage de Gaulle could not have carried even a majority of the MRP for a programme of Bonapartist dictatorship. As a consequence, he resigned and awaited events. The CP participated in a 'government of national unity' in which, incidentally, there were 11 capitalist ministers against ten from the workers' parties. The masses still had tremendous faith in the Communist Party and as late as 1947 hundreds of thousands of Parisians demonstrated in the Party's favour. Yet, in the name of 'national unity', this CP participated in the government which waged war against Indo-China (Vietnam), was responsible for the slaughter of the Algerian people, the Madagascar massacre and all the other colonialist atrocities of French imperialism.

They acted as the worst strike-breakers, holding back the movement in the factories. Later, they began to offer verbal opposition, afraid of being 'outflanked from the left'. Then, having fulfilled their scab role, the CP ministers were ignominiously cast out of the government in 1947. But for the rest of that year they functioned as a 'loyal opposition', until the new turn in the Kremlin's line following the formation of the Cominform[1]in October 1947.

De Gaulle's First Bid For Power

Meanwhile de Gaulle tried to organise his own 'Society of December 10'[2] under the title of the Rally of the French People. The Rally managed to secure 40 per cent of the votes in the municipal election of 1947 and a fairly large percentage in the parliamentary elections of 1951. But the strength of the working class at that time was too great. The middle-class cadre of the Rally was not prepared to fight on the streets in support of its idol. The decisive section of the ruling class wanted peace in which to enjoy the profits brought by the mounting boom, and were not prepared to back a political adventurer, financially or otherwise; they were afraid of a civil war in which victory was by no means certain to be theirs.

The laws of revolution and counter-revolution are the same on this point. Twenty years of struggle against capitalism may be necessary to build up the exasperation and determination of the workers to destroy the system. But by its very nature a revolutionary situation cannot last. If the leadership of the working class does not avail itself of the opportunity to seize power - an opportunity which may last only a few days - the chance can be lost and many years may pass before a new occasion can arise. The working class becomes demoralised and, not understanding the reasons for the defeat, tends to blame the mass for the catastrophe and to bend anew to the yoke of capitalism.

The development of the counter-revolution follows a similar path. Failure to take advantage of the upsurge of the middle-class masses, disillusioned in the left and leaning towards the 'Great Man' as saviour, may mean the loss for the counter-revolution of the opportunity to seize power. De Gaulle's failure to seize control in 1951 meant the debacle of his hopes for a whole period - no thanks to pale-pink compromisers in the socialist and communist leaderships.

The instability of the Fourth Republic has continued. Despite the boom, the decay of French capitalism has continued apace. The attempt to 'modernise' France has been largely at the expense of the middle class and peasant masses. A symptom of this crisis has been the continued search by this class for its Messiah - first De Gaulle then (partly) Poujade[3].

During a considerable part of this period (1948-52), the CP provoked all manner of adventurist strikes and demonstrations on an anti-American basis leading their men, like the 'grand old Duke of York', up the hill and down again, without ever posing a perspective which could justify the sacrifices so constantly demanded of the Party's supporters - the conquest of power. As a result the movement of the workers ebbed and ebbed. From the position when millions of workers could move into the streets at the CP's behest a time was reached when the Party was lucky if it could mobilise 10,000.

French imperialism emerged from the war weakened and debilitated. For 20 years the armies of France have suffered nothing but defeat. As a consequence of the anti-imperialist upsurge following the second world war France has lost Syria, the Lebanon and Indo-China, and direct control of Morocco and Tunisia. In every case the greedy and myopic ruling class was forced out only after tremendous struggles by the colonial peoples. In Indo-China alone, the cost of the war to France was more than she received in economic aid from the US. All this blood and treasure was spilled in vain, and French imperialism was compelled to retreat.

The Suez[4] adventure, under American pressure, turned into an inglorious fiasco. Yet all these losses pale into insignificance beside the potential loss of Algeria. French imperialism, after its experience in Vietnam, Tunisia and Morocco, would perhaps have preferred to make some sort of compromise with the Algerian nationalists. Yet ironically Algeria was the one place where such a compromise was least possible within a capitalist framework. The interests of the big landowners and capitalists in Algeria stood, breaker-fashion, in irreconcilable conflict with the surging wave of the Algerian independence movement.

Under pressure of the colons, a colonial war of classic pattern exceeding in violence, torture, murder, rape, all the past atrocities of imperialism, was launched against the Algerian people: a war that has stretched its shadow over the last three years, a war which is bleeding France to the extent of - 600 million and more per year. Not the least tragic element in this situation has been the fact that the Algerian war could have been the basis of renewed struggle against the regime in France, in fraternity with the Algerian people.

Had such a struggle been waged, it could have split the settlers in Algeria, winning the lower middle class and small landowners to the demand for a socialist Algeria, linked fraternally and with full rights (including that of secession) with a socialist France. But the passivity of the Communist Party and the Socialist betrayal, whereby Mollet and his friends supported the war and even intensified it after gaining power on a programme of peace in Algeria, meant that the war became a ghastly conflict of extermination on both sides. The colons were welded into one reactionary mass, and the Algerian freedom fighters pushed back on to a purely nationalist programme. The first reaction of the reserves called back and the conscripts called upon to serve in Algeria was one of active opposition: demonstrations, the stopping of trains, strikes and agitation against the war. But there was no mass campaign against the war like that waged in 1925 against the war in Morocco - and this at a time when the CP was a hundred times as strong.

All that the CP did was to offer verbal opposition, not linked with the day to day work of the Party, in order to 'make the record'. Not only this, but the shameful treachery of Thorez[5] and Duclos was spotlighted when they voted for the war credits of the Mollet government.

It was with this vote - and not with their 'anti-colonialist' phrasemongering - that the leaders aligned the activities of their Party.

Conspiracy in Algiers

The pay-off for this crime is the recent events in Algeria. In Algeria, all workers' organisations have been long since illegalised. To carry on the war the French army and above all the paratroops have waged a war of terror in the areas they dominate. The paratroops have been revealed as a Praetorian Guard similar at best to Hitler's SA[6], with Massu as their Roehm. They have become a hardened force of torturers, rapists, murderers, ready for anything.

In the meantime, with the workers' parties failing to give a solution to the problems of French society, the officer corps has begun more and more to express its discontent at the 'half-measures' of successive French administrations. General Massu naively revealed the thinking of this corps in an interview in the Evening Standard: 'The army has suffered one defeat after another for the last 20 years. It is all the fault of the politicians, who would not give the generals a free hand.'

These people burn with the desire to destroy the workers' organisations and their rights, which frustrate them at every turn. These organisations, Massu and company believe, stand in the way of 'Greater France'. It was in this atmosphere that the basis was laid for a coup. Playing on the fears of the colons of a deal between the ruling class in France and the Algerian nationalist movement, the conspirators prepared their plans. In France the regime has been racked by continuous crisis: one prime minister has followed another, without any of the problems being solved.

Parliament has been deadlocked between the open representatives of capitalism and those deputies who, in a grossly distorted form, reflect the interests of the masses. In the last crisis, preparations were laid by the Algerian settlers for a coup d'etat - preparations directly involving the arch-conspirator de Gaulle himself. Using as their excuse the execution of three French soldiers by the FLN[7] - in reply to countless executions and tortures by the French - the settlers organised demonstrations in Algiers.

With no real opposition from the police, they marched on Government House. Then the paratroops, supposedly in Algiers to keep order, joined in helping to sack the building. Instantly General Massu appeared on the balcony of Government House and announced the formation of a 'Committee of Public Safety'. In this he was joined by Raoul Salan, commander of the French forces in Algeria.

Taking advantage of the fact that there was no government in France they demanded that Pflimlin (one of the MRP leaders) not be invested as prime minister, and that President Coty call General de Gaulle to power at the head of a 'Government of Public Safety'. It was intended that the movement should take place simultaneously in Paris and Algiers.

The right-wing rabble demonstrated on the Champs Elysees for a government headed by de Gaulle. As in 1934 they intended to intimidate the deputies into changing the government. But they were even weaker than the fascist razor-gangs of 1934. At this stage there is no basis for a mass fascist movement in France: all they could mobilise in all Paris was 6000 who ran in cowardly flight from the blows of the police.

The movement in Algiers seemed on the point of isolation. The coup had failed. The 'brave' Massu and General Salan were explaining that they had been forced into this position and had only accepted 'the call' to preserve order. Admiral Auboyneau, who had already turned coat once, turned it again and vowed anew his loyalty to Paris. Two members of the general staff were arrested and the chief of the general staff resigned. It was at this point that General de Gaulle intervened, stating that he would take power 'if I am called'.

This declaration rallied the insurrectionists in Algiers - indeed, that was its purpose. It put fresh heart into the most reactionary elements in France. The three trade-union confederations, in response to the alarm of the workers, issued a call to general strike if there were any threat to constitutional government. In the meantime, Pflimlin had been hurriedly invested. One thing was clear: this was a crisis in which the whole fate of the regime was at stake. In this situation not only did the Socialists behave according to the classical social-democratic pattern, but the self-styled 'Leninists' of the CP succumbed to all the parliamentary illusions against which Lenin had so sternly warned. Saying that they were acting 'to bar the road to de Gaulle', they voted for the Pflimlin government and for the proclamation of a state of emergency forbidding meetings and demonstrations.

Yet the leaders of the French CP had been (correctly) among the most vociferous critics of the German Social Democracy for voting for Hindenburg[8] 'to stop Hitler' and supporting the decree laws of Bruening, leader of the Catholic Centre Party (the German equivalent to the MRP), as the 'lesser evil' to nazism at that time.

The only way to stop de Gaulle is the extra-parliamentary mobilisation of the working class, drawing behind it the plebeian masses. Truly the 'Little Plum' has proved 'worthy' of the support given it by the Socialist and Communist Parties. In the heat of the moment, Pflimlin had denounced the insurrection of the generals. But the basic class interests of French capitalism dictated a different course. The most barefaced high treason was meekly accepted and Pflimlin tried to placate the mutinous scum by adopting its programme: war to the death in Algeria, moves towards dictatorship by 'strengthening' the executive, castration of parliament, and so forth.

Then in the traditions of French bedroom farce we had the spectacle of the CP leaders appealing to Pflimlin, Pflimlin appealing to Salan, Salan appealing to de Gaulle, and de Gaulle appealing for power.

If the Pflimlin government had been worth the least confidence, even from a 'democratic' point of view, it would have immediately cut off all supplies to Algeria, outlawed the generals, and appealed to the 350,000 conscripts in Algeria to arrest them and hand them to the authorities.

Gaullism Without de Gaulle

Instead, the government advanced a programme of 'Gaullism without de Gaulle'. In the words of Evening Standard reporter Randolph Churchill, who cannot he accused of a working-class or even an ultra-democratic bias, 'the most unprecedented thing in history has happened. Mutinous generals, instead of being denounced for their crimes, have actually been reinforced.' And these bewildered troops have been met on disembarkation by representatives of the Committee of Public Safety who have subjected them to a barrage of propaganda over the loudspeaker.

When General Franco organised his insurrection in Morocco against the elected Spanish government, Pflimlin's counterpart Azana had to negotiate secretly with the insurgents for fear of the masses' reaction. In this he was, from the standpoint of the Spanish bourgeoisie, justified, as was proven by the mass outbreak of the Spanish workers when news of the insurrection of the general reached them. How good for nothing then are the rotten leaderships of the French Socialist and Communist Parties when Pflimlin can allow himself the luxury of conducting similar negotiations openly!

Metaphorically slapping his tommy-gun on the table, Massu has put the issue squarely: 'Pflimlin has to support either us or the communists; and he prefers us.' Such is the record of the French 'communist' leadership.

The British CP newspapers Daily Worker and World News have had obvious difficulty in putting the sell-out across to their members. They have contented themselves with trying to fix all the blame for the betrayals on the Socialist Party:

"It is the result of the attempt to suppress the national liberation movement in Algeria which has been carried out by successive French governments with the full support of the leaders of the French Socialist Party…As on many occasions before, the Socialist Party leaders are in fact leaning on the right - and this means paving the way for the fascists." (World News, 24 May, 1958).

We may ask these gentlemen: what the hell is the Communist Party doing voting for Pflimlin and company? The full perfidy of the Stalinist leaders is revealed in a further passage. Correctly World News points out:

"The French events have once again underlined the nature of the state as in essence armed forces linked with the actual rulers of France - the big business interests, whose only concern is to keep their wealth and privileges. The immediate defection of the French generals has arisen over Algeria, but we must not forget that de Gaulle was seeking a fascist solution for French big business before Algeria became an acute issue."

This characterisation of the state is correct. Marx and Lenin have emphasised the fact that the state can in the last analysis be reduced to armed bodies of men. The officer caste is, then, the mainstay of the capitalist state. To proceed against them would be for capitalism to destroy the instrument of its own rule. The road to seizure of power by the workers would be opened. Yet in the very next paragraph World News proceeds on exactly the opposite assumption.

"Now the Pflimlin government is calling on the generals to serve it loyally and has removed some high officers from their positions; but it remains to be seen how far the military leaders are already committed to support de Gaulle. The police seem so far to be carrying out the government's orders, but it is well known that the heads of the police are fascists."

As if the generals are not in collusion with de Gaulle and as if Pflimlin would behave in any other way! So 'severe' has the Pflimlin government been with treason that the two generals removed, instead of being put under arrest and court-martialled preparatory to being shot for high treason as the mutinous poilus[9] were in 1917, have been sent to different parts of France to live with friends - other high officers - where they can continue plotting to their hearts' content.

So 'loyal' have the police been that Soustelle[10] the Gaullist escaped from their 'protection' only to place himself at the political head of the rebel settlers.

This Pflimlin government, which is supposed to be barring the way to de Gaulle, has sent emissaries to him and to the revolting generals, as if they were the government and the government were some order of mendicant friars, supplicating favours.

Instead of arresting de Gaulle as the principal mutineer and arch-conspirator they beg him to mediate between the mutineers and themselves. Naturally, de Gaulle and the mutineers are emboldened to press all the more for 'adjustments' in their favour. How could it be otherwise? For it follows as the law of class society and…from the criminal policy of the Socialist and Stalinist leaderships.

The ruling class, of course, prefers if there is to be a coup, that it should take place in a 'cold' way, which will not threaten the destruction of property or risk the loss of power. But the policy of cowardly support for Pflimlin, this Alsatian hound cringing like a whipped cur before its master the General, can encourage the idea in ruling circles that a transition to a Bonapartist regime can occur in just such a 'cold' manner, without any unpleasantness on the streets.

It is the eighteenth Brumaire all over again with the Socialists and Stalinists in the roles of the democratic buffoons of 1848. Certain of the Socialists - Mollet and Lacoste, the latter a direct accessory to the crimes of the Algiers clique - are hoping to become the left wing of such a Bonapartism. Others, more responsive to the pressure of their rank and file, are prepared to 'struggle' to prevent the generals from coming to power. And the policy of the Communist leadership - flowing partly from dependence on the Kremlin, partly from sheer ineptitude, partly from its long history of betrayals over thirty years, partly because for all these reasons, a cadre capable of fighting has not been and could not have been assembled - plays into the hands precisely of the Bonapartist wing of the Socialists.

These traitors even abase themselves in the assembly and the senate to the extent of voting with the fascists to greet the army and its officers in their civilising mission in North Africa! This is hardly the way to explain the class nature of this army to the workers or to prepare them for a possible struggle to the death with its officer caste, the agents of the ruling class. It is, on the contrary, the way to demoralise and disorient the workers, and to pave the way for defeat. And yet apart from the top leadership the very lives of the members of the CP are at stake.

The top leaders can always flee to Moscow - it has happened before! But the ranks, and even the middle and lower strata of party officials must stay to suffer under the jackboot of a Bonapartist dictator. Let them be under no illusions as to the fate in store for them. If the leaders of the CP were even one per cent Leninists; if they even based themselves on the history of France; their whole policy would be the exact opposite of what they are advocating now.

The revolt of the generals is not some unlucky accident precipitated only by the problems of Algeria, but is rooted in the whole class structure and present position of French capitalism. Had Algeria not 'happily' chanced to be on hand as a pretext, the generals would have found some other excuse to move against the regime and to destroy what for them remains the real menace: the workers' organisations.

The State Laid Bare

Lenin pointed out how the whole class structure of capitalist society could be laid bare and the masses prepared, in the course of struggle in defence of their democratic rights and liberties, to pass over to the socialist revolution.

Surely now more than ever it is necessary in the tradition of Marxism-Leninism to warn the workers over and over again: rely only on your own unity, your own organisations, your own strength. No one can, no one will, help you if you cannot, if you will not help yourselves. Workers! there is no power on earth can stand against you once you are organised, once you are drawn up for action! But for this action the workers must be prepared ideologically no less than materially. The one is as important as the other. It is useless, worse than useless, for the workers to put their trust in some parliamentary clown, some tumbler who will perform nothing but crazy somersaults before the General, his ringmaster!

The struggle against Bonapartism is, in the main, an extra-parliamentary struggle: force must be met with force! If the CP leadership were communists they would be explaining that the workers and their allies among the middle class and the peasantry are the only force which stands for democracy - to the end.

Moch, Minister of the Interior, to frighten some air force brass who were threatening an uprising in metropolitan France, replied, according to the Daily Express, by telling them that he would arm 40,000 miners. If the CP leaders were worth their salt, they would have taken this as the starting point for their agitation. Arms to the workers! That is the only certain guarantee against any conspiracies on the part of the General or anybody else. Let workers' defence guards be formed!

The overwhelming majority of the rank and file, Catholic and Socialist as well as Communist workers, are against the victory of Bonapartism. The main problem is to arouse, organise and prepare the masses for direct action against any eventuality. If the Communist Party had come out for unity around a real programme of action on these lines even at the eleventh hour it would be possible to organise the united front on this basis. The Mollet wing of the Socialists would be isolated if they did not respond to the demand to arm the working class.

It is true that the monstrous Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 and the brutal crushing of the Hungarian workers has left the socialist and Catholic workers suspicious, especially as the French leaders, most particularly, defended to the hilt the foul crimes of Stalinism in Hungary. But the obeisance of the CP leaders to the icons of abstract democracy and republican virtue will cut no ice with the workers. It must be explained to the workers that what is involved is defence of democratic rights - free speech, freedom to organise, and so on.

These rights can at this stage only be defended arms in hand. And the only way to defend them finally is by dispossessing the millionaire owners of the press, radio, cinema and other means of moulding public opinion and the transfer of these organs to the workers' organisations in proportion to their strength and support among the working class.

The only road, not only to peace and plenty but to real freedom, lies through workers' democracy - expropriation of the means of production and their operation under a workers' plan with participation in management of the workers on the job at every level, and the running of the state by the masses themselves.

However, the Pflimlin government, to continue total war in Algeria against the Algerian people at the behest of the generals, has announced a programme of increasing service with the colours to 27 months (an increase of nine months), harsher taxes and two meatless days a week. Such a programme cannot enthuse the workers, nor the peasants and middle class. It is the way to demoralise the workers and prepare the painless victory of Gaullism.

The middle-class and peasant masses must be mobilised, alongside the workers against this programme of the Pflimlin government, against the war in Algeria, against the generals, against the trusts. In its place must be put a programme in the interests of these masses: cancellation of debts, cheap credits, cheap fertilisers, state tractors, assistance and loans to small businessmen, shopkeepers and professional people, and the like. Boldly and audaciously this programme, with the demands in relation to the workers already mentioned, must be advanced as the only road to salvation.

Historically, it is only yesterday that the Communist Party ridiculed the Social Democrats in Germany, who screamed: 'Act, state, act' - against Hitler. The state acted: Hindenburg kicked the Social-Democratic ministers in Prussia into the street. The CP then had an ultra-left policy that was wrong but the only thing that was correct about it was their criticism of the passivity of the Social-Democratic leadership, with its reliance on the state authorities to bar the road to Hitler. But now their policy is a caricature of that of the social democracy and, if it depends on them, can only have the same results.

'Now,' said the political bureau of the French CP on May 25, 'is the time for anti-fascist action. It is time for the government which has all the necessary powers and which is supported by a strong Republican majority, to start such action'. (Daily Worker, May 26, 1958). The Pfiimlin government also acted - by resigning to prepare the way for de Gaulle. The CP and the CGT, together with the CFTU (Christian trade unions), have threatened a general strike if a coup is attempted in France. But that, while correct in itself, is not enough.

The general strike is not a panacea that by itself will solve everything. A programme for power, on the lines sketched above, is a vital necessity as a positive aim for the masses. Not only that. Against the counter-revolution's committees of public safety, and even as a mass lever on parliament, which can capitulate to the generals, councils of action (which tomorrow can be organs of power), linked locally and nationally, must be set up. These councils of action must appeal for the formation of similar councils of action of the sailors, soldiers and airmen in France to watch over their officers and see that they do not attempt any counter-revolutionary acts.

The Communist Party should have conducted agitation among the dockers to refuse to load arms and supplies to Algeria, and appealed to the conscripts boarding the ships to form committees of action in conjunction with the workers in the ports, and to refuse to go to Algeria. It would be unbelievable if one did not know the class position of the SP leadership and the bureaucratic degeneracy of the CP leadership, that they should have learned nothing from the tragic pages of the past.

The only way to win the vacillating or apathetic ranks of the middle class and the peasantry would be by an audacious policy, striking blow after blow against the counter-revolution. Whatever one's view might be of the gang around the generals and Soustelle, they have understood this law of revolution and of counter-revolution: of moving continuously from one success to the next, of keeping the movement going by seizing the initiative and maintaining it throughout.

The capture of Corsica, in itself of no especial importance, was intended for this purpose. Yet the lack of a mass basis for the counter-revolution is the most striking aspect of the whole situation. That and the helplessness of the official organisations of the working class: for example, not a murmur was heard from the strong CP organisation in Corsica (where the party had an MP before the rigging of the electoral law).

When it is a question of struggle to the death against Bonapartist reaction, all that the CP can offer in the face of events is the proud boast: 'Until changes in the electoral constituencies took place, the island had some Communist MPs in the post-war years… The island's 300,000 people are in the main strongly pro-Republican, and the Communist Party has not inconsiderable support there' (Daily Worker, 26 May, 1958).

With all this support, it would have been possible to mobilise the workers and arm them against reaction. Instead of this, a meeting was held in Bastia, the largest town in Corsica, of the Municipal Council. Half the councillors were unable to attend, or prudently decided not to. Of the 16 present nine were members of the Communist Party and the Daily Worker proudly proclaims:

"This morning the Bastia Municipal Council holds a special session in the Town Hall, which Deputy Mayor de Casalta has refused to hand over. The Council sends a resolution to the government in Paris affirming its loyalty to the Republic and its support for the premier. It calls on the population to remain calm and not carry out any demonstrations(!)" (ibid).

Thus it was in the early days of the Franco insurrection that the way was paved for Franco to seize towns on the mainland. In those towns where the masses took action with their own hands Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia - while the Popular Front government were negotiating (secretly) with Franco, these masses were victorious. Even according to the capitalist press, they marched against the barracks with table legs, knives and sporting rifles taken from the shops.

Most of the rank and file soldiers, under the impact of this move, joined them; the police and the army disintegrated as a force. In those towns, however, where the masses listened to the advice of their Socialist and Communist 'leaders' - Oviedo, Cordoba, Huesca, Granada, Teruel and others - and after demonstrating for arms, dispersed peacefully to their homes, the fascists won.

The leaders of the CP and SP advised the workers to have confidence in the 'liberal' governors and mayors of the provinces and cities, and this prepared the generals' path for them. The officers of the garrisons rose during the night and, armed with lists prepared by the police, marched to the workers' quarters and massacred the leaders of the working-class organisations. A reign of terror followed against which the masses, politically beheaded, had no opportunity to mobilise.

As in Spain yesterday, so in Corsica and France today! As a direct result Bastia and all the Corsican towns have fallen to a handful of counter-revolutionary stormtroopers: 60 paratroops took one town! It is absolutely clear that the Pflimlin government has paved the way for de Gaulle, despite their highly 'revolutionary' act in depriving the insurgent deputy Arrighi (nominally a radical) of his seat. Only the shell of the republic remains. Unless there is an intervention in the immortal tradition of the workers of Barcelona, nothing can keep de Gaulle from power.

The responsibility for this rests fairly and squarely on the 'leaderships' of the Socialist and Communist Parties.

What of the future? It is the impasse of French capitalism that has led to this position. Even if de Gaulle takes power his dream will be rudely dissipated by the realities of the situation. Big Asparagus (as the cadets of St Cyr irreverently called him) will melt quickly enough in the maw of the wolf - the wolf at the door of French capitalism.

The wolf assumes the form of the unsolved problems of two decades: the lagging behind other nations of the capitalist West in technique; the running sore of Algeria; the developing movement for independence in French Africa, which no Bonapartist boot can permanently crush, against the background of the growing strength of the Afro-Asian peoples; above all, the developing slump, which will impose new burdens on the workers, ruin sections of the middle class and the peasantry and undermine the frail structure of French capitalism.

Fascism or Bonapartism?

It is vital, in this context, to grasp the difference between Bonapartism and fascism. Fascism is a mass movement of the middle class, the lumpenproletariat, the peasants and even backward sections of the working class, financed and organised by capitalism as a desperate last resort in the face of growing crisis and the threat of a possible socialist solution.

Unscrupulous demagogues, usually plebeian in origin, utilise anti-capitalist slogans to mobilise a mass force for destroying all organisations of the working class. Fascism means the complete destruction of any form - communist, socialist, christian, liberal - of independent working-class organisation: that is its job, and it is this which gives it its strength in the early stages. Using the middle class as a battering ram and with the support of the police and the army, fascism extinguishes every democratic right.

After the initial delirium, the middle class and plebeian masses discover their betrayal and become disillusioned (30 June 1934, in Germany): fascism is then transformed into an ordinary police-military dictatorship, able to retain power only on the basis of the apathy and inertia of the workers who feel themselves betrayed by their own organisations. Before it can be overthrown, new shocks - a new sweep of events - is necessary, to give back to the masses their perspective and to convince them anew of the hope of victory against the tyranny that oppresses them.

Bonapartism, as defined by Marx, is rule by the sword. It is from the start, a police-military dictatorship; but at the same time it is a condition wherein the state raises itself above the whole of society and, while remaining an instrument of the ruling class, arrogates to itself the role of 'arbiter' between the classes. 'I belong to everyone and everyone belongs to me' (Charles de Gaulle, the new candidate for the role of Bonaparte).

To play this role, the 'arbiter' has to balance between the classes and between the conflicting interests within the society. Thus de Gaulle's programme is not (immediately or even necessarily at all, dependent on events) the abolition of parties. But he will 'arbitrate' between left and right. For this purpose de Gaulle will need the support of at least a section of the Socialists and perhaps of the reformist unions. He needs a split in the working class to maintain the base of his rule.

It is quite possible that he will illegalise the Communist Party (perhaps by stages) and seek to smash the CGT in the interests of the Catholic and reformist unions. This will be his 'left' point of support. On the right he will lean on the 'Independents,' the existing neo-fascist organisations and right-wing ex-servicemen's movement and even on out and out fascist organisations which may arise with the development of the slump.

But the Bonapartism of Napoleon I and even of Napoleon III had a base in an expanding economy. The Bonapartism of de Gaulle has as little base as that of Petain: in fact it has less, for Petain could at least rely in the last resort on the German army for protection. Even Louis Napoleon had his victories in the early years; but what can de Gaulle offer by way of military triumphs?

De Gaulle will be faced with the problem of North Africa. The war may go on, and even if the French imperialist forces achieve a temporary victory, by letting loose the paratroops on the Algerian people, such a victory will not solve the Algerian question for imperialism. Even the occupation of Morocco and Tunisia would merely aggravate the North African problem for French imperialism besides involving the whole Arab world.

The burdens of this war and of the 'need to maintain France's position in the world' will mean a colossal drain on French resources and manpower. What little mass support has been rallied to de Gaulle during the last period will vanish. The temporary support he may gain through the intoxicant of nationalist phrases will soon evaporate. For the moment, the workers will be entirely disoriented and apathetic, arising from the deception of the official leaders.

The disgrace of Germany where Hitler took power without firing a shot has been repeated, and this in a country where the CP in number, organisation and support, was stronger than were the Bolsheviks in 1917 before the revolution.

However, no thanks to these leaders - the situation in France differs somewhat from the German situation of 1933. Hitler headed a real mass reactionary movement which swept away, in the first few weeks of his power, all the organisations of the working class. Through the Nazi Party he penetrated every sphere of social life, paralysed the working class, atomised and dispersed it. Apart from the disgust and disillusionment of the masses at the complete incapacity of their organisations to struggle against reaction, the secret-police apparatus - informers in every factory, spies in every neighbourhood block - was a powerful factor in the consolidation of the regime.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Charles de Gaulle

Hitler and Mussolini, moreover, were lucky enough in each case to seize power on the eve of a boom. De Gaulle on the contrary assumes office on the eve of a slump. The paratroops, an elite of regular soldiers, are quite prepared to play the same role in France as in Algeria. But this small force, 50,000 to 60,000, strong enough in itself to seize power in the face of the apathy of the mass, is entirely insufficient to maintain it.

The ordinary sailor and soldier whom the nationalist intoxicant might temporarily affect, will not for long remain bemused. The social situation induced by slump must have its powerful effect. All history has shown that it is impossible indefinitely to rule through the army and the police alone. Any attempt to use the army against mass outbreaks will mean splitting it on class lines. A new mass upsurge in the coming period is inevitable. Events, national and international, will shake the senile regime in France. The twilight of the Franco dictatorship (shored up for the moment by de Gaulle's victory) will cast its lengthening shadows over France. The workers' struggles in Britain, Italy and West Germany will have their effect.

The Socialists, radicals and MRP have endeavoured to 'leave a good memory' by their vote for Pflimlin on the eve of the de Gaulle take-over. The CP is again pumping out the poison of people's frontism, claiming that had there been a popular front 'all this could have been averted' - notwithstanding the fact that it was precisely the People's Front which paved the way to defeat in Spain and that the People's Front in France prepared the groundwork for today's situation.

The mass demonstrations and strikes, convened at the twelfth hour, have shown that the masses would have responded to leadership in action rather than parliamentary manoeuvre 'at the top'. So much greater the disgrace of the CP-SP leaderships, which have put the working class in this peril at the behest of a handful of paratroop gangsters.

In striking contrast to Hitler in 1933 de Gaulle is coming to power, not only without the support of the middle-class mass, but in the face of its hostility. The coming to power of de Gaulle will be more akin to the situation in Spain in 1934 when Gil Robles, the leader of clerical fascism, was taken into the reactionary Lerroux government. Despite the defeat of the answering socialist insurrections, when the workers seized power in Asturias, the Gil Robles regime could not consolidate.

Fearing a new uprising on the part of the masses, Robles allowed a new election in 1936 and ceded to the Popular Front to demoralise the workers and prepare under its aegis for civil war against the masses. De Gaulle's take-over will be, therefore, premature from the capitalist standpoint. It was forced by the settlers and the officer caste in Algiers.

De Gaulle also will be unable to consolidate. The ruling class may prepare again for a retreat to a new popular front, counting on the confusion and demoralisation this would cause to prepare again for full-fledged civil war. When the de Gaulle dictatorship rots from within the capitalists can still turn, with the assistance (as ever) of the Communist and Socialist leaderships, to a new popular front as a way out for the regime. The advanced worker-militants must learn from the rich history of the French and international working-class movement. If the lesson is not assimilated in time, a new popular front bringing with it fresh defeat and disillusionment could prepare the way for a real fascist dictatorship on the lines of Hitler's monstrous regime.

We have confidence, however, that the best militants in the French Communist and Socialist Parties and in the trade unions will learn from these events. The Communist Party will split and from its ranks the revolutionary elements will gather to them the best militants from the trade unions and the Socialist Party to create the Marxist mass party of the French working class.

This party, basing itself on the great tradition of the Commune, of the struggle against the Moroccan war, of the stay-in strikes of 1936, will lead its class in mortal combat against the class enemy. From this death-struggle the French workers and peasants will emerge victorious and proceed to the construction of the socialist order in France.

Many workers in the British labour movement regard the events in France with horror, but see them as of little direct consequence to themselves: 'It can't happen here!' 'England is different.' It is not well known that the strategists of British capitalism learned from the history of the continental class struggle in the prewar years and were making preparations for the fight against the British working class. In 1938 and 1939 army manoeuvres were based on the idea that civil war was raging in Britain.

A special strike-breaking force, composed of members of the ruling and upper-middle classes - to learn to man the basic posts in the economy, the running of locomotives, the operation of power stations, and so on - was created. The insurance companies were refusing to insure against the risk of civil war. And, as an interesting forerunner of present events, Duff Cooper, Tory MP and former First Lord of the Admiralty, was writing articles in the Evening Standard advocating the formation of Committees of Public Safety in Britain.

It is no accident that in the present crisis the leading organs of Tory opinion have rallied to de Gaulle. The Daily Mail and Evening News, flunkeys of Hitler and Mussolini before the war, have now been joined by the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and the Evening Standard in warm support for the Gaullist coup d'etat.

British workers will ignore this lesson at their own peril. Their fate is bound, as it has always been, to the international struggle of the working class against capitalism. In their hour of agony the French workers must know that they can draw, not alone on the passive sympathy, but upon the active class support of their British brothers and sisters. Side by side we shall rally against dictatorship and for a socialist France and a socialist Britain in a socialist Europe.

Go back to contents page or go on to next section, Introduction to Section Three


[1] The Cominform drew together the Communist Parties of the East European states, France and Italy. It was dissolved in 1956.

[2] The Society of December 10th was an organisation of the lumpenproletariat which supported Louis Bonaparte, in effect his private army.

[3] Poujade led a reactionary organisation of small business people and wealthy middle class, it was absorbed into the Gaullist movement.

[4] In 1956, after Egyptian president Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, Britain and France conspired with Israel to engineer a pretext to occupy the canal zone. They were forced to withdraw under international, especially American, pressure.

[5] Guy Mollet was general secretary of the French Socialist Party, he entered de Gaulle's cabinet in 1958. Duclos and Thorez were Communist Party deputies and leaders.

[6] The SA, the Stormtroopers, were set up by Hitler as a paramilitary force for 'protecting' meetings. Ernst Roehm was the leader of the SA until 30 June 1934, the 'Night of the long Knives', when the leadership of the SA brownshirts were massacred by Hitler's SS. This was because the SA, with a mass membership, had become a threat to Hitler, with some of its members calling for a second 'social' revolution to follow the 'national' one.

[7] The National Liberation Front (FLN) waged a war of independence in Algeria from 1954 to 1962, when independence was won.

[8] In the 1932 presidential election in Germany, the SPD, the largest workers' party, refused to stand a candidate, throwing their weight behind the reactionary militarist Hindenberg. On 30 January 1933 Hindenberg appointed Hitler as Chancellor.

[9] A slang term for French soldiers.

[10] Jacques Soustelle, a Gaullist, became Governor General of Algeria in 1955. Robert Lacoste, a Socialist Party member, succeeded him from June 1957 until 1958.