Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(1 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 55, 1 August 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A letter just received from a friend visiting Paris gives an interesting picture of what is going on in France today.

“For about an hour and a half I watched the communist demonstration on July 14, in honor of the Great French Revolution. It was the usual ‘united front’ demonstration – the two dozen Stalinist stooge organizations joining the C.P. to a ‘united front.’ The socialists and the official trade unions refused to join the Stalinists who bemoaned the fact that the great Popular Front demonstration of 1935 could not be repeated. That’s right – it could not be repeated. Daladier, one of the leading figures in the demonstration of 1935, is now ordering the workers to work longer hours and more efficiently; he is curtly telling the communists what they can and what they cannot do; he is giving the big bourgeoisie the services it demands, thus, for a while at least, making unnecessary a resort to fascism.

An Uninspiring Demonstration

“It certainly was not an inspiring demonstration. Neither to the onlookers nor to the participants, as far as I could judge. Certainly not to one interested in leading the French working class to another and greater revolution than that of 1789. There is nothing wrong in principle, of course, for a revolutionary party to celebrate the birth of the bourgeois revolution, especially such a magnificent one as the Great French Revolution. I can even imagine a revolutionary party organizing a celebration on July 4 commemorating the American revolution.

“It is primarily a question of the content of the demonstration. That content must further our present aim of hastening the dawn of the proletarian revolution. To take advantage of revolutionary traditions in order to inspire the masses with a willingness to offer the supreme sacrifice for the socialist revolution is not only permissible for a revolutionary party but absolutely mandatory. Can that be done? Of course! Just think of the heroic days of ‘89 when the disinherited of Paris, with weapons in hand, proceeded to demolish the institutions of feudal tyranny. It would be so easy to stir up the most exalted revolutionary emotions in the masses of workers showing them that they must follow the example of their forefathers and destroy ... bourgeois tyranny.

“I need not tell you that the Stalinist demonstration had no revolutionary aim in view. That is why it was so uninspiring, sickening as a matter of fact. There were tens of thousands of really militant workers who would gladly offer up their lives to destroy the Bastille of the French bourgeoisie but these tens of thousands of workers marched meekly around the Place de la Bastille without any enthusiasm because they were not inspired with any great visions of a struggle to create a new world for themselves and their children. They did not even know what they were demonstrating for. There were absolutely no banners with any slogans. Daladier had forbidden the showing of any slogans in any way hostile to the government. And since the Communist Party is compelled to assume a position of hostility to the dictatorial regime of Daladier, in order to keep the confidence of the masses, it had to choose between defying the government, by carrying banners with slogans, or submitting. The C.P. of course does no defying nowadays and so there was a sloganless demonstration.

There Was One Slogan

“I must correct my statement about slogans. There was one slogan much in evidence, the one calling for the completion of the pact between Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Streaming banners announced the fact that without the help of the U.S.S.R., France could not defend itself against the fascist aggressors. The tri-party pact would bring peace, liberty and democracy.

“I don’t know whether you read L’Humanité these days. If you do you know then that, day after day, Gabriel Peri, their star journalist, pours forth his contempt upon Great Britain for its softness to Japan. He demands a firmer stand by Chamberlain to defend British citizens from insult and humiliation at the hands of the Japanese. The British and French attitude towards Germany during the Danzig crisis and subsequently was termed supine and violative of the promises given to heroic Poland. And every single article ends with a demand for the immediate consummation of the tri-party pact. It was therefore to be expected that during the demonstration stress would be placed upon that demand. And since there were no other slogans the demonstration assumed exclusively the character of a demonstration on behalf of the tri-party pact.

“What a glorious opportunity there was of showing the masses the differences between the promises and hopes of 1789 and the reality of 1939. The act of the Daladier government to prohibiting the carrying of slogans against the government showed more than anything else the real character of the present regime. Everything is now settled by decrees without consulting parliament. The chances are that the elections for the Chamber of Deputies, which are to take place next year, will be postponed by decree for two or three years. The Stalinists and socialists are crying bitterly against such a possibility but their opposition amounts to very little. That is the kind of democracy which the French workers are asked to defend against Hitler. Young militants are charged with espionage for attempting to spread revolutionary propaganda among the soldiers. Death can be the penalty if found guilty. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish workers, former soldiers of the Republican army in Spain, are herded together like beasts in concentration camps. A far cry from the fraternity, equality and liberty proclaimed as the foundation stones of the French Revolution.

How Long Will They Remain Quiet?

“Disoriented by the policies of the socialist and communist parties, frustrated by the failure of the Popular Front government, the French workers are quiet, submitting to the arbitrary acts of the government. For how long? It is impossible to conceive that it can last for a very long time. As the burden becomes greater the forces of resistance will come to the surface. The most militant and conscious elements of the French workers, that is, the French Fourth Internationalists, must work feverishly to prepare a party to lead the French workers.”

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