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J. Gerland

Workers’ Power Alone Can Defeat Fascism

France’s Fate Shows That “Democrats” Cannot Lead Fight Against Fascism

(2 September 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 42, 19 October 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Every breed of bourgeois likes to constantly preach morals to the workers. The collapse of France furnishes these gentlemen an excellent subject for sermons.

“You see,” say some of them, “national defense was compromised by strikes, by the class struggle ...”

Others, of lesser stature, but no less dangerous because of that, strike another tune: “The French army was swarming with Fascist officers ...” – and conclude by calling upon the workers to save bourgeois democracy.

Yes, the collapse of France and the advance of Fascism over the face of all of Europe contain terrible lessons and menacing warnings for the workers. But the latter must look upon this tremendous experience from the point of view of their class and know how to draw from it lessons for their coming struggles against the bourgeoisie and its lackies.

We Near the End of Bourgeois Democracy

The biggest loser of the war is bourgeois democracy. In the years preceding the war, it underwent one defeat after another in the field of diplomacy. With Hitler holding the whip hand, the entire policy of democratic capitalism consisted of making concessions and waiting for a better future which never came. In September 1939, England and France could not retreat any further and Hitler allowed himself the supreme luxury of forcing them to declare war on him, under conditions which he chose.

This war was, on both sides, merely the continuation of the policy carried on until its outbreak. The great secret of Gamelin and the British General Staff was to temporize. By 1941, they figured, they would have more aviation’ facilities. By 1942, the factories would have turned out enough artillery to make possible an attack on the Siegfried Line. The purchase of material from the United States was apportioned over a number of years ... All these fine projects needed was Hitler’s consent.

While, in the course of the Winter of 1939-1940, the Anglo-French troops were softened up by inaction, the German army was being trained in a new and terrible strategy by means of which it was soon to unleash its torrents of lead and fire upon its astonished adversaries.

Bourgeois democracy thus proved to be just as impotent in international war as in the preceding “peaceful” struggles. Its methods, its parties and its men belonged to another epoch. The very fact that Hitler was able to find conniving support within France is not a matter of chance, but one of the clearest symptoms of the decomposition of democracy.

Inside each country Fascism cannot be combated victoriously now except by means of proletarian arms: workers’ militia, the arming of the working class, active defense which prepares to go over to the offensive, with the seizure of power by the working class as the aim. Likewise, on the international arena, the war cannot be prevented, nor the positions of Fascism shaken, except by means of the proletarian revolution.

Who Is Responsible for France’s Defeat

Since 1934, under the pressure of the Fascist menace, of the economic crisis and of the general decline of the French empire, a revolutionary crisis was maturing in France. In June 1936, the French workers occupied large numbers of factories. The frightened bourgeoisie remained silent and went into hiding. At the gates of the occupied factories, the policemen would arrive to inquire the number of strikers inside “for statistical purposes” – that was what their role was reduced to! The slightest attempt at suppression would have provoked a gigantic explosion. In waves, the burning breath of the revolution could be sensed passing over the great industrial cities.

But the workers were soon to witness a strange spectacle. While the bosses right on the spot conceded all demands, the workers’ “own” leaders, who they themselves ha’d brought to power. Were placing restraints on the workers. Leon Blum and the Socialist parliamentarians, Leon Jouhaux and the trade union officialdom and, gesticulating wildly right behind them, Maurice Thorez and the other Stalinist satellites – all formed one big chorus calling for calmness from the workers and for social peace. Before the working Class could overcome its astonishment, it found tied around its neck the rope of agreements signed by the bosses, the trade union leaders and the government. In the course of the months that followed the bourgeoisie took back in parcels what it had been forced to grant in bulk, at first quite patiently and later oft more brutally.

The revolution was possible in France in 1936 – and one of the most bloodless revolutions at that. The Spanish workers were to take up arms somewhat later, in July. With a Soviet France, their triumph in Spain, would have been assured. A Workers’ France plus, a Workers’ Spain would have changed the face of Europe.

If Europe is now covered with the black stains of Fascism, those responsible are Blum, Jouhaux, Thorez, and all their colleagues, all those who infected the French Working class with false hopes in democracy. The workers of the United States, the workers of the entire world will easily be able to recognize in their own countries the counter-parts of these same gentry who, under different names, spread the same paralyzing poison. Learn to liberate yourselves from these traitors in time, that’s what the experience of the French workers cries out to their brothers elsewhere.

The Government of Marshal Petain

Hitler left a piece of France to lead an independent existence. Not that he has any more love for the French than for the Poles or the Norwegians. He secured for himself all the necessary strategic positions for his struggle against England, the North of France with its mineral riches and all its coastline. The rest of France is of no immediate strategic or economic interest to him. His armies swept before them millions of refugees. He left the care of regulating their fate to the first clique of politicians that came along. Every day he grants or withdraws from the Vichy crowd whatever he pleases. Petain is nothing more than the Gauleiter of meridional France. Only he has to bear a certain amount of shame with his job.

If the struggle with England should be prolonged, Hitler’s needs will grow from day to day. That is the course which developments seem to be taking these last few weeks. The project of moving the government to Paris appears to have been abandoned. Couriers can no longer pass over the border to the other side of France. French prisoners of war are sent to Germany as factory hands. Tomorrow, if strategic or economic necessities should require it, Hitler will occupy all of France and replace Petain with a German general. How pitiful are the speeches of the French bourgeois who patter “national” reconstruction and prostrate themselves before Hitler and try to get into his good graces by imitating him! For more than three months they have been receiving nothing but kicks in the pants from him.

Perspectives of the Coming Months

The fate of France, of the workers’ France, is that of all the peoples of Europe, reduced by Hitler to common servitude. The war is still going on and the armistice will not preserve France from new military involvements.

To all appearances Hitler has given up the plan of invading England before the coming of Winter. The two adversaries are exhausting each other with aviation duels. But aviation in itself does not decide anything, if it cannot be accompanied with territorial advance. The Polish and French campaigns revealed that the terrible weapon of the new strategy consisted of the combination of the airplane and the tank. But to transport thousands of tanks across the seas, with their essential supplies and munitions is not an easy task.

In the Fall, the North Sea and the Channel are the worst waters to navigate in the entire world. Fog, which is particularly heavy and frequent in these parts will pretty soon paralyze aviation. It looks like a second year of War! That means, for England, the possibility of mobilizing the resources of her empire, and of receiving a constantly more abundant helping hand from the United States. The war can continue for a long time.

In that case, it would mean growing misery and despair in Europe, with famine immediately in view. Everywhere national passion will ally itself With revolutionary aspirations in the struggle against Hitler. Revolts are inevitable. In the coming struggles the workers will appear as the most resolute elements and they will give the fighting a class content. Hitler has wiped out the boundaries. From the Northernmost point of Scandinavia to the Pyrenees, from Brittany to the

Vistula, the sabre of the German colonel rules supreme. Whether it is lit up in Prague or in Rotterdam or in Paris, any revolutionary explosion will immediately be echoed in the other countries far more directly than was ever the case before the war.

Our Comrades Will Lead France Against Fascism

In France the military catastrophe immediately marks the downfall of the traditional party of democracy, the Radical-Socialist Party. On the Right, all sorts of Fascist adventurers are raising their heads. But the best they can hope for is to become agents of the German command. On the Left, the Socialist Party has abandoned every pretense to an independent existence. The trade union leaders have rallied to Petain or disappeared into the void, like Jouhaux. These people belong to other times. They grew up with bourgeois democracy and they have fallen with it. A new epoch has arrived and it requires men in accord with its spirit, fighters who know how to conduct a bitter and difficult struggle to its very end.

The French Bolshevik-Leninists can lay claim to that role. The struggle which they have led for more than ten years against reformism and Stalinism has found complete justification in the most recent events. Our French comrades raised their voice against the alliance of’ the workers’ organizations with the Radical-Socialist Party, the party of decaying democracy. And it was the support of these bankrupt bourgeois politicians by the workers’ leaders which led up to the present catastrophe. The Trotskyists have had to undergo ignoble insults and incessant persecution at the hands of the bourgeoisie, the social democrats and the Stalinists. But today, they alone remain to present to the workers an unsullied banner.

Confusion is not lacking in the ranks of the working class at the present moment. The first task of the Bolshevik-Leninists is to explain patiently what has happened. Just as the imperialist war was not our war, so this defeat is not our defeat. It is a defeat of bourgeois democracy, to whose fate the treacherous leaders wanted to link the proletariat. It is a defeat of a political system of oppression which no longer corresponds to the requirements of our epoch. The proletariat has another aim and other methods. Its aim is the overthrow of the system of capitalist exploitation. Its methods are the methods of revolutionary class struggle. It is but necessary to apply them tirelessly and implacably and victory is assured.

Sept. 2, 1940

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