The people of France are passing through a tragic period. Our country has been overwhelmed by the frightful disaster of the imperialist war, defeat and foreign invasion. Hundreds of thousands of young, healthy men laid down their lives on the battlefields. There are not enough hospitals to accommodate the tremendous numbers of wounded, sick and crippled. Two million soldiers who have been taken prisoner are condemned to hard labor. Their food consists of nothing more than a bowl of rice a day. Epidemics are rampant among them; they are doomed to a slow death. Millions of unfortunates, driven from their homes by the invasion, are still roaming the roads of France in abject misery.
Scores of towns and hundreds of villages have been destroyed. The fertile fields of Flanders, of Picardy, of lie de France, have been laid waste. Everything is in a state of ruin and utter desolation. Multitudes of workers find their factories deserted or pillaged. Back home, the demobilized soldiers find themselves without work and quite often without family and shelter. Mothers, widows and orphans weep over their lost husbands, sons and fathers. The physical and moral sufferings caused by the war are aggravated by the bitterness of defeat and the burden of foreign domination.
Many were stunned by the swift course of the events. They could hardly comprehend the extent of the catastrophe. Many have given way to a feeling of gloom and dejection which borders on despair. But there is also another voice heard ever more distinctly, a forceful voice which calls: “We want to know who are those responsible for the disaster! We demand their speedy punishment. We demand that the rulers, the responsible parliamentarians, the incompetent generals, the cowards and traitors are punished as they deserve for their vicious crimes against the people, against France.”
The capitulators of Vichy are in a hurry to stage the farce at Riom in order to obscure the real issue, the question of the actual, the root causes of the imperialist war and France’s defeat. By placing the sole responsibility for the debacle at the door of their predecessors in power, the present rulers hope to be able to conceal from the masses of the people the truth that it is the entire bourgeoisie as a class, and its regime of capitalist oppression and exploitation, that is primarily to blame. Petain and Laval are staging a trial against Mandel and Reynaud in order to escape a true trial in which the people would act as judges.
If the trial were to be taken at all seriously, the least to be expected would be the restoration and extension of popular liberties; it would have to be a trial at which every soldier who had fought at the front, every victim of the war and every toiler would be given the opportunity to appear in court and testify to what they had gone through. It would have to be a public trial, with wide publicity in a free press, so that the masses would be in a position to exercise control over the proceedings.
This is not the case, however, in the so-called Supreme Tribunal which has been illegally set up by the- men who engineered the coup d’etat. Moreover, this Tribunal is made up of some of the worst reactionaries, who sit behind closed doors and permit only those things to be said that serve the interests of the Government and its German and Italian patrons.
The trial at Riom is also designed to divert the just anger of the people into channels desirable to the reactionaries. It is one of the means employed by the new regime in its effort to win over the vacillating sections of the urban and rural middle classes. By prosecuting some of the manifestly most compromised politicians, such as Daladier and Blum, the Government of Vichy really hopes to discredit the People’s Front, through which the Daladiers and Blums came to power only to betray it in the most disgraceful fashion. Its aim is to discredit the working class, which is the soul of the people’s resistance to the attacks of the reaction. And there is a distinct anti-Semitic note running through the overture preceding the trial, by which the Vichy government hopes to get into the good graces of Berlin and Rome.
It goes without saying that the Communists have not the slightest sympathy for the accused in the trial at Riom. We, and we alone, had the courage to brand them as warmongers and traitors to the people long before the present catastrophe. At that time these men were encouraged in their criminal policy by those who today are staging the farce of a trial. And before the outbreak of the war, we alone fought the policy of “non-intervention,” the policy of Munich and of insane hostility toward the Soviet Union, the policy that led to the big betrayal.
At that time the gentlemen of Vichy could hardly conceal their malicious glee and did everything to encourage the Blums and Daladiers. We, at the head of the revolutionary working people, were the only ones who fought against the imperialist war which all the parties, including the Socialists, defended. That was why our Party was banned and persecuted, our legal press suppressed, our deputies robbed of their mandates, the adherents of the Communist Party hounded, and thousands of them thrown into prison and concentration camps. Our deputies were arrested and condemned, and they still languish in prison, because in their letter addressed to the despicable Herriot they dared demand the conclusion of peace when it was still possible on favorable terms, before the debacle of May and June, before our country was ruined, before it was compelled to submit to a foreign yoke. But that demand ran counter to the designs of the enemies of the people, the 200 families and their worthy agents, the whole gang that clamored for death to the Communists.
The direct and enormous responsibility of the reactionary clique now in power becomes particularly evident when we examine the causes of France’s collapse more closely. It is beyond any doubt that the principal reason for the collapse was the ruling bourgeoisie’s fear of the people, its mortal hatred of the working class, of the international working class movement, of Communism, of the Soviet Union —the bulwark of the world proletariat.
War is the continuation of politics by other means. Before the war the French bourgeoisie pursued a reactionary policy, which became even more pronounced during the war which its greed and rapacity had unleashed. Before the war the bourgeoisie pursued a policy of attack upon the working class and the masses of the people, a policy of violent reaction against the People’s Front which had considerably improved the lot of the laboring masses, extended their liberties and aroused great hopes throughout the World. During the war the attack upon the working class, upon the laboring masses, was carried on with even greater violence. It may well be said that that was the only war the French bourgeoisie really waged. All the social gains of 1936 were abolished, all the liberties of the people were abrogated. The trade unions which remained true to the interests of the workers were dissolved and their functionaries thrown into prison. The “Socialist” Serol introduced the death penalty for revolutionary proletarians. At the same time the Cagoulard murderers, the Fifth Column traitors and spies in the employ of foreign powers, were given full freedom to carry on their nefarious activities.
In its foreign relations the French bourgeoisie pursued a policy of conspiracy with the imperialists who today are despoiling our people, a policy of appeasement, of surrender, of betrayal, exemplified by the treaty of Rome, “non-intervention,” the strangling of the Spanish Re public, the imperialist conspiracy against the Soviet Union. The most pronounced feature of the foreign policy of capitalist France before the war, as well as during the war, was its rabid hostility toward the Soviet Union, the great land of socialism and peace. This policy was pursued in violation of the pact of mutual assistance between France and the Soviet Union, which was the surest guarantee of peace our people had and the most powerful security of its independence. Actuated by the criminal design to incite the German empire to make war upon the Soviet Union, the French bourgeoisie made one concession after another to Germany. And even when war had already been declared, our infamous rulers still cherished the hope of an armed conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union. At the same time they insolently plotted acts of provocation against the Soviet Union. They armed the Finnish White Guards; they organized the army of the Near East with Weygand as commander- in-chief; hatched plans for air raids upon Baku and Batum, and hoped to draw Turkey into war against the Soviet Union. This has been fully confirmed by the revealing correspondence between Weygand and Ambassador Massigli.
In view of all this, is it to be wondered that the war of the capitalists, the war waged for imperialist interests and with reactionary methods, which divided and weakened the people, ended in defeat and debacle? That is the cause of the present tragedy. That is the enormous crime of the bourgeoisie!
In a lecture delivered on May 27, 1917, in Petrograd, Lenin recalled the glorious example which our people had once set:
“Just as within the country the French revolutionary people displayed a revolutionary energy witnessed for the first time in centuries, so in this war at the end of the eighteenth century they displayed enormous revolutionary genius; they remolded the whole system of strategy, they broke all the old laws and customs of war; and in place of the old army they created a new revolutionary people’s army and introduced new methods of warfare.” (V. I. Lenin, War and the Workers, p. 16, International Publishers, New York.)
In 1792 the people themselves took up arms, because they were aware that they were fighting for their own cause and, at the same time, for the cause of human progress. At the head of the armies raised by Carnot the Convention placed generals who were twenty- two years, of age. The enemies of the people, the traitors and incompetents were sent to the guillotine.
In 1940 the people were driven into an unjust war against their will. And the bourgeoisie, which fears the people most of all, itself weakened and undermined the defense of the country. It disorganized the production of war materials. It left the leadership of the armies in the hands of eighty-year old men, thereby emphasizing in a graphic manner the senility and decay of the regime. The traitors to their country held places of vantage in the government, in the general staff, at the head of the police.
As the decisive hour was approaching, the French bourgeoisie, concerned primarily with the preservation of its privileges, was more and more consciously heading toward defeat. After the very first German victories, when at the front the workers and peasants in soldiers’ uniforms fought to hurl the invading enemy back, the ruling circles and the generals thought only of how to hasten the collapse, how to organize the surrender. At a meeting of the French government, Weygand declared openly: “We cannot permit a repetition of 1917 with infinitely worse consequences. This time ‘they’ are sure to make the revolution.” “They” meant—the soldiers, workers and peasants of France, whose anger was rising, who were beginning to see the great betrayal.
The French bourgeoisie remained true to the traditions of Thiers and the Versaillese.
Once the question of the responsibility for the defeat of our country is examined in the light of the antagonistic class interests, the answer is clear and categoric: the big bourgeoisie bears the full responsibility for the catastrophe which has befallen the nation. In determining who is the criminal it has ever been the rule to establish the motive: who profited by the crime? The ones who profit by the crime committed against France are the reactionaries, the adventurers of Vichy. The personal guilt of these gentlemen is beyond any doubt.
In 1918, the atmosphere of “victory” helped to relegate to the background the bloody memories connected with the name of Petain from 1917 on. People no longer gave thought to the fact that he had ordered the shooting of many Frenchmen. In his memoirs (The Year of Unrest), Poincare relates how Petain went about “restoring order” at the front after the mutinies, how people were picked out at random and summarily executed in scores at a time. This bloodthirsty wolf had just as little regard for the lives of the young soldiers who in 1925 were sent to their death in Morocco. Hundreds of soldiers were court-martialed in that year, and many of them were sentenced to death. In recent years it was Petain who was entrusted with the commission of making his friend, General Franco, a gift of the gold stolen from the Spanish Republican Government. It is obvious why the reactionary press clamored: “We want Petain as leader! We want Petain as dictator!” It is also obvious why the preparation of the French army was criminally neglected. For in the course of many years Petain was its chief, and then its most authoritative adviser; not to speak of the long period during which he held the post of War Minister. It is also from Petain in the first place that an accounting should be demanded for the four hundred billion francs expended between the last two wars on national “defense,” or, to be more exact, on national “desertion.” The next in line who has to be closely investigated is none other than Weygand, that royal bastard who used an assumed name to smuggle himself into the School at St. Cyr, and who now also wants to set himself up as master of the French workers and peasants. Weygand succeeded Petain as Commander-in-Chief. During a long period he was in charge of the higher military schools. It is quite clear now that during the last weeks of the war Weygand played the part of agent-provocateur, that he was the one who consummated the job of organizing the betrayal. This reactionary scoundrel left the scene of his intrigues against the Soviet Union in the Near East, in order to deal the French armies the finishing blow. He completed the work of disorganizing the defense. Weygand is a general who dared once to raise his riding whip against a soldier who had not been prompt enough in saluting him; he is a member of the board of directors of the Suez Canal, a plutocrat who is personally interested in the protection of his capital.
Another man who was busy along the same lines—not so ostentatiously as these “generals,” working more in roundabout ways and therefore all the more dangerous—is the sinister Laval, the corrupt corrupter. The demagogues at Vichy declaim against politics and politicians. They claim to offer the French people “new” and “clean” men—and they push to the forefront a Laval, a man of whom it may be said in his own words: “Lacking people, the bourgeoisie picks up its men from the garbage heap into which the working class dumps its dregs." For Laval, a shyster lawyer, was once a Socialist. He even boasted of his radicalism and, together with his boon-companion Johaux, was connected with the Anarcho-Syndicalists. Today Laval, who in 1914 was as poor as a church-mouse, is a millionaire and owner of a chain of provincial newspapers. He was the spiritual parent, and undoubtedly the organizer as well, of the Cagoulards, whom his friend Michelin, the industrial magnate of Clermont-Ferrand, provided with leaders. He was the patron of that dirty traitor Doriot. Laval signed the treaties of Rome, by which Ethiopia was betrayed to the invaders. Subsequently he sabotaged the sanctions against the aggressor. He has been notoriously in league with France’s enemies.
Next comes Marquet, a man with no scruples, ship-owner and Socialist Mayor of Bordeaux. Together with his accomplice Déat he once formed the Neo-Socialist Party with the program of “Order, Authority and the Nation,” which meant capitalist order, despotic rule and aggressive nationalism. Marquet’s party led an unnoticed existence. He himself deserted it after two years to answer Doumergue’s call to join the government of the men of February 6, and to make common cause with Laval and Petain.
Ybarnegaray, of the Croix de Feu, another member of this assorted company, represents his superior, Colonel Count de la Roque, whose ancestors fought under the King of Prussia against the soldiers of the First French Republic. Ybarnegaray, an immoral and licentious pleasure- hunter, is a dyed-in-the-wool politician. It was he who behind the scenes arranged with Blum and Laval for the transformation of the Croix de Feu into the French Social Party. He was Franco’s semi-official representative in France, where he organized the campaign against Republican Spain. A rabid warmonger, he demanded in November that the Communist militants be shot because they fought against the war.
Another member of the clique is Leméry, a colonial robber, Senator from Guadeloupe, and a crafty politician. He had a hand in all the shady affairs, in all the swindles of those stock-exchange brokers who, like Oustric, robbed both the people of France and the colonial slaves. Leméry was a regular contributor to that reactionary gutter sheet La Liberté, which was transferred from the hands of the notary public Aymard, who had been deprived of his license for shady dealings, into the hands of Tardieu and, subsequently, into those of the dirty provocateur Doriot.
Further we have here Belin, another traitor to the labor movement,
formerly Second Secretary of the Confederation Generale du Travail
a bitter enemy of the workers’ united front and of the Communists,
strike-breaker and editor-in-chief of Syndicats, a sheet published for
the propaganda of class collaboration in the trade unions. Belin was
Flandin’s and Bonnet’s man. He gathered around himself a gang of
inveterate bureaucrats and young careerists, of the type of Dumoulin
and Froideval, Vigne and Delmas, who threw themselves with sadistic joy
into the work of disrupting the re-united C.G.T., posed as “pacifists”
before September, 1939, and then became rabid warmongers.
* General Federation of Labor.—Ed.
In addition to the high dignitaries, one finds in the government of Vichy some lesser lights in the person of willing flunkeys of the financial oligarchy, like Mireaux and Baudouin. Mireaux is a member of the Comité des Forges. He is director of the Temps, “the bourgeoisie turned newspaper,” to use the expression of Jules Guesde. Baudouin is director of the Bank of Indo-China, and member of the boards of numerous companies.
Outside of the government, but zealously supporting it and waiting for their turn, are other criminals, such as Bonnet, Flandin, Spinasse, Doriot. Bonnet was always the soul of the defeatist wing. Corrupt to the core of his bones, he was the protégé and protector of the notorious Stavisky, the swindler who pocketed hundreds of millions of francs which he stole from small depositors. Bonnet entertained Stavisky at his table during the negotiations in Stressa for a four-power pact directed against the Soviet Union, a country he hates with a fuming hatred. He sabotaged and helped kill the pact of mutual assistance between France and the Soviet Union. He had sympathy only for the despots and their henchmen. He persecuted the Communists, the true champions of the interests of the French people.
As early as July, 1939, Bonnet told the German ambassador that he would “bring the Communists to reason.” (See the Yellow Paper of the French Government.) When he became Minister of Justice he organized the persecution of the Communists. Together with Serol he staged the trial against our courageous deputies, without however daring to face thorn in court himself.
Flandin, who comes from a rich bourgeois family, has always been distinguished primarily for his cynical business deals. While he was Minister, he held at the same time the well-paid post of legal adviser to the Aeropostale Air Lines. Despite the fact that he was somewhat implicated in scandalous affairs, he became Prime Minister. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs when the German troops reoccupied the left bank of the Rhine, which did not prevent him subsequently from defending the policy of the German imperialists.
Spinasse is the mouthpiece of the majority of the Socialist deputies who voted for the inglorious end of the Third Republic and hailed Petain as “savior.” At one time Spinasse steered a course between Blum and Paul Faure, joining now the one, now the other. In recent years he had definitely attached himself to Paul Faure. The two of them headed the clique in the Socialist Party that openly preached capitulation. In this they had the support of Brunet, a member of the Socialist Party who at the same time acted as legal adviser to the German Embassy and regularly attended the Nuremberg Congresses of the National-Socialist Party.
In 1925 Spinasse earned the plaudits of the reactionaries for a speech full of hatred against the Soviet Union, in which he announced for the n-th time that the end of the great Land of Socialism was at hand. Later, speaking from the rostrum of the Chamber of Deputies, the “theoretician” Spinasse sang the praises of the America of the billionaires and of the Sacco and Vanzetti case; he extolled capitalist “rationalization,” repeated the fable of “a car in the garage” of every American worker, and wound up with a Couplet on the “benefits” of class collaboration. He is the “Socialist” whom Blum praised so often for his “profound knowledge” and “culture.”
As for the traitor Doriot, he causes embarrassment even to his own financial backers; for he and his gang of police spies of the type of Teulade, and swindlers of the sort of Sabiani, are too much compromised. This creature of Laval, after he was kicked out of the Communist Party, was in a great hurry to join the mercenary gangs of the reaction. He maintained close connection with foreign secret services;
but this, of course, did not prevent his dirty sheet from distinguishing itself during the war by its rabid chauvinism and calumnies against the Communists, whom it accused of “treason.”
Nor do the above exhaust our list, which may be further extended to include Déat, Chiappe, Bergery, Maurras, Fernand Laurent, Bailby, Mistier, Barthelemy, and all the other scoundrels who have had a hand in bringing about the misfortunes which have befallen our people.
The crime of most of the accused at Riom, the crime of Daladier, Blum and their ilk, consists in the fact that they consciously helped to realize the reactionary and imperialist war plans of the bourgeoisie, primarily by disrupting the fighting alliance between the working class, on the one hand, and the peasantry and large sections of the urban petty-bourgeoisie, on the other.
In its fight against reaction, the Communist Party had forced the Socialist Party and its leaders to join the united front and to sign the joint action pact of 1934. United, the working class was able to enlist peasants, artisans, small business men, many officials, professionals and intellectuals into the ranks of the People’s Front. Thanks to its united action, the working class was able to exercise strong influence upon the ever vacillating and wavering elements of the petty bourgeoisie. It began to fulfil its task as leader of all the exploited masses. The reaction was forced to retreat.
Then the Blums and Daladiers embarked upon their work of disrupting the People’s Front and upon their splitting activities in the ranks of the working class. They worked assiduously to disrupt the alliance between the working class and the middle classes, in order to isolate the revolutionary proletariat and bring the petty bourgeoisie back under the ideological and political influence of capital. They succeeded in detaching the petty bourgeoisie from the revolutionary proletariat and in opening the gates to the sinister forces of war and reaction.
Today the people are in the grip of frightful misery. All the people—workers and peasants, manual laborers and brain workers, young and old—languish under the double yoke of reaction and foreign occupation. And it is against the forces of reaction that the people must launch out in the first place; it is upon the Petains, Lavals and Co., the chief organizers of the defeat, the agents of capital and the willing servants of foreign powers, that the wrath of the French people must descend with all its force and severity.
The government of Vichy spells disaster for the country. It is the government of a class which has lost all national feeling, which permits France to be mangled and mutilated. It leaves in the lurch whole provinces and sections of the people which were welded together into the united French nation by the fire of the great bourgeois revolution. The men of Vichy want to hurl our country back, not decades, but a whole century. Under cover of the “back to the soil” slogan they are trying to turn France into an agrarian country that would be dependent upon industrial Germany.
The bankrupt politicians at Vichy talk of the rejuvenation of France, while exerting their efforts to impose upon our country an infamous regime of regression and reaction in every sphere of activity. They want the workers to be chained to the factories and work long hours for starvation wages. They want to bind the peasants to the land, to turn them into the serfs of old, into slaves to be despoiled by the big finance corporations and the state. The last remnants of liberty have been abolished. The trade unions have been “coordinated.” The youth are sent to labor camps. The reform in the school system is designed to train, not thinking persons, but automatons in the service of the capitalists. The church is again becoming an institution of the state. In the country of Voltaire and the Encyclopedists obscurantism is again being enthroned. What the demagogues, who are now out to strangle France to death, call “new” is nothing but the return to the darkest periods of the past. It is a regime that may be described in the words of the poet as one that would “muzzle the father and stultify the child.”
The Third Republic of the bourgeoisie is dead; it has collapsed in dirt and blood. Under its ruins it has buried all the old parties of bourgeois democracy, the Socialist Party not excepted. The regime which was ushered in by the sanguinary overthrow of the glorious Paris Commune and by the rule of Thiers and Marshal MacMahon, ended with the sanguinary overthrow of our whole people and with the rule—a very temporary rule, to be sure—of Laval and Petain. Their rule is very temporary indeed, for history moves forward, not backward.
“...in order not to err in policy, one must look forward, not backward.” (History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, p. 111.)
Our people do not look backward to the past, but forward, toward the future. And the future means the people deciding their own destiny. Rallied around the working class and led by the Communist Party, the French people will free themselves from every exploitation and oppression, and will achieve the independence and revival of the nation.
In the general collapse of institutions and parties, only the Communist Party has remained intact. It continues to enjoy the confidence of the working masses, for it has fought courageously and perseveringly against the imperialist war and against all the enemies of the people. The Communist Party can and must rally and unite the dispersed forces of our people, weld them together, organize and lead them in the struggle against capitalism, in the struggle for socialism.
The Communists are already organizing resistance to the oppressors. They are fighting for the alleviation of the unheard of sufferings of the masses. They are fighting for work, bread and freedom. They &re fighting for the demobilized and for those languishing in prisons.
They are fighting for immediate relief for the unemployed, refugees, widows, orphans, old people and all war victims. They are fighting for relief for the peasants, for the rebuilding of our devastated cities and villages. They are fighting for the demand that the rich be made to pay, and for the nationalization of the banks and big industries. They are fighting for the release of the political prisoners and the reinstatement of the Communist deputies. And they are fighting for the demand to punish the men who are guilty for the disaster—all of them.
The Communists address their call for struggle to all the working people. They appeal particularly to their brothers, the Socialist workers, who now see the shameful bankruptcy of their party and the treachery of their leaders; they appeal to the peasants of the Radical Party, who have been shamefully betrayed by unscrupulous politicians. The Communists appeal to all who are not indifferent to the glorious traditions of the revolutionary history of our people, who remain true to the heroic traditions of the struggle for progress and liberty. A statement published by the Communist Party of France and circulated throughout the country reads in part:
“The bourgeoisie has brought our country to the brink of the precipice. Today, when German imperialism is putting into effect its plans for the enslavement of France, the only concern of the French bourgeoisie is to preserve its privileges, its capital, its class rule. It is prepared to sacrifice the independence of our country and the vital interests of our people. It is prepared to join hands with the conquerors in order to hide themselves behind German bayonets from the reckoning which the people will demand in its wrath. The bourgeoisie and its ‘Socialists’ are the real curse of the people. Theirs is a regime of organized treason to our nation....
“As always and under all circumstances we Communists stand by our people also in these days of severe trials, terror and immeasurable suffering. The fate of the people is our fate. We have a profound faith in the forces and in the future of our people, in the future of France. Our people will not be crushed. The dark forces of the traitors, adventurers, plunderers and conquerors will never break its liberty-loving spirit.”
When victory is attained by the working class, by the people, and when the foundations are laid for a new, socialist, free and independent France—then, and only then, will the hour strike for the real trial.
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