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Marc Loris

Background of the French Trials

Shaky Vichy Regime Stages Its Juridical Farce
to Give a False Show of Strength

(14 March 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 11, 14 March 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Riom trials have finally begun after a long delay. The chief defendants are former Premier Leon Blum, former Premier Daladier and the former Commander in Chief of the French Armies. General Maurice Gamelin. They are accused of responsibility for the defeat of Trance by Germany. Blum is accused of having neglected the military preparation of his country.

Daladier is accused of having thrown his country into a war for which he knew it was not prepared, and Gamelin is accused of responsibility for the military weakness of the army of France in 1939.

The accused are being tried under the provisions of a special decree issued by the government of Vichy. The tribunal itself is not a regular one, but is a court of justice established especially for this purpose by the government. Moreover, three months ago the Petain government, in a special decree officially declared that the accused were already guilty.

The trials are taking place in a small town of an old French province, practically cut off from the outside world. During the period of the trials, strangers are not being admitted to the town. Although the trials are declared open to the public, this can be judged by what an American journalist cables: “Ten seats in the court will be reserved for the public, but it is understood that the occupants will be appointed in rotation from a group of officials.”

The Petain government has also taken care of the press. Daily instructions are given out by the Bureau of Censorship to French newspaper men, indicating even the “commentaries” which are to accompany the reports of the trial. Our epoch has seen not a few such mockeries of justice, and today the senile Petain tries in this way as well as others, to imitate the dictators.

Reasons for the Trials

What are the reasons for these trials? Above all, it is to give the appearance of authority to the Petain government which is sadly in need of it. Immediately after the military debacle the team of Petain-Weygand-Laval, directly representing the most serious section of the French bourgeoisie, brushed aside the entire republican and democratic apparatus, and took the power into their own hands, with absolute disregard of the constitutionality of their action.

Since then, the history of the Petain government has been one of impotence. Its earlier vague prestige disappeared before mass oppression and poverty. Even the functionaries of the administration do not always execute their orders with good grace. There is grumbling even in the ranks of the police. In the schools the students tear down the pictures of Marshal Petain.

Unable to enforce his authority in a positive way, Petain has decided to give himself prestige by means of contrast, through debasing and defaming his predecessors.

Military Preparation of France

The task of the judges in Riom is not to deal with technical faults in the military preparations of France. The trials are above all political. In essence, they represent the revenge of the bourgeoisie for their terrible fear in June 1936.

Thus, the indictment accuses Blum and Daladier of having given planes to Republican Spain. If we permit ourselves for a moment to consider the military interests of France, this accusation is absurd. The French government gave Spain at most a few dozen planes, and these were the most outdated types. Germany gave Franco between 20 to 50 times more arms than France gave to the Republicans. Nevertheless this did not prevent Germany from defeating France! In fact, the Spanish war was for the German high command a marvelous field for war experience and excellent preparation for the approaching world war.

As for the strikes of 1936, the time lost represented a negligible fraction of the total labor time in the five years before the World War. certainly much less than one-thousandth. As for the influence of the “reforms” – the 40-hour week, the wage increases, etc. – production figures which have been published leave no doubt: war production, far from being retarded, increased; – the bosses had to modernize their machinery, as a result of which production speeded up in 1937. Thus, even if we judge from the standpoint of the defense of France, the “technical” accusations of the Riom prosecutors are absolutely absurd.

The Responsibility of the High Command

Among the numerous causes which have contributed to the defeat of France, the incapacity of the military chiefs does not occupy the last place. And Marshal Petain did not occupy the last place among these chiefs. Petain was Commander-in-Chief of the Army from 1923 to 1931. Then he was inspector of defense from 1931 to 1934. He was Minister of War for most of 1934. Finally, the Marshal was president of the Commission of National Defense from the end of 1934 to February 1939, six months before the war started.

During all that period, he made very precise and well-known declarations against a too great motorization of the army, against the organization of aviation as an independent arm of the military machine, against the use of tanks as the main offensive force, against the fortification of the Sedan breach. We can be sure that neither Blum nor Daladier ever dared to make any decision on these military problems, and that all the decisive powers were entirely and absolutely in the hands of the French high command, where the influence of Petain was dominant.

The attitude of General Gamelin at the trial throws abundant light upon this question. The General, Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies, should know something about the causes of the defeat. At the very first session of the trial, he declared that he would remain silent during all the debates, since he could not permit that the army be judged!

But that, is not all. The plot thickens when we learn that the decree by which the special court was created had been altered a short time before the trial, in order to enable the court to prevent the discussion of military operations. In other words, the Vichy government directly permitted, if not ordered, Gamelin to shut up.

Here is the most positive proof of an agreement between Petain and Gamelin in order to prevent the responsibility of the high command from being exposed. Petain and Gamelin are covered by a pledge of mutual amnesty. Gamelin did not even blush when he invoked “honor” to justify his silence.

A Good Object Lesson

This hypocritical agreement between Petain and Gamelin teaches us another lesson; the real structure of the bourgeois state. The Riom judges will condemn democracy, vilify the Republic; they will drag through the mud all the ideals which the bourgeoisie for 50 years have tried to impose upon the masses, in the name of which they have always paralyzed their social struggles. But not a single word will be said against the army – the high command.

Here is an excellent object lesson. The bourgeoisie reveals the real source of its power, the core of its state, that is, the armed forces. As for “democracy” and the “Republic,” they are nothing but ornamental draperies which conceal the real machine of power in order to deceive the masses. When the draperies have become faded and tattered, they are simply thrown into the garbage can by the bourgeoisie, but the military machine remains. “Do not Touch!” Such is, in a few words the excellent lesson that the Riom trials teach the workers not only in France but throughout the world.

Cowardice of the French Capitalists

The Riom trials teach us still another thing; the extreme cowardice of the French bourgeoisie. Blum is accused of having consented to the social reforms of June 1936. But what did the French bourgeoisie do at that period?

They “played dead.” When the workers occupied the factories, the bosses promptly signed anything the workers demanded. In the days of revolutionary tension during June 1936, the bourgeoisie quietly drove out into the countryside. They felt the burning breath of the revolution pass over Paris, and did not, move even their little fingers. They demonstrated excellent bourgeois political judgment. The slightest resistance on their part would have provoked a political explosion. Instead the movement was vanquished by the conciliatory policy of Leon Blum. Without conciliation it would have been an open and armed struggle. In the direct sense of the term, Blum saved the bourgeois structure from the workers’ assault. The most responsible organs of the bourgeoisie quickly recognized this fact. In the interest of truth, however, we must add that Blum could not have accomplished his task without, the active collaboration of the Stalinists.

“As Well As They Could”

Later, the bourgeoisie took back, piece by piece, what, they had been obliged to grant, under pressure. Discouraged and deceived, the workers retreated, and finally were precipitated into the World War. Now the conciliators, having achieved the collapse of the revolution, have, in their turn, fallen under the blows of the reaction. This is a very well-known phenomenon in the mechanics of class struggle. The Riom trials write “finis” to this story.

The bourgeoisie has nothing for which to reproach Daladier or Blum. They have defended the capitalist system as well as they could, when all other methods were made impossible. If the conciliators are responsible for defeat, it is for the defeat of the revolution.

To draw the lessons of this defeat, to explain them patiently to the working masses, such is the fundamental task of the revolutionists in France now. If they learn how to solve this task, after the dreadful ordeals of the present reaction, the revolt of the oppressed people will be so deep and so terrible that there will be no Daladier, no Blum or no Thorez capable of thwarting it.

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