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A. Roland

Laval Will Try to Make France
Part of Hitlerite Order

(25 April 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 17, 25 April 1942, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Hitler is not satisfied with the efforts made by Petain to “coordinate” France into a Nazi Europe. What such coordination meant to the fascists was quite clear. They wanted a France in which the working class would be completely under the iron heel of a capitalist class dictatorship. They wanted Petain, as the spokesman for big finance capital, to carry out cold-bloodedly the terrorism that the German Nazis had used in the period of their rise to power. The French ruling class would thus have been forced to burn all bridges behind it. Its future fate would then have become completely intertwined with that of the German conquerors. It would have been forced to discipline the French workers into abject submission to its will. Hitler could then have relied on whole-hearted support in the war from the “new” France. French production would have been geared most effectively into Axis war production. A short step further and France would be in the war itself, this time on the side of the Axis.

Petain found himself unable to meet the demands of Hitler. Not because of any fundamental difference in social outlook. Petain, just as Weygand, was ready long before the war to play the part of a Franco and wipe out every last trace of democracy. His name is associated with every plot to bring about a reactionary coup d’etat.

The whole trouble with French “coordination” lay precisely in that defeat. Any attempt to copy the methods of the Nazis in their actions against the working class would have failed miserably. It would have appeared for what it was, the obvious work of secondary agents of the foreign conqueror. Far from strengthening the fascist-minded French bourgeoisie, it would have united the entire nation against them. Petain dared not risk the likelihood of civil war under conditions in which he would have been forced to call on the conqueror for aid. Then too, Petain was not at all certain that Hitler would win the war. He therefore preferred to sit on the fence and wait rather than to risk not only his own neck but the future of French capitalism on a gamble.

The Last Straw

The Riom trial was the last straw for Hitler. It underlined the failure of Petain to carry out the “coordination” of France with Nazism. Hitler looked to this trial as the climax of the rise of the “new” France. It was to be preceded by a cold pogrom that would pave the way for more bloody deeds. It was furthest from the thoughts of the German conqueror to permit Blum and Daladier to put in any real defense of themselves in open court. The conducting of the trial was to symbolize that France had “arrived” at its new status. Instead, the trial showed up the weakness and hesitancy of the Petain regime. Hitler could not even use the trial for home consumption, to show that it was the French and English whose plotting had brought on the war.

The failure of Hitler’s plans for France comes at an awkward time. Hitler had granted a certain time to France because his “timetable” for German conquest of Europe seemed to permit this, Russia was to be overrun in a matter of weeks, the German armies were to slice through the Red Army “like a knife through cheese.” But the Soviet masses knocked Hitler’s timetable into a cocked hat. The question of France has assumed a far greater importance in this Second year of the Soviet campaign. If tomorrow the “United Nations” should attempt to open up a second front in Europe, France would be as likely a choice as any for a landing of armies. The attitude of the French government then takes on the greatest significance. Would it attempt to repel the invader? Would it on the contrary welcome its old allies and seek the chance to re-enter the conflict? Hitler wants this question resolved in no uncertain terms. He wants somebody in the saddle whose fate depends entirely on a German victory. Hence his choice of Laval.

Role of Laval Now – and Before

This despicable figure is a fitting symbol for the task of making France a vassal state in a fascist Europe. It is the same Laval who gave Mussolini the necessary assurances for the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The same Laval who plotted with English reaction (the Hoare-Laval deal) to give fascism its way. What the capitalist press will fail to note, however, is that this figure emerges perfectly naturally from the epoch of French parliamentary democracy. This man was a premier of France under the democratic regime. In that there is no accident. The forces that gave rise to fascism existed in dormant form right in the heart of the democratic regime.

Laval is willing to stake all on Nazi success. He is taking over in particular the entire police power of France. In this he will no doubt cooperate fully with the Gestapo. But Petain, unwilling to take the full measures which Laval will no doubt utilize, remains as a power in the background. No doubt he gave way to Nazi pressure in placing Laval back in power. But evidently he is willing to give the Laval experiment a try. If it succeeds, then it will be a Petain success as well. If it fails, then Petain can always step forward once again – so he hopes – and repudiate the failure.

But Petain is grossly in error. His task, willingly or unwillingly, has been performed. It was to pave the way for a more reactionary regime which could more openly cooperate with Hitler. This regime no more than that of Petain, will have mass support. No more than Petain will Laval be able to set up a really fascist state. That is done not by the fiat of a foreign conqueror, but by civil war in which the proletariat is vanquished. Laval’s regime, even more than that of Petain, will rest on German bayonets.

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