What the Popular Front Really Was
(Le Prolétaire, n.13-14-16, 1964; n.19-20, 1965)
From our French-language organ “Le Prolétaire” we take up this very useful and effective series of articles, which we will publish in subsequent installments.
That party which claims to be the “party of the working class” and, what is more, passes itself off as “communist”, has for a long time had nothing to do with the proletarian program: at most it still has a MYTH. But it is a tenacious myth, with roots all the deeper because it embodies the triumph of capitalism in the twentieth century after the tremendous shock that was, for the entire bourgeois society, the glorious Russian Revolution of 1917. Under the varied and successive formulas of “new democracy” and “true democracy,” this myth – off of which the false communists live – is that of the popular front of 1936.
Its central idea is frighteningly simple: history is no longer the history of class struggles, but the history of the progress of the POPULAR WILL, constantly mocked but always resurgent, whose debut would date back to the great days of June 1936. Blocked for a moment by the period of those adventurers of history who answer to the names of Mussolini and Hitler, this “popular will” resumed its triumphant march with the victory of the Allies in World War II. But once again another “accident” cut the road to its further progress: Gaullism and “personal power” in France, the Christian Democrat monopoly of power in Italy, and general American influence everywhere. In order not to get stuck in these holes, say the leaders of the PCF and the PCI, it is enough to go back to the same path, and to discover all united – from atheists to Christians, from communists to socialists, from workers to bosses, as long as all are good patriots – a constitutional formula capable of finally realizing, this time for real, the sacred will of the people.
The true explanation of the present state of the working class
and of the society in which it lives is quite different. Whether we like it or
not, modern history is dominated by the vicissitudes of the class struggle of
the proletariat. Society “progresses” when the proletariat struggles to take
over its leadership: it stagnates in the opposite case. The line of social
development knows ascending phases or REVOLUTION, phases of reflux or
COUNTER-REVOLUTION. Today, in spite of the trappings of a supposed “prosperity”,
we are still living in a phase of counter-revolutionary recoil. The proletariat,
as the class that produces and toils, the proletariat as the only class
historically capable of suppressing the system of wage-labor, this proletariat
has been defeated.
The origins of today’s situation
To know why, we have to go back 50 years: but, to see the results, it is enough to look around. Workers are working 50 hours a week for a real wage lower than before the war. Real workers’ struggles no longer exist, the unions betray them even before they come up. The glorious working class of the past, which has become an indifferent and inert mass, lined up with all the parasitic social categories, is either disinterested in class politics or meekly follows the “Great Leader” of the moment. In a word, not only does the proletariat no longer count as a political force, but society as a whole has become, almost without realizing it, FASCIST, right down to the subconscious of each of its members.
In reality, these are not the fruits of an inexplicable collective aberration, but the logical consequences of the events of 1936, which were not, as is generally believed, the signs of the beginning of a phase of great democratic impetus, but on the contrary, the END of a revolutionary period from which the proletariat emerged defeated.
The material situation of the workers and the psychology generated by it are but the results of this defeat. In no case does class consciousness constitute the motor of social struggles; it can only be the PRODUCT – and under certain conditions, that main product will be the existence of the class PARTY. In the revolutionary phases, the workers are “instinctively” led to act on their own ground, with specific methods of struggle, RE-ASSIMILATING with lightning speed the fundamental principles formulated in Marxist theory in a concrete way for a century, that is, from the time of its first appearance in history. On the contrary, in the counter-revolutionary phases, the workers let themselves be immobilized by opportunists who only operate on the field of action of the bourgeoisie, that of the electoral and parliamentary farces, from which they come out disgusted, divided, discouraged, incapable of fighting seriously, even for pure and simple wage increases. The wage-earner votes; but he no longer knows how to organize himself to claim something of his own. Strikes are drowned in compromises: negotiations replace strikes. At the end of such a process, the proletarians end up no longer believing that one day they can break this infernal grip.
This is the point at which we find ourselves today. We cannot
understand anything about current political events if we ignore their
fundamental basis: the defeat suffered 40 years ago by the international
proletariat. We cannot make the slightest gesture in the right path or formulate
a single thought useful to the workers’ cause if we do not refer to the
experience of the events that put an end to the historical period in which
proletarian revolution was imminent and in which the state of mind of the
proletarians all over the world reflected this hope. The expression of the
authentically proletarian political positions must therefore be sought, not in
the deceptive or defeatist slogans of today, but in the positions clearly
formulated at the time of the last great revolutionary period of history, that
of the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and the founding of the Third
International in 1919. These positions can be briefly grouped around three
fundamental questions: the question of the nature of the STATE, the question of
the analysis of the imperialist wars and of the latent crisis of modern
capitalism, and the question of the PARTY, of the political organization of the
The historical program of the proletariat
The STATE does not represent, as the bourgeois claim and as the opportunists then made them really believe it, the expression of the “general will”, “freely” expressed through universal suffrage. It is a machine of REPRESSION and OPPRESSION (Lenin: “A special kind of cudgel, rien de plus!”) in the hands of the economically ruling class. Therefore, the proletariat, the dominated class, cannot claim to conquer the State by legal, electoral, peaceful means.
Proletarian emancipation passes through the violent destruction of the bourgeois State and the establishment in its place of the DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT, exercised by the Party through the councils of the armed workers. Therefore, in the proletarian program, no elections, no parliamentary maneuvers, but preparation of the struggle for power, armed insurrection, dictatorship of the proletariat.
MODERN WARFARE is not, as the bourgeois say and the opportunists repeat, the defense of the great moral values of civilization, the sacred holocaust for the integrity of the fatherland. In the imperialist phase, in which the monstrous growth of capital forces the great world powers to DOMINATE the weaker countries, both by military force and by exporting capital, the wars between these powers are also WARS OF PLUNDER for the partition of the world, wars for the domination of markets, for the plundering of raw materials, for the exploitation of huge quantities of labor-power (Lenin: “war between slave-owners”). These wars must not be accepted by the proletariat, but fought with all its forces and, when they break out, turning “the imperialist war into civil war” for the victory of international communism, which alone will put an end to conflicts between States. Therefore, no patriotism in the ranks of workers, no concession to “national defense”, no bleating pacifism, but preparation for the revolutionary assault on bourgeois power in time of peace as in time of war.
The proletarian PARTY, the essential weapon of the working class, its only KNOWLEDGE, its irreplaceable instrument of emancipation, is not “a party like the others”, which surrender to the deceptive arithmetic of “democracy” and venerate “national values” which claim to be the common heritage of all classes. It is an independent formation, hostile to all organizations of ALL other classes, and, in particular, to those parties which, having once been socialist, have then betrayed the proletariat by extolling the virtues of imperialist carnage, still betraying it today by extolling the virtues of bourgeois democracy. These parties must be denounced and fought by the International Communist Party, Therefore, no alliance with them, no FRONT in which they are included: they fight for the bourgeoisie, the communists fight for the proletariat.
Forty-five years after the formation of the 3rd International and the impetuous, ardent formulation of its principles, it is clear today that the “communist” parties have kept absolutely nothing of those principles. The PCF and the PCI in particular have been among the proudest partisans of the resistance, that is to say of the VOLUNTARY participation in the SECOND IMPERIALIST WORLD WAR, daring to pass off this war, waged between two blocs of equally oppressive and equally rapacious countries, as a war for “freedom”. These parties strive to establish the closest ties with the socialist parties denounced by Lenin as the agents of capital. They have renounced the revolutionary destruction of the bourgeois State in order to work for its “democratic” renewal.
How could the parties of Lenin’s International have come to
this? Answering this question means retracing the fundamental stages of the
international degeneration of which the Popular Front was the final result. It
means showing that the defeat suffered by the international proletariat in its
unsuccessful revolutionary attempts, in Central Europe, in Italy and in Germany,
did not turn into a complete rout until the communists, joining the socialists
in the cult of democracy and the fatherland, became the defenders of the
bourgeois State, defended the “anti-fascist” war and reduced their party to
those trivial electoral and well-meaning organizations that are the self-styled
“communist” parties of Russian or Chinese patronage.
The danger of opportunistic infiltration into the Third International
We have seen how working-class psychology is rigorously determined by the revolutionary or counter-revolutionary character of each historical period, and how, in order to trace a phase of complete agreement between this psychology and the ultimate aims of the proletariat, we must go all the way back to the Russian Revolution and the constitution of the Third International. While the victory of October 1917 raised the general enthusiasm of the proletariat, it was soon followed by defeats whose depressing influence dampened the ardent sympathy which drove the workers of the West toward communism. The revolution was crushed in Germany and in the Balkans, the Hungarian Commune was drowned in blood, in Italy the great strikes ended in failure; in short, the combativeness of the international proletariat suffered a reflux which had the effect of isolating the power of the Soviets, of spurring the European bourgeoisie to go on the counter-offensive, and of pushing the Third International to adopt a dangerous tactic, made of expedients and compromises.
In Russia, in the bastion of communism, the socialist transformation of the economy – of a very underdeveloped economy and moreover ruined with around ¾ of its productive power destroyed by first the imperialist war and then of the civil war – was possible only on one condition, repeatedly reiterated by Lenin: the revolutionary victory of the European proletariat, and of the German proletariat in particular. Without the spreading of the socialist revolution to the West, the situation of the Russian proletariat and its ruling party became untenable. Faced with an immense peasant class, to which the victory over Tsarism and the conquest of the usufruct of land conferred a conservative psychology, the Bolsheviks were forced to make ever greater concessions that turned their backs on their socialist objectives. They could not hold on to power without a quantitative and qualitative increase in production, a task which consisted first and foremost, in the conditions of Russia at that time, in accumulating capital. The level of productive forces was so low that it demanded not only that capitalism not be removed, but that its development be ENCOURAGED. It was a cruel truth, a dramatic necessity, which Lenin, with his usual brutal honesty, never failed to emphasize. But he waited with faith, from day to day, then from month to month, for the outbreak of the European revolution, from which alone, as he ceaselessly repeated, salvation could come: the proletariat in power in a developed capitalist country could immediately carry out the first socialist measures, massively help the Russian economy, shorten the terrible stages of its development and economic modernization, and thus enable the Bolshevik party to block any concession it might be forced to make to the non-proletarian classes at home, its enemies.
But the European revolution seemed to be postponed for years. The most clairvoyant (and Trotsky was among them) saw then that the concessions made to mercantile production by the power of the Soviets had created, in Russia itself, adversaries who, while hidden, were no less dangerous. The private capitalists (nepmen), the rich peasants (kulaks), intoxicated by patiently acquired economic privileges, exerted on the enormous administrative apparatus imposed by the backwards development of the country a deafening pressure whose ultimate aim could only be the triumph of a NATIONAL policy of Russia, that is to say, a policy of bargaining of the Soviet government with the capitalist powers, a policy of REFUSING THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST REVOLUTION. These people, as little concerned with the fate of the European proletariat as with that of the Russian proletariat on whose shoulders they lived, were not at all eager to support, or even tolerate, the Bolshevik policy of supporting and encouraging the general insurrection of the exploited classes.
While from within the most serious dangers threatened the power of the Soviets, what became the Communist International, its main bulwark against external enemies?
For the reasons we have already indicated, in the Western
capitalist countries the influence of social democracy remained considerable and
was an obstacle to the development of the communist parties. How, under these
conditions, could we hope for a mass action of the European proletariat? How to
conduct such an action, if the majority of the working class remained under the
control of the social-democrats, who betrayed them? The scrupulous respect for
the initial line of the Communist International, especially its intransigence
towards social democracy, seemed to go against the rapid expansion and increase
in influence of the communist parties. To fight without weakness the opportunism
of the social-democrats; to gain for the communist cause the social-democrat
workers who shared their illusions: this was the alternative in which the Third
International found itself enclosed.
From the United Front to “Workers’ Government”
It believed it could overcome this contradiction thanks to a bold strategy of Lenin’s. Since the bourgeoisie was then launching an international offensive in grand style against the living and working conditions of the workers, it was necessary to know how to use this circumstance to unmask the opportunism and cowardice of the social-democrat leaders in the eyes of the workers. It was a question of proposing to the leaders of the Second International a united FRONT against the bourgeois enemy; of committing them, by taking their demands literally, to a struggle in which the communists would be in the front line and which they, as accomplices in disguise of Capital, could not fail to desert and betray. Applied with perseverance, this tactic should, according to Lenin’s calculation, push the socialist workers to communism.
We note in passing that this tactic had nothing in common with the “unity” that today’s “communists” propose to Guy Mollet, for example, in the field of the reconquest of democracy, the defense of the fatherland and of French greatness. Lenin did not intend to ally himself with a party that was a traitor to the proletariat and to the revolution, but he aimed to overflow his movement by revealing, in the course of the struggle, the betrayal of the social-democrats and the false content of their program. But such a maneuver, as ingenious as it was, did not succeed. It presupposed a capital condition which was precisely lacking: the extension and radicalization of workers’ struggles, since it is only in success, and not in defeat, that workers become aware of their class path. It also demanded to be carried out by strong, homogeneous and solidly tempered communist parties; now, most of them – the PCF in particular – saw in the united front only the return to the good old methods of vanguard socialism. Finally, it implied that we knew how to limit the united front to real struggles for class claims, to the exclusion of any electoral or parliamentary compromise. Our current, then at the head of the Communist Party of Italy, was the only one to apply it in the spirit in which it was conceived. And it did so out of scrupulous respect for the international communist discipline, but not without having repeatedly pointed out its dangers.
Our criticisms and warnings unfortunately proved to be justified. From a defensive front “at the base” to an electoral coalition “from the top”, from the promiscuity of socialists and communists in the united front to the integration in the Communist Party of the centrist elements of the Second International, there was only one step, and it was soon accomplished. Quickly, the Communist International also adopted the slogan of “workers’ government,” which was no longer the dictatorship of the proletariat, but a PARLIAMENTARY COALITION POWER.
This series of articles, of which we this is the second, recounts the history of the French Popular Front, considered as the real act of birth of the present policy of repudiation of the communist program by the national CPs in favor of the most unbridled democratism, legalitarianism and patriotism.
In the previous article, we looked for the origins of the Popular Front in the proletarian defeat of the first post-war period and, recalling the fundamental bases of the revolutionary communist program, we retraced the path through which – in close connection with that defeat – opportunism began to infiltrate the Third International against all intentions of its founders and leaders.
In the meantime, in spite of the “21 conditions”, whole fractions of social democracy, including the most questionable elements, had been accepted in the Communist International. Through the opportunism of its political line as well as through the ill-considered recruitment of thinly disguised reformists, the international proletarian organization disarmed itself against its internal and external adversaries, and prepared itself to undergo the Stalinist “turning point” of “socialism in one country” which opened the now completed cycle and which has made Russia the second imperialist power and the communist parties the defenders of the bourgeois order in the same way as their reformist social-democrat comrades.
The adoption of the united front by the Communist International
takes place between 1921 and 1922. From the following year, the workers’ defeats
in the field of the armed struggle are completed with political defeats;
opportunism and confusion develop in the International. In 1923, the German
revolution was conclusively defeated. Lenin’s death occurred in 1924, when,
stuck to his bed of suffering, he became painfully aware of the existence in the
Party and in the state of increasingly powerful counterrevolutionary positions.
Even if he had lived a few more years, Lenin would not have been able (any more
than Trotsky who survived him) to throttle the political expression of the
rising forces of Russian society, of nationalism, speculation, mercantile
production, in a word, of the secret soul of that Russian CAPITALISM which today
finally shows itself openly. The social and economic forces of this capitalism
could triumph over the proletarian power which emerged from the October
Revolution only if world capitalism won against the European proletariat. And
Lenin did not fail to reiterate that without the victory of the German
revolution communism could not triumph in Russia. What he probably did not
foresee, although our current had announced the danger at the congresses of the
International, was the FORM that the counterrevolution would take: not an armed
intervention of imperialism, but the shameful capitulation of the whole Third
International and a return to social-democratic ideology, which is still the
foundation of all the FALSE COMMUNISMS, whether that of Khrushchev or Kosygin or
Mao Zedong or Tito.
The political stages which transformed the OPPORTUNISM of the 3rd International into a BETRAYAL of the immediate and historical interests of the proletariat can be retraced today, point by point. We have limited ourselves to giving the most skeletal outline of the plot, but it was necessary to evoke it for the purpose of the demonstration which this series of articles aims at, i.e. that the POPULAR FRONT, celebrated even today as the “golden age” of workers’ conquests, is only one stage – and not the least shameful – of this betrayal.
We have already written that the Communist International had committed a serious tactical error in proposing the UNITED FRONT to the parties of the Second International. This front blurred the fundamental differences between the communists and the social-democrats; it encouraged the opportunism of the centrist leaders who came to the Communist International not out of revolutionary conviction, but out of calculation. At the Congresses of the International, our current, which then led the Communist Party of Italy, had issued severe warnings: if the revolutionary struggle flows back, this tactic of the united front will be fatal to the proletariat; the retreat will become a defeat and the communist parties will be corrupted from within. And this happened in fact, after the final defeat of the German revolution, when Stalinism triumphed in the International. This dramatic phase, marked, in Russia by the massacre or deportation of the best Bolsheviks, and, in the communist parties of Western Europe, by the elimination of all revolutionary elements, changed the face of the communist movement.
The united front incorporated the of social-democratic opportunists, but did not involve any attenuation or formal revision of the revolutionary program of communism. On the other hand, the Popular Front, which succeeded it about 10 years later, broadened the coalition to include the bourgeois-radicals and no longer aimed at destroying the capitalist state, but at preserving it under the label of “defense of democracy.” In spite of their logical connection, these two stages are separated by an essential historical turning point, that of anti-fascism, the examination of which leads us straight to the heart of our theme.
Against the majority of the Communist International, which saw fascism as a sort of monstrous throwback or, better still, as a phenomenon peculiar only to some countries, we considered it as the most developed form of modern capitalism. Against the whole of the Third International, which thought that an anti-fascist front with all the bourgeois democrats could save parliamentary democracy and the revolutionary possibilities of the proletariat at the same time, we felt that it was vain to try to stop the political evolution of bourgeois society at its constitutional stage: and that, in any case, the mere fact of fighting side by side with the petty-bourgeois liberals for the defense of parliament could only distract the proletariat from its revolutionary objective.
It cannot be denied that history has given overwhelming confirmation of our predictions. That the middle classes are ready to abandon their fine democratic principles in the face of the rise of fascism, the events in Germany in 1933 are more than enough to prove it: it is thanks to the votes of the petit-bourgeois that Hitler was able to take power LEGALLY. The fact that the economic and social content of fascism finally imposed itself everywhere, despite the victory of the “democratic camp” in the second imperialist world war, is amply confirmed by the evolution of the modern political structure, with its regimentation of citizens, its disregard for “democratic guarantees”, the omnipotence of the State, the welding of the trade unions to the State apparatus and the depoliticization of the masses hammered by the loud television propaganda. France itself, the first child of democracy, although it has never had to fear the revolutionary storm that shook the other countries of Europe, arrived, late but surely, at a system of “personal power” and of a “stump parliament”, which does not differ from Fascism except for the fact that it triumphed without bloodshed and in a situation in which the working class was rendered amorphous by the zig-zagging and successive capitulations of its leaders. If the advent of the fascist society did not take place in a uniform and simultaneous way, it is first of all because it imposed itself first in the countries where the revolutionary threat existed, even after the repression of the revolution; secondly because it needed World War II to establish itself everywhere.
Each world conflict accelerated the process of totalitarian evolution of capitalism. Each war has strengthened police arbitrariness and the violation of “democratic norms”; this was true for the first world imperialist massacre, and it was true for the second one, and even more so, for example, for the Algerian war.
Wanting to fight fascism on the basis of the defense of democracy and on the basis of a coalition with the opportunist and petit-bourgeois parties, the Communist International made three main mistakes. First of all, an error of EVALUATION: where Moscow thought fascism saw a step backwards, it was, on the contrary, the vanguard and the final form of capitalism which, in its decadent phase, tends more and more to translate on the political and social level the totalitarian content it has already achieved on the economic level. Then, an error of TACTICS: the middle classes, which have long ceased to be combative classes, can only discourage and demoralize the proletariat. They are incapable of using the violence which they deny should be used in the struggle of the oppressed classes even to defend their own interests. Finally, an error of PRINCIPLES: siding in defense of democracy, the Communist International could not expect to return later to the revolutionary struggle for the destruction of this same democracy and, in fact, it never returned
These mistakes are not made immediately, but throughout the 20s, the 30 and 40s. During the 30s it seemed logical to many that the party of the proletariat, faced with a danger that some believed to be unprecedented, would ally itself with the social forces and parties equally threatened by fascism. Faced with the ruin of the democratic institutions, which the Communist Parties wanted to use, it was found normal that they would put aside their intransigent principles. It was thought that it was first of all necessary to save the juridical and social framework of democracy, ostensibly the most favorable to class agitation. And yet, in acting in this way, not only was the true nature of the fascist danger mistaken, but the notion of the specific tasks of the proletariat was lost. Against fascism, the communists of the time intended to “save democracy” not as an ideal political regime, but because they thought that the parliamentary republic would allow them to fight against capitalism more easily. But to their successors this democracy is imposed today as the final goal, as the END IN ITSELF. What’s more: while parliamentary democracy has lost all content, the irony of history has it that the late democrats, in whose first ranks are the national CPs, claim in turn the concepts that fascism had introduced in its time: NATIONAL GREATNESS, the cult of PRODUCTION, a taste for a STRONG AND STABLE STATE.
To the fascist offensive, to the violent and illegal intervention of the black and brownshirt squads, there was only one answer: that of proletarian violence, equally illegal. This was the only possibility, if not to immediately destroy the political forces that would ultimately prove to be more vulnerable than the hypocritical constitutionalism of the “democracies”, at least to resume the workers’ offensive in the troubled periods that were to follow, and to avoid the abyss of impotence and division that is the fate of the exploited classes today. The “realists” of opportunism believed that they could economize on the losses, sufferings and repression involved in the class struggle: they condemned the proletariat and mankind to suffer World War II and to see a capitalism “prosper” which survives only at the price of daily massacres.
After all, what for the International Party of the proletariat
was still only an ERROR, was already a CALCULATION for the hidden social forces
that maneuvered it.
Final revolutionary goals subordinated to national diplomacy
After the advent of Stalin, the Communist International no longer obeyed the general interests of the working class, but espoused RUSSIAN NATIONAL interests and ambitions. The cynical motives which the men of Peking denounce today in their Russian comrades began to manifest themselves in reality more than thirty years ago; and it is World War II which was to precipitate their assertion. Since the pressure of the proletariat was being channeled from Moscow towards the constitutional binary, since Russia ceased to be the advanced bastion of the revolution to become a NATIONAL STATE working to defend its interests, its production, its security, the fundamental antagonism of bourgeois society between proletariat and bourgeoisie had necessarily to give way to inter-imperialist antagonisms. In the defeated countries, in particular, the bourgeoisie could not fail, sooner or later, to try to break by force the circle of economic asphyxia in which the incoherent peace of Versailles had compressed it. War was foreseeable, fatal; war was impossible there as long as the Communist International was the advanced point of the revolutionary proletariat, it became imminent as soon as the USSR, lined up under the banner of “socialism in one country”, was only concerned with choosing the BEST SIDE in the conflict then taking shape. However, in order for the second imperialist world war to break out, it was still necessary to obtain the adhesion of the proletariat: this was what anti-fascism was for
In the previous article we left the USSR and the Communist International at the precise moment when the NATIONAL forces of the Russian economy, acting through Stalin and his accomplices, had succeeded in liquidating Lenin’s internationalist perspective in order to proceed to the construction, not of socialism, but of Russian capitalism. At the same time, the Communist International got rid of any leftist opposition (Trotskyist and non-Trotskyist) and aligned itself with Bukharin’s formula: “Act everywhere and always for the BEST INTERESTS OF RUSSIAN DIPLOMACY”.
Since 1929, the policy of the communist parties is aligned en bloc on this single goal. In those countries where the governments showed some ambition to reach an agreement with the USSR, the communists froze their social agitation, even if this had to break the reins of vast movements of demands. On the contrary, they launch reckless adventurist offensives in countries hostile to the USSR, even if this should decimate the worker vanguard and ruin the Party’s staff
According to the official history of the French Communist Party, it fought against fascism from day one. There was in fact no PROLETARIAN struggle under the banner of anti-fascism. Antifascism was diplomacy and war between states, patriotism and sacred union, BUT NEVER CLASS STRUGGLE. While it is true that in Italy, in 1922, the workers defended themselves factory by factory, city by city, against the fascist squads supported by the police, the army and even the navy of the bourgeois state, this struggle took place under the banner of revolution and communism – and not under that of the defense of constitutionalism and parliament. But in Germany, ten years later, when it would have been necessary to oppose the Brownshirts with the general strike, the proletariat’s only CLASS WEAPON, the German Communist Party presented its leader Thälmann in ELECTIONS for the presidency of the Reich. It thus renounced the armed response and ratified at the outset the DEMOCRATIC choice of the fascist petit-bourgeois that gave, of course, power to Hindenburg and Hitler.
No, there were not, in the historical arc of anti-fascism, heroic pages written in the name of the proletarian revolution and communism. Anti-fascism has plenty of heroism to spare, with its riflemen, its partisans, its deportees, its cannon fodder thrown into the meat grinders of the Pacific, of Stalingrad, or of Normandy, but it was a NATIONAL, PATRIOTIC heroism... a BOURGEOIS heroism, even if it was mainly workers who fell in battle. The chronicle of that time alone is enough to do justice to a self-styled communist and proletarian anti-fascism. Hitler seized power in 1933, but the Russian state, the state that still raised the flag of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, preserved towards him the benevolent diplomacy that it had shown to the late Weimar Republic. Moscow even found its advantage in the political reorganization and economic centralization undertaken by the new Reich: the Nazi system, strictly controlling high finance, accelerated the settlement of the debts contracted with Russia by German industry, the payment of which had been pending until then. While the CPs of all countries were raging against Hitler’s fascism, their “mother-house” in Moscow continued its “good relations” with the executioners who mass murdered German communists.
The Russian policy towards the Reich changed only in 1935, and not for ideological and social reasons, but for reasons of pure and simple national DIPLOMACY. In the meantime, the USSR had been accepted to the League of Nations, and the CPs celebrated the entry of the USSR into what Lenin called an imperialist GROUP OF BEASTS OF PREY. In Geneva, Germans and Russians mixed their votes against the French, British and Italians.
Against “collective security”, defended by the victorious countries, they opposed an equally dishonest “general disarmament”. As today, at the UN, the controversy on the suspension of nuclear tests, so the talk at the LoN served only to deceive the masses and to cover the sordid negotiations between States. The “Pact of Four”, which Mussolini proposed to France, England and Hitler’s Germany, had the effect of isolating Russia and put an end to the good relations between Moscow and Berlin. The reactionary Laval, head of the French government, was invited to Moscow in May 1935 to conclude a “pact of assistance” between the two countries. This twisted man cared little about the military clauses of a treaty, whose practical effectiveness was subject to the approval of the members of the LoN. What interested him greatly, however, was the possibility, by negotiating with the USSR, to stop the intense anti-militarist propaganda of the French communists. He succeeded perfectly in his calculation, and the bargaining was resolved in the most sensational breakthrough ever made by a workers’ party. At the bottom of the protocol of the agreement was added at his request this cynical sentence of Stalin: “Monsieur Staline (sic.) understands and approves without reservation the policy of national defense made by France to maintain its armed forces at the level of its security”. It was an explicit invitation to stop the campaigns of L’HUMANITÉ and it was well understood. The same Thorez who, on March 15, 1935, declared to the Chamber: “No, we will not allow the working class to be dragged into a war of defense of democracy against fascism”, the following year, at the time of the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine by the German armies, gave an ultra-patriotic speech in which he invoked Valmy, the “Sun of Austerlitz” and the Koblenz Emigration.
It’s at this point that our contemporary French Communist Party,
patriotic, chauvinist and Jacobin, is really born. This party still counts today
some of the men who, in 1923, at the time of the Ruhr occupation, incited the
French proletarians in military uniform to fraternize with the German workers.
But nothing remains of this authentic internationalism, not even the memory.
After the conversion to patriotism, it still remained for the PCF to stand up
for democracy and “national interests”. It did so in the course of the period
which will be the subject of the next article: the “great sun of June 1936” will
consecrate, with the Popular Front, the integration without possibility of
return of this party into the camp of the defenders of bourgeois values, into
the camp of social conservation which it has not left since.
The price for the "victory" of 1936
In the first two articles, we showed how the Third International, founded by Lenin and the Bolsheviks to destroy the bourgeois State, had come, after the defeat of the European revolution and the triumph in Russia of the Stalinist policy of “socialism in one country,” to defend the bourgeois State and parliamentarism, and to conclude for this purpose political agreements with the Second International, the International of traitors, of the zealous servants of capital.
This orientation, which had already been emerging for several years through the zigzags and political turns of the official “world communist movement”, imposed itself definitively in the period we are going to discuss now, that of the Popular Front. In Moscow’s slogans, the dictatorship of the proletariat is now replaced by the defense of republican institutions, and the advent of socialism is subordinated to the preservation and “perfection” of democracy. Already internationalists and convinced anti-militarists, the “communists” become proud patriots and avid partisans of the so-called “anti-fascist” war.
* * *
The communist position within the Popular Front was but the logical outcome of the evolution of which we have retraced the major stages, and yet it appeared, at the time, as a brutal and disconcerting turning point. After the annihilation of the German proletariat, the reappearance of the capitalist crisis had made World War II inevitable. Having abandoned all revolutionary prospects, the USSR prepared for it by seeking the most favorable possible alliances. The Communist International could only adopt a line in conformity with this policy: in the countries likely to become Russia’s allies, it ordered the Communists to put an end to all subversive propaganda and to support the bourgeois policy of “national defense”, that is, the military effort of national imperialism. In France, the PCF aligned itself with this policy in the aftermath of the Franco-Russian alliance pact of May 1935. It still had to be digested by the French proletariat, which was ill-prepared for it because of the anti-militarist traditions that the PCF itself had encouraged until recently. This was the work of the Popular Front, which succeeded in channeling a vast working-class battle into total adherence to anti-fascist policy, thus creating the conditions for a Franco-Russian alliance in the coming war. If the irony of history has it that this alliance did not last into the first years of the conflict, this does not detract from the fact that the PCF had effectively worked on the political and ideological preparation of the second imperialist war.
In fact, the official adherence of the PCF to the patriotic and national values it had fought against up to that time was accomplished during the great vindication movement of June 1936, under the aegis of an electoral coalition with the SFIO (Social-Democratic Party). From its enthusiastic adherence to the defense of the bourgeois parliament arose the ideological imposture that socialism would pass through the expansion of democracy rather than through its revolutionary destruction. Following the work-to-rule actions and the electoral victory of the Popular Front, the pretext that was to drag the working class into the second world carnage was discovered, spread and imposed: anti-fascism.
Only the PCF could achieve this political conditioning of the French proletariat. Only the PCF could make of its last class reactions a bargaining chip to obtain the admission of the USSR into the Western imperialist camp. Only it could offer to an electoral coalition the support of the working masses whose trust it enjoyed. Only it could solve the crisis of government that reigned in France and prepare a new national unity, an indispensable condition for the unleashing and continuation of every imperialist war. The PCF tried to carry out all these tasks with a zeal that today it likes to recall in order to justify its claims to the title of “the party of government": an innocuous insult to the revolutionary traditions, since the workers’ generations of yesterday are almost extinct and those of today are still unaware that the party of the late Thorez earned the stripes of which it boasts only by betraying the last proletarian struggle of the pre-war period.
* * *
The creation of the Popular Front was the result of the welding together of the political crisis of 1934 and the economic crisis of 1936. Evidenced by the instability of parliamentary majorities and the overthrow of governments every couple of days, the political crisis bore witness to the bewilderment of the French bourgeoisie as it emerged from the great world economic crisis of 1929. The stagnation of production, and the resulting unemployment, had provoked the unpopularity of the parliament, the restlessness of the middle classes, the discontent of the workers and the pressure of the bosses. In order to solve this crisis, it was necessary to achieve three objectives: to revive the economy (in the framework of the bourgeois regime, this could only be done by adopting the universal panacea of war production, and then of war itself); to rehabilitate parliament and calm down the middle classes (for this reason, the PCF had approached the middle classes by negotiating with the SFIO, the classical expression, since 1914, of the positions of the petit-bourgeoisie within the proletariat, and since 1914, by adopting the universal panacea of war production, and ended up by stripping its program of any reference to communism and revolution, in order to conquer it completely); to satisfy the workers’ demands (and this was the most difficult task, but some crumbs of “welfare” could be wrested from the bosses and, to convince the workers to limit themselves to this, there was all the weight and authority of the CGT, the French General Confederation of Labor, within which the communists had “reunited” with the reformist union bureaucrats of Jouhaux).
This vast enterprise lacked only one flag. Now, the struggle against fascism was at the same time necessary to create the psychology of war, to restore the attractiveness of parliament, and to keep at bay the workers, who always saw in fascism, whether it really existed or not, the terrible anti-proletarian repression of Hitler and Mussolini. It was only necessary that a political event gave an appearance of reality to the fascist threat in France: it was the dramatic day of February 6, 1934.
In order to understand the political consequences of this fateful date, we must not lose sight of the traditional characteristics of the French workers’ movement, the profound influence on it exerted by the whole history and structure of capitalism in France. A country in which the parochial peasantry has always been capital’s maneuvering mass against the proletariat; a usurious and speculative capitalism; a dynasty of petty-bourgeois politicians periodically compromised by financial scandals; finally, a few nationalist fossils put there on the extreme right to play the part of the patriotic vestal offended by the orgies of parliamentary corruption: here is the classic framework in which the political crisis of February 1934 broke out, when high-ranking Radical personalities found themselves mixed up in the affair of the false checks of the swindler Stavisky; when an anti-parliamentary maneuver of ultra-nationalist war veterans in Concordia Square suffered a barrage of mobile guards and left several dead on the ground.
French political life has always known of “ultras” minorities like the one demonstrating in Concorde Square. From Déroulède to Maurras, from the Croix-de-Feu to the OAS, there have always been exalted people who are steeped in traditions and “national values”, and who claim to dispute the monopoly of the parties “regularly designated” to play the game of capital.
As impotent as they are short-sighted, these scoundrels have never been anything other than reactionary bogeymen cleverly used by the “leftist” bourgeoisie to bring the petit-bourgeoisie and, following it, the workers under its sway. It is what is called the famous “republican reflex” is, the setting in motion of which has always been paid dearly by the proletarians. Already after the Dreyfus affair, at the beginning of the century, when a handful of royalists and clerics launched into intemperate demonstrations against the president of the republic, the workers spontaneously regrouped under the slogan of “liberties in danger” and under this pressure, in the socialist movement, the authentically Marxist fraction had to REINTEGRATE with all the opportunist and careerist rabble they had previously rid themselves of. Out of this fusion came the parliamentary and Jauressist SFIO, which was to found the infamous Union Sacrée of 1914.
In 1934, the “fascist threat” was no more real than the “monarchical danger” in 1902, but the reaction of “republican defense” from the workers workers had far worse consequences: it was the disappearance of the PCF as a PARTY DISTINCT from all those of the other social classes, it was the dissolution of proletarian energy in the chaos of the “will of the Nation”.
This is the debt that the French proletariat still pays today for having mobilized against a GHOST. Because in 1934 fascism, as the armed reaction of big capital, had already accomplished its task, that of exterminating proletarian cadres in countries where the communist revolution was a threat: which was not and had never been the case in France. In 1934, tout court fascism could only be the pretext of the imperialist war, and “French fascism” was a grotesque farce: because there was no fascist party worthy of the name in France; because such a party, without the massive support of the middle classes, is devoted to sinister but useless antics; because the middle classes in this country had never been on the verge of ruin like their counterparts in Germany and Italy, and the French economic turmoil was nothing compared with the bankruptcy of the other side of the Rhine; because the proletariat in France had never threatened the power of capital, and because its communist party had soon transformed itself back into the reformist and electoralist mechanism from which it had emerged; finally because the middle classes, having nothing to fear from this party and this proletariat, feared the military threat represented by Hitler far more than they admired its counter-revolutionary “merits
The social movement of the Popular Front, which social-democrats and communists in coalition intended to limit to a classical electoral coalition, favored in 1936 the outbreak of a wave of strikes on a scale never seen before by the French bosses.
In effect, the SFIO-PCF coalition made trade-union reunification possible, and this gave an explosive character to the discontent accumulated over 15 years of boses’ oppression and workers’ impotence. But this awakening, of which the political conjuncture had been the catalyst, expressed at the same time the emergence into social life of the new proletarian generation that had flocked to industry in the aftermath of the war. If the numerical importance of this influx broke the too narrow limits of the struggles prior to 1914, it nevertheless presented a negative aspect – that of a political immaturity which explains in part the ease with which the opportunists of the two Internationals were able to embed that flare-up of demands in a program marked by the dirtiest reformism.
The myth of the “victory” of June 1936 is based on a series of misunderstandings. First of all, the relative advantages obtained as a result of the strikes were not at all the result of the generosity of the new Popular Front government: they were literally snatched away from it, not without its efforts to limit them to a minimum. Moreover, the social “conquests” thus achieved were quickly canceled out by the (predictable) failure of the government’s program of petty-bourgeois reforms, as well as by the sacrifices immediately asked of the workers in the name of “national defense”, i.e. the preparation for imperialist war, Finally, the intervention of the state in labor contracts and social conflicts, although presented then as a “great democratic victory”, destroyed the last bastions of workers’ resistance to exploitation, and constituted a characteristic method of the FASCISM which socialists and communists claimed to fight.
The great strike wave of 1936 lasted the whole month of May. Beginning on the 11th in Le Havre and Toulouse, it spread on the 14th to the Paris region (where, on May 28, there were 100,000 strikers in the automobile sector), then to almost all the other provinces, affecting the most diverse categories. When, on June 4, the bosses broke off the negotiations after pretending to accept the demands made, there was a giant wave of strikes, involving a total of about 2 million workers. But the Popular Front government, headed by Socialist Blum and in operation since June 2, immediately launches an appeal for calm and order. Echoing this, the CGT, the PCF and the SFIO proclaimed themselves “determined to maintain order and discipline” and warned the workers against “provocations by the Croix-de-Feu”. L’HUMANITÉ wrote: “Those who are breaking the law are the bosses, Hitler’s agents, who do not want at any cost THE RECONCILIATION OF THE FRENCH, AND THEY ARE PUSHING THE WORKERS TO STRIKE”. Here is already outlined the vile formula (which the “communists”, who are now nationalists, will use even more cynically after the liberation), which makes the strike, the traditional weapon of the workers, “a weapon of the trusts”. One can already see, while the strike is in full effervescence, the maturation of the senseless thesis according to which it is the capitalists who sabotage their production and thus “the national interest” (as if this could be anything other than the general interests of Capital!) and it is the workers who must defend them!
Thus, as early as June 1936, the PCF clearly enunciates what the Popular Front means to it: THE RECONCILIATION OF THE FRENCH PEOPLE, national unity, “the sponge for internal unrest”, patriotic discipline; a policy, in short, which will enable capitalism to carry out, without too many social difficulties, its second historical carnage. “We extend our hand to you, Catholic, worker, clerk, peasant,” - Thorez had already said on the eve of the elections - “national volunteer, veteran who became a Croix-de-Feu, because you are a child of the people, BECAUSE YOU SUFFER AS WE DO FROM DISORDER AND CORRUPTION... “.
This language had a meaning that went beyond the
liquidation of the class struggle: that of the ideological PRETEXT that had
allowed the abandonment of the class struggle. There are no longer any
“reactionaries” or “fascists”, only good Frenchmen. It is useless to ask what a
workers’ party can do when it has reached this level of vileness! Its main
concern is to put the exploited back to work. It is not yet, to the letter, the
cynical “roll up your sleeves” that Thorez will formulate after the liberation;
but it is already the spirit of it. “one must know how to finish a strike”, says Thorez on June 14, “at the moment that the main points have been
obtained... and come to the COMPROMISE in order to save our forces, but
ESPECIALLY in order not to facilitate the panic campaign organized by the
The preceding article had concluded with quotations from the most blatant statements, made by Thorez, about a tactic intended to reabsorb the instinctive class drive of the proletariat into the great sea of legality, democracy, the fatherland and thus the defense of the capitalist regime in France.
Here is the overwhelming proof, the irrefutable proof of the CAPITULATION of degenerate communism before capitalism. In its initial platform, the Communist International advocated support for the workers’ demands so that, at a certain stage of their development, the agitation would leave the economic framework and provoke DISORDER, that is, the social crisis that would allow the organized proletariat to seize power, to exercise its dictatorship and to destroy the infamous bourgeois order. This was in 1920. In 1936, for the “communists” of Mr. Stalin, “DISORDER” can only be the work of reactionaries and fascists, and the workers are asked to sacrifice their livelihoods in order to defend the “order” that exploits them, starves them, and tomorrow will send them to the great patriotic slaughter. “It is not a question of taking power at the present,” Thorez had said on June 11. In fact, it is not a question of taking power at all, neither “at present”, nor ever: when one confines oneself to electoral competitions, when one affirms that there is a national interest above the classes, it is always to the bourgeoisie that one abandons power. In 1936, the cycle of degeneration of Moscow communism is completed. It still has many infamies to accomplish, before and after the formal dissolution of the Third International, but it is already proved that our current was right when, since 1920, it warned the whole International that, in case of an International reflux of the proletariat, the tactic of the single front would be fatal to it.
According to Lenin, in fact, the single front had to unmask the betrayal of the socialists, snatch from them the working class mass that they were deceiving, bring this mass to the field of the armed struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. A blatant caricature of the single front, the popular front RECONCILED THE PCF WITH THE SOCIALISTS, marked the renunciation of the revolutionary power of the Soviets, saved capitalist democracy, and defended the bourgeois order.
To Blum, “loyal manager of capitalism” supported by these new-style “communists”, it fell to him, a few years later, to reveal the whole truth about the popular front and the strikes of June 1936. Cited by Pétain as an accused at the Riom trial after the armistice of 1940, Blum will say, giving the most concise and brutal definition of the counterrevolutionary task entrusted to a “workers” government acting within the framework of a bourgeois state: “I have let, it is true, the factories be occupied, but I have always retained control of the streets”. THE STREETS, that is, the place where the first skirmishes are fought against the forces of the bourgeois State, the place where the struggle for the destruction of this State STARTS, where the fate of every mass social agitation is decided (in the streets, let’s say it again, and not in the counting of votes gained in the elections!) every time the proletariat abandons this terrain of struggle – even if it paralyzes capitalist production for a certain period – it is hopelessly beaten.
The strikes of 1936 ended with the Matignon Agreements. The workers gained some wage increases, the 40-hour week, paid vacations. These increases were quickly absorbed by Blum’s devaluation, which capitulated before the “wall of money.” The 40 hours didn’t last much longer, quickly wiped out by the extra hours needed for the NATIONAL DEFENSE. As for paid vacations, they too became “vacations”... free of charge for mobilization. In this balance sheet, we are too quick to evaluate the “assets”, but the “liabilities” have not yet been fully evaluated. Immediately there was the disappearance of any class principle in the parties and in the trade unions; the “communists” REVERSED the fundamental criticism made by Lenin to parliamentary democracy, which the International, even when it had become opportunist, had always considered only as a MEANS of agitation of the proletariat.
For them, democracy became the supreme END, no longer distinguished from socialist aims: that is, the REVOLUTION was totally repudiated.
The Popular Front was at the same time the intense preparation of the workers for the ideology of war, the resurrection of patriotism and even of chauvinism, the destruction of all the efforts made by Lenin to wrest the proletariat from capitalist influence
The Popular Front was to die its beautiful death in France in
1938, when Blum’s successor in government, the radical Daladier, denounced it in
order to repress at ease the general strike proclaimed by the CGT against its
“misery decrees”. If the euphoria of June 1936 was to reserve dramatic days for
the workers, their movement never left the limits of the classic reformism of
all popular electoral coalitions, which everywhere have always suffered the same
From the defeat of the Spanish proletariat to the imperialist war
We have seen that the victory of the Popular Front in France had had as its main social result the liquidation of the great strikes of June 1936. The “struggle against fascism”, which ended with some ephemeral improvement in the condition of the workers, had been only the pretext that had allowed them to line up in defense of national, democratic, BOURGEOIS values.
What in France had been reduced to a classic electoral farce, was to take in Spain the dimensions of a tragedy. Here the totalitarian offensive of the bourgeoisie was a reality, and the workers’ response was an armed insurrection. Consequently, the social significance of anti-fascism, the true political role of its promoters, and the counter-revolutionary character of the degenerated communist parties, was to appear in full light. In Spain, anti-fascism was essentially the annulment of the expropriations carried out by the proletarian insurrection; the restoration of the police and of the authority of the bourgeois State in the name of military discipline; the murder of revolutionaries under the pretext of the “struggle against the fifth column” and of “unity against Franco”.
By proclaiming, in 1917, the need to transform the imperialist war into a revolutionary civil war, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had opened a revolutionary phase of history. In order to close it, the last social explosion of this phase had to be reabsorbed into anti-fascism and class collaboration; a civil war had to be transformed into the prologue of a new imperialist war.
In fact, just a few months after the surrender of Barcelona and
the military defeat of the “Frente Popular”, the Second World War broke out. It
was then possible to see on the French front of the “strange war” Spanish
Republican war veterans who had traded their uniform of anti-fascist militiamen
for that of the tricolor of the “great democracy”: a symbol that, in spite of
the turns of Moscow’s war policy, gives reason to the Stalinists who claim the
CONTINUITY of their anti-fascism. “The resistance of us Communists,” Billoux
would declare in a post-war election speech, “began in Spain.” This is correct,
on the condition, however, that we give to the terms “anti-fascism” and
“patriotic resistance” their common meaning of renunciation of the revolutionary
struggle against all forms, fascist or otherwise, of capitalist domination.
The true meaning of the Spanish Civil War
In Lenin’s formula, war between modern States means imperialist war of direct competition against all workers, while civil war is class war of the international proletariat against all bourgeoisies. The complexity of the Spanish War derives from the fact that it participates in both aspects. Civil war, because the proletariat intervened violently, disrupting the institutions of the bourgeois state. But also capitalist war, because this revolutionary assault was diverted into a struggle conducted under the ideological banner of the future imperialist war and according to the rules of social discipline designed to establish and strengthen the authority of the bourgeois state. Precisely because, in Spain, the revolution was immediately beaten by the counter-revolution, precisely because two equally bourgeois governments – the Republican and the Francoist – aspired to the leadership of the State apparatus serving the exact same class, precisely because the Spanish proletariat was misled about the nature of its struggle, and, on the basis of this precedent, all the proletarians of the world could be convinced that, within the same mode of production, exploiting and oppressing States could fight for "Freedom" against others who denied it.
At the basis of every armed struggle there is a conflict of material interests. Those of Franco’s fascist reaction were all too evident; those of the workers who responded to him with insurrection were no more mysterious. The initial conflict was one between capitalism and the proletariat. Only by diverting the workers’ insurrection from its primordial objectives could it be transformed into a conflict between “the democratic ideal” and “fascist barbarism”....
The workers’ response to the Francoist offensive burst forth at a time when international war, the only capitalist solution to the capitalist crisis, was just a stone’s throw away. The main conditions for its outbreak are now in place, since the only class that could hinder it, the proletariat, is defeated, and its international party, which has become a simple appendage of the Russian national interests, accepts the eventuality. The insurrection that broke out in Barcelona at the news of Franco’s landing, seems to turn the situation upside down: the bourgeoisie has reason to fear that, following the example of the Spanish workers, the proletarians of Europe will recover, and reconstitute their class front. Therefore it is a vital necessity for it that, at any cost, the armed struggle against Franco ceases to be a revolution. In the Spanish “scam”, the immediate interests of the great powers contradict themselves, but the interest of capitalism in general is quite clear: to integrate the Barcelona insurrectionaries in a regular army under the orders of a bourgeois government
To achieve this, an ideology that is not a revolutionary is needed; workers’ parties that do not fight or no longer fight capitalism are needed. This ideology is anti-fascism, these parties are the parties of the two degenerate Internationals; the frente popular will be its social reason. And, because the danger to capitalism is great, because the Spanish working class is resolute and heroic, the maneuver is ruthless, the struggle is terrible on all fronts: on the military front, where Franco’s mercenaries, armed with ultra-modern weaponry, exterminate without quarter the militias armed with old rifles, going so far as to massacre the prisoners; on the political front, where the “forces of order” of the republican camp do not even flinch from mass assassination to eliminate the revolutionary leaders.
The Spanish Civil War reached peaks of violence and horror that
have remained memorable. This is because the revolutionary way in which the
Spanish proletariat responded to fascism was intolerable for the bourgeois
democrats and their opportunist allies in the workers’ ranks. We have already
said that the antifascists have never fought against their alleged adversary: in
a very precise situation, in which their slogan ceased to be an electoral slogan
and became an armed struggle carried out by the most combative fraction of the
working class with its class means, the Stalinist antifascists in the lead,
could only sabotage this action and these means. They did so by returning to the
landowners and capitalists what the insurrection had confiscated from them, by
restoring the republican State, by proclaiming the government’s will to
re-establish “respect for order and property”. If Franco triumphed, it is due in
good part to the effectiveness of this work of undermining the revolutionary
work: it deprived the struggling workers of the only force against which the
tanks, airplanes and the most bloodthirsty mercenaries are powerless:
revolutionary conviction, the dictatorial will of the armed proletarians.
The permanent crisis of Spanish capitalism
At the beginning of the century, two countries in Europe were infallibly to become, according to Lenin, the scene of social revolutions: Russia, and Spain. Both enclosed a mercantile economy within the retrograde framework of a pre-capitalist state; both were shaken by incessant popular unrest. But, while the Russian proletariat, highly concentrated, had acquired the doctrine of scientific socialism, the Spanish proletariat was scattered in a few cities here and there, and organized according to the utopian principles of federalist and petit-bourgeois anarchism. Moreover, Tsarist Russia, dragged into the whirlwind of the First World War, was to collapse under the blows of the revolution that this war had matured. Spain, on the contrary, remained on the sidelines of the great storm; it was not affected by capitalist contradictions until the time of the great world crisis of 1929, that is, at the very moment when the international communist revolution was definitely defeated.
For its part, the Spanish bourgeoisie, enriched and corrupt throughout its history, allied itself with the feudal classes instead of overthrowing them with a democratic revolution. As a result, the Spanish economy only had big industry in some regions, and, on the other hand, an industry controlled by English capital. Hence the importance of the army in political life, the dominance of the large landowners the complicity of the bourgeois radicals in their regard, all aspects of the backward situation in which a bourgeoisie was struggling “unable to undertake the slightest reform, without the proletariat jumping down their throats.”
After a stunted existence until the war of 1914-18, this bourgeoisie found relative prosperity in the shadow of the paternalistic dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, which some social-democrats – especially Caballero, future leader of Spanish anti-fascism – gave their support. The general economic crisis of 1929 put an end to this stability, and opened, starting in 1930, with the fall of De Rivera, the stormy period that would lead to the events of 1936. The Republic, in the meantime replaced by the monarchy, proved equally impotent in overcoming the economic and social difficulties. After each election, the “lefts” came to power, and drowned the increasingly powerful protest movements in blood. In 1931, the republican Azana and the socialist Caballero declared that “the republic is in danger” and instituted compulsory arbitration of social conflicts: in January 1932, the social-democrats congratulated them for their repressive action against strikes.
In September 1932, a bastardized land reform uplifted the peasants.
In January 1933, there were strikes in Malaga, Bilbao, Zaragoza. The bourgeois left and the socialists, after having taken on the role of watchdogs of Capital, passed the hand to the right: so we had the landowner government of Gil Robles and Lerroux. In October 1934, the Asturias insurrection was violently repressed, and between that date and February 1936, 80,000 people were imprisoned. Those that the FRENTE POPULAR claimed to oppose the advance of fascism participated in all these repressions. Its majority, victorious in the elections of June 1935, included the republican left (Azana), socialists, communists and even the “Syndicalist Party”. It was supported by the anarchists (CNT-FAI) and the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) of Trotskyist inspiration,
Thus, on the eve of the Spanish tragedy, a simple examination of
the range of political parties and their alliances revealed two essential facts:
the majority of the Popular Front was composed of the parties that had supported
all the previous repressions; the only two movements that called upon the
proletarian and revolutionary tradition were linked to a coalition led by the
very ones that had proven to be the best defenders of the bourgeois order.
This installment concludes the series of articles on the Popular Front, in its distant origins and in its manifestations closer to us; and, in particular, on the function it had in channeling the proletarian forces first toward respect for “republican legality” in France, then toward the renunciation of revolutionary action in Spain, and finally toward the slaughter of World War II.
Three days of insurrection – Three years of counterrevolution
Franco launches his coup d’état on July 17. The indignation that greeted this news among democrats of all countries concealed a terrible factual truth: it was the democrats of the Frente Popular who had “let it happen”, who had let the door wide open to the future dictator. The fascist plot was quietly organized within the Spanish General Staff, basically right under the eyes of the republican ministers, and that after Azana had declared to the Cortes that “any fascist danger was excluded”. In reality, these "republicans" had prepared the ground for Franco, since he was able to gain a foothold precisely in those agricultural regions that the repression of peasant struggles had totally disarmed. Another republican, Zamora, had to make it clear that the government had not seriously tried to hinder him: “The Spanish bourgeoisie would not have resisted Franco without popular pressure”. On the other hand, these same men, after the unleashing of Franco’s offensive, still tried – but in vain – to negotiate with the Caudillo.
Franco’s initial plan, which consisted of landing in force and gathering around him the entire military apparatus of the government, failed because of the lightning response of the workers, who, especially in Barcelona, fraternized with the soldiers, disarmed the officers and ruled the street; the civil guards went into hiding; the proletariat commanded and immediately began a vast program of expropriations, tending to bring production, commerce and transport under its control. Unfortunately, while it totally focused on the realization of this ambitious task, it neglected to deal with what, in every revolution, is the really essential question: State power, a class dictatorship. During those feverish days, the bourgeois State is not destroyed, it is merely put on hold. Anarchists and Trotskyists, who lead the workers, ignore or “forget” that the capitalist State cannot be destroyed without putting the proletarian State in its place. The former, fierce opponents of any Statism, leave in place what already exists. The latter follow the line which had already been fatal to the Third International; that of substituting a “workers’ government” for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Deprived of the revolutionary communist party, the Spanish proletariat could only spend its heroism in vain. The insurrectionary week did not result in the victory of the revolution. At the end of July, the CNT and the POUM gave orders to suspend the general strike without the nature of the State having been changed. Almost immediately the bourgeois State, in this case the government of the Generality of Catalonia, “naturally” resumed its functions, relying on its traditional gendarmerie. The workers’ militias, and the other bodies born spontaneously from the insurrection, were stripped of all political prerogatives and subordinated to being simple appendages of the bourgeois government: the Central Committee of the Militia and the Central Committee of the Economy, under the rule of the socialists. Through these bodies controlled by the political forces that went over to the bourgeoisie, the capitalist State, after a few days on vacation, was set in motion again. The Spanish Revolution was over, the Spanish War was about to begin.
The greatest concern of the republican government was to channel workers’ militancy into purely military operations. It was the surest way to stifle any revolutionary ambition. The “war first” slogan implied in effect the unity of the classes within the republican camp, the absolute submission of workers’ organizations to the authority of the government and the liquidation of any attack on capitalist property, both in the city and in the countryside. This last measure, moreover, will be fatal to the republicans. Franco would have been powerless against a massive militant struggle by the Spanish peasantry: the example of the October Revolution proves that, in essentially agricultural countries, it is the attitude of the peasants that decides the fate of arms. By confiscating from the Spanish peasants the lands they had wrested from the landowners, the republican government threw them back into Franco’s camp or, at least, detached them from a struggle that could give them nothing more. Such a conflict is not won on the military terrain, but on the social terrain, by raising all the dispossessed against the adversary and arming their millions. But the Frente Popular’s line was not revolutionary, it was bourgeois-democratic; it did not express a proletarian dictatorship, but a hybrid coalition of opportunists, petit-bourgeois and bourgeois; it did not call for the reconstitution of an international class front against capitalism as a whole, but speculated on the alliances in the making of the future imperialist war. Thus, it sent the most militant contingents to the front, promised the petty bourgeoisie to return its property to it, used patriotic slogans instead of class slogans, and created a situation which international capitalism could exploit to the full.
At first, with the military help of Mussolini and Hitler, it succeeded in increasing tenfold the offensive potential of Spanish fascism and in forcing the revolutionary wing of the Frente Popular to “discipline itself”, that is, to sacrifice to the war all the positions won by the workers: this was when the “great democracies” decided not to intervene. In a second time, the same capitalism could, through Russian pressure and the political action of the International Brigades, decapitate, within the republican camp, all that existed of revolutionary will. Stalinism became here the most effective instrument of capitalist conservation, not only in Spain, where it worked essentially to increase day by day the prerogatives of the bourgeois State, but also in the other countries of Europe, especially in France, where the “solidarity” it advocated was not a class solidarity consisting in fighting against one’s own bourgeoisie, the only way to practice internationalism within the national framework, but a nationalist solidarity, which called for “planes for Spain” in the spirit of a war against Hitler.
At this moment, on the other hand, everything that might recall the tradition of the Russian October agonizes, disheartened, murdered. While certain elements of the International Brigades in Spain devote themselves to police repression against the POUM or the CNT; while Blum in France goes on the counter-offensive and decrees a “pause”; while the USSR charges in advance and in sound gold a timid aid to the republicans, the macabre farve of the “Moscow trials” unfolds. On the eve of tying itself to one or another of the imperialist coalitions in action, the USSR offers. as a guarantee to the international bourgeoisie. the heads of Lenin’s last comrades on a plate. This mass murder makes it possible to discredit the Trotskyists in the eyes of the workers of the whole world and, in Spain, to proceed without difficulty to their physical elimination.
In fact, in Spain, anti-fascism is no longer concerned at this time with concealing its counter-revolutionary face. For months, the Popular Front government, firmly led by the “communists” who had implanted themselves following the military aid agreements concluded in Moscow, had been striving to take back from the workers all that they had won through a bitter struggle a year before, and, in particular, the management of the expropriated enterprises. In March 1937, in Barcelona, the Sofina trust was returned to its capitalist board of directors. In the same city, in May, the “communist” Salas, “commissioner of public order” attempts, with his storm troopers, to seize the telephone exchange in the hands of the CNT. This was the signal for a general strike, which was spontaneous because neither the CNT nor the POUM had given the order. The repression that followed offered Stalin’s men the right for a long meditated “purge”: the Trotskyist Andreas Nin was kidnapped and killed by “irregular elements”; the anarchist Berneri was arrested and executed in the premises of the Barcelona police. The despicable campaign orchestrated around the Moscow trials clearly indicates what the inspiration for these crimes was. The CNT and POUM protest, but do not break with the government, demonstrating to what outstanding degree the last organizations referring to the revolutionary tradition of the proletariat have fallen. In order to sell its help to the Republicans, the USSR had demanded the replacement of Caballero with Negrin. The latter, docile, immediately outlawed the POUM and tried, but failed, to mount a “trial” against them, similar to the one in Moscow. This same government masks the weariness and discontent of the masses by launching the slogan of “resistance to the end”. In reality, it will abandon Madrid, Valencia, then Barcelona, and that will be the end. Part of the sad cohort of refugees and republican soldiers will cross the border, where, on the other side of the Pyrenees, their democratic comrade Blum will close them in concentration camps.
If the Spanish War laid bare the true role of the Popular Front governments as servants of reaction, it was equally fatal to the fractions of the extreme left that these governments had supported. Anarchism, which had always considered with horror the mere idea of a proletarian State, discredited itself by sending its representatives to play the part of ministers in a bourgeois government. The POUM, which, following Trotsky, was banking on the possibility of a revolutionary intervention of the proletariat by exploiting the antagonism between democracy and fascism, had to witness not only the assassination of the Spanish revolution, but also the reinforcement of the Stalinist imposture and the defamation of Lenin’s old comrade, who was to be murdered two years later when an assassin in the NKVD payroll struck an ice pick blow on him.
Our current, in the road of the Italian Communist Left, drew,
since then, all the lessons of the Spanish events. Fascism and democracy are not
two opposite ways of the domination of capital, but two different political
attitudes of the exact same class, depending on whether or not this class is
threatened by the revolution. The proletariat must therefore not “opt” for one
or the other of these forms, but destroy both of them. Today, after all, the
content of fascism has been adopted by all the States of the world after the
Second World War: despite the victory of the democracies!
From the defeat of the Spanish proletariat to the second imperialist war
The war of 1939-45 was the last stage of the opportunist decomposition of Moscow “communism”. It concluded the historical cycle that we have summarized in the course of these articles and which, beginning with the tactical errors of the Third International, was to end with the Popular Front in class collaboration with bourgeois parties and governments.
In the eyes of future historians – if not yet in the eyes of their contemporaries, always deceived by the imposture of Russian “socialism” – World War II will mark the inevitable threshold which, once crossed by the renegades of the Kremlin and their servile acolytes in other countries, will forbid them any possibility of returning to what had been their original political function. After the war, the Third International will have disappeared, the CPs will have become nationalist, democratic and constitutional parties; while Stalin’s “socialism in one country” will gradually reveal its true economic and social content, that of a capitalism to which the superhuman efforts of the Russian proletariat, the dismantling of Hitler’s Reich with Soviet participation in the imperialist curatorship, and the retreat of Anglo-Saxon capital from central Europe, will allow it to take its place among the great states that dominate and exploit the world. While the Spanish proletariat agonized, important international events had prepared the way for World War II. In March 1938, Hitler had annexed Austria; in September, his Freikorps occupied the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. A last minute negotiation postponed the test of strength in the face of which the “democrats" were still retreating. In August of the following year, while the military negotiations between France and the USSR were dragging on, Moscow brutally broke off the negotiations and signed the non-aggression pact with Germany that was to unleash Hitler’s armored divisions on Poland. It was the debut of the Second World Imperialist War.
We have already seen that Russian diplomacy, after the power of the Soviets had definitively renounced the European communist revolution, had adopted a double-barreled social strategy. On the one hand, the Western CPs endeavored to conciliate the middle classes by promising them a “socialism” without bloodshed; on the other hand, it nourished in the proletariat the hope of a future revolutionary assault on bourgeois power. To its electoral clientele, the French Communist Party in particular declared that the strengthening of national defense would make it possible to neutralize Hitler’s “homicidal madness”. To the party cadres and militants, on the other hand, it explained that, in order to save the Russian “socialist motherland”, it was necessary to divert this same “madness” towards the West, and that, in the final analysis, Communism could only emerge victorious from the ensuing conflict.
It was a double lie. No “national defense” can prevent war: this is not the result of the “warlike madness” of a single energetic man, but of the accumulation of capital. As for the hope of a revolution following the imperialist war, it was impossible in the same measure that those who promised it placed themselves on the ground of chauvinism rather than on that of internationalism. This fallacious promise had its most resounding denial when, in the aftermath of the Liberation, the degenerate communists asked the workers to renounce their immediate demands, essential to their livelihood, in order to remake France (or Italy in another form) into a “great nation”. When one has deserted internationalism, one can never return to it. Undoubtedly, the CPs have become patriots in the name of Russian national interests; but here they are condemned to remain so even after the conflicts and schisms within the “socialist bloc” have shattered Stalinist monopolism. Better still, they have become even more so, as each CP constructs its own and exclusive path to socialism....
It is not necessary here to linger on the patriotic disappointments of the French CP at the time of the Russian-German pact. The fact that in 1939 an agreement between the governments of Moscow and Paris proved impracticable; that one wanted to unload on the other the first military shock; that the French bourgeoisie dreamed of obtaining the support of the Russian divisions without granting Stalin the territorial compensations he demanded, is of little importance. It was one of those bargains in which swindling the comrade is the rule of the game, and we leave it to the political heirs of Thorez to prove that their national interest, according to Stalin, was “the really understood” national interest. What matters to us, in this policy, is that the proletariat was sacrificed there to national, hence capitalist, interests, it matters little whether these were the national interests of Russia, France, or both.
On the other hand, the Russian-German pact which in its time scandalized the philistines so much (including those of the PCF, among whom it caused such a stir) was only an interlude that was soon forgotten. When Russia was in turn invaded by Hitler, the “communists” were able to freely compete with the renegade socialists of the other great sacred union to see who could be the most chauvinist. That they paid largely in person, that we do not deny; the only thing we formally dispute with them is that their participation in the Resistance was compatible with the doctrine and program defined by Lenin and the Third International. It is with the Popular Front that they had totally repudiated communism: in the aftermath of the war, nothing remained of it in their party: the will to overthrow capitalism had given way to the cult of capitalist constitutions; class revolt had been replaced by “social progress”.
* * *
This is what was the main result of a period that called itself “Popular Front” but which really should be named International Defeat of the Proletariat. This defeat has at least shamed the clique of opportunists against whom we fought desperately forty years ago when, using as a pretext a momentary reflux in the social struggle, they effectively liquidated the entire historical program of the proletariat. So let them mourn their “golden age” of 1936! Fortunately, the virginity of a proletarian party serves only once. Tomorrow it will no longer be possible to enchant the workers with such nefarious “victories”: when the proletariat will shake itself out of its torpor, it will be in order to return directly to the tradition of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. October 1917, by degenerating, has granted capitalism a too long postponement of punishment. But its condemnation is unavoidable, because it is identified with the revolt of a class that can be beaten or deceived, but whose reserves of revolutionary energy are never exhausted.