The Communist International
May, 1940

Who Betrayed the French People?

A. Meunier

The imperialist bourgeoisie and ruling circles of France who have dragged the French people into war are persecuting the French Communists and all revolutionary workers with unprecedented ferocity. In conjunction with Blum, Jouhaux and other leaders of the Socialist and Radical-Socialist Parties, they are waging a wild campaign of lies and vilification against all those who refuse to support the imperialist bourgeoisie, against those who are opposing the war and advocating peace.

The French “Socialist” leaders, headed by Blum, are doing all they can to convince the world with their vows, tears and “word of honor” that France and England (i.e., the French and English financial oligarchy) are not pursuing the present war for imperialist aims. To deceive the masses the French bourgeoisie and the “Socialists” go on repeating the threadbare story: France and England are pursuing the war wholly and solely for the purpose of protecting the democratic rights and liberties of their own and other peoples, of ensuring equality and independence for all peoples. The crude reality of the whole foreign and home policy of France after the first imperialist war proves the opposite, however.

Ever since Versailles, the foreign policy of France has been distinctly imperialist, military-aggressive and reactionary.

As a result of the World War of 1914-18 and of the Versailles Treaty, France not only established her military and political hegemony in Western Europe, but also enlarged her territory and greatly changed the structure of her national economy. France, which next to England is the biggest colonial power and whose colonial possessions are from eighteen to twenty times her own size, thus became the most powerful economic and military state on the continent in Western Europe. The aim of the whole foreign policy of the ruling classes of France since Versailles has been to establish, consolidate and increase this hegemony and to build a durable financial and economic foundation for the whole of the Versailles system with the object of using it as a base and a powerful weapon for further expansion and further conquests.

This policy has been most consistently pursued against Germany. French imperialism was not satisfied with having defeated, disarmed and dismembered Germany and Austria-Hungary. It imposed on Germany enormous indemnities amounting to tens of billions of marks in the form of “reparations.” In addition, French imperialism pursued the object of imposing its direct financial and military control over Germany. The French bourgeoisie systematically interfered in the internal politics of Germany, it helped the German bourgeoisie to overthrow and suppress the democratic forces in the country and to strangle the revolution. Lastly, the French imperialist bourgeoisie occupied the Rhine and Ruhr provinces and tried to dismember Germany still more by separating Bavaria and by establishing a buffer state on the Rhine. The imperialist plans of the French bourgeoisie were so far-reaching that they threatened the position of British imperialism, and British imperialism began to resist them.

From the very outset the foreign policy of France towards the Soviet Union was distinctly reactionary and aggressive. For three years—from October, 1917, to the end of 1920—France was at the head of a number of military campaigns against the Land of Soviets. France organized and supported military intervention in the Crimea, in the Ukraine, in Siberia and in the North. It was France who instigated Poland to go to war against the Soviet Union in 1920.

But this did not satisfy the French bourgeoisie: it organized on the Western frontiers of the Soviet Union what was called the “sanitary cordon” against Bolshevism. France was the initiator of various “anti-Soviet blocs” and “ententes” from the Baltic to the Black Sea. France persistently set everything in motion to achieve Marshal Foch’s plan of forming a European “Holy Alliance” against the Soviet Union. She stinted no capital in Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia, she lent billions to Poland, reorganized and controlled the Polish army, all with the object of setting up a military coalition against the Soviet Union. More than that, it is common knowledge that the French imperialist bourgeoisie had planned a great military invasion of the Soviet Union in 1929- 30. Even after 1930, the foreign policy of France still strongly reflected the aggressive anti-Soviet propensities of the French bourgeoisie.

Towards the colonies and the so- called “mandate territories” the French bourgeoisie has been pursuing a reactionary policy of unbridled exploitation. On the pretext of utilizing the resources of the colonies in a rational manner, France set to work to exhaust these resources and in doing so subjected the population of these territories to unprecedented exploitation. France established its rule in the colonies by means of fire and sword.

In conjunction with the Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera, France in 1925 waged a war of extermination against the Riffs in Morocco, certainly not with the object of “democratizing” the country and of protecting the “freedom and independence” of the people. In her war against the Druses in 1926, which ended with the seizure of Syria, France, likewise, was not prompted by humanitarian considerations. Nor was it a sense of justice and love of freedom that prompted the French bourgeoisie to wage a sanguinary war against the peaceful population of Indo-China.

* * *

The foreign policy of the ruling circles of France remained virtually unchanged even after the establishment of the People’s Front in 1936. The program of the People’s Front demanded the adoption of decisive measures against the reactionary parties in the country and against the financial oligarchy, which was influencing the foreign policy of France. The program of the People’s Front demanded the protection and extension of the democratic rights of the French people, a struggle to protect universal peace and the freedom, independence and security of all peoples. The leading circles of France, however, pursued a policy that was the very antithesis of this. The governments directed by Blum, Chautemps and Daladier pursued a policy which nullified the struggle to protect universal peace and thus accelerated the outbreak of war.

By its policy of “non-intervention” in Spain, the Blum Government paved the way for the betrayal of the interests of democracy and of the French people. The war waged by the Spanish people against internal reaction and foreign military intervention was a just, democratic and progressive war, a national war for liberty. In this war the Spanish people not only fought in their own interests, but also in the interests of the French people. Nevertheless, the Blum Government, and later, the Chautemps Government, deprived republican Spain of the right to purchase arms. These governments pursued the object by every means, even by direct intervention, of securing the defeat of republican Spain.

By this disgraceful policy of “non-intervention” the French bourgeoisie and the leaders of the Socialist Parties once again displayed their hatred for democracy in general, and for the democratic liberties and independence of other peoples in particular. The roots of this policy are profoundly reactionary and imperialist. The French and English financial oligarchies were deeply interested in securing the defeat of the national revolutionary struggle of the Spanish people, for a victory of the Spanish people would have strengthened and extended the People’s Front in France. But such a victory would have also strengthened the resistance of the French and English people to the reactionary and imperialist policy of their governments. The reactionary bourgeoisie of France and England were aware that a real People’s Front at home would have prevented the preparations for a great imperialist war as well as the conduct of such a war. By sacrificing Spain they undermined the democratic unity of the masses in France and England. By eliminating the masses of the people from political life, the English and French bourgeoisie strove to create a safe rear in the event of war.

It was these considerations that guided the rulers of France and England in their conduct during the Czechoslovakian crisis. They traded in the freedom and independence of peoples with the object of provoking war between Germany and the Soviet Union. On March 19, 1939, Coulondre, the French Ambassador in Berlin, stated in an official report to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bonnet, that he was trying to ascertain “what direction the advance of Germany’s dynamics would take.” And he added: “I will ascertain whether we can still count on these dynamics taking an exclusively Eastern direction, and will then draw certain practical conclusions for our objects.”*

* Quoted from the Yellow Book, document No. 80, in l’Europe Nouvelles, special number, December 23, 1939, p. 1434.

Thus, it is openly stated in this official document that the main line of French foreign policy was to divert Germany to the East. Germany, however, hesitated. Then the so-called “information” campaign was started with the object of inducing Germany to set up a separate Ukrainian state as a German protectorate. This campaign conducted by the French, English and American imperialists was exposed by Comrade Stalin, six months before the outbreak of the present war in Europe, in his report at the Eighteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The imperialists of France and England did not desist, however. In France and England, as well as in the colonies, hurried measures were taken on a large scale to mobilize material and human reserves. The armies and navies were put on a war footing. At the same time, military alliances were ostentatiously concluded with Poland and Rumania in order to stimulate these countries to plunge into military adventures.

This criminal plan of the English and French warmongers was nevertheless strongly counteracted by the Soviet Union with its consistent peace policy. The masses of the people in England and France demanded that their governments establish a peace front with the Soviet Union in order to avert the outbreak of war. The warmongers were compelled to pretend that they were prepared to discuss this with the Soviet Union. Indeed, they started negotiations in anticipation, however, that the Soviet Union, like tsarist Russia in its day, would place its army at the disposal of the English and French imperialists. They obviously overlooked the fact that the Soviet Union was pursuing its own independent foreign policy, the object of which is to protect the interests of its people who are engaged in the work of socialist construction. They overlooked the fact that it was not the object of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union to protect the interests of the London and Paris bankers.

The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact aroused the rulers of England and France and their “Socialist” lickspittles to fury, for this pact thwarted all their war plans and intrigues. Above all, this pact dealt a severe blow to England’s traditional policy of using others as her cat’s paw, of provoking conflicts and war, of fishing in troubled waters and of playing the role of supreme arbiter in the relations between countries.

As is well known, the English and French imperialists who had provoked their ally and vassal Poland to plunge into the military adventure against Germany subsequently left Poland in the lurch. This thoroughly corrupt and reactionary Polish state, this prison of disfranchised peoples, collapsed at the first impact. Nevertheless, the war is being continued, and the French and English bourgeoisie are exerting every effort to spread the war and to convert Europe, and even the whole world, into one vast field of military operations. This new plan of the French and English imperialists is also being thwarted by the peace policy of the powerful Soviet Union, which is maintaining strict neutrality.

The English and French imperialists, having dug themselves in behind the Maginot Line, next instigated Finland to go to war against the Soviet Union, always with the object of extending the area of war. The Finnish adventure, now collapsed, was only a link in the chain of strategical and political plans of the Anglo-French bloc. The latter has many war plans of this kind on its shelves. As the plan to provoke Germany to fight the Soviet Union has fallen through and the plans to draw the Scandinavian countries into the war has failed, why not build and concentrate an army of colonial troops in Syria? Let us send Weygand to Syria and bring pressure on Turkey and the Balkan countries! Let us get hold of Belgium and the other neutral countries and force them into the war! Let us create major and minor theaters of war in as many parts of the world as possible! Such is the point of view of the ruling circles in Paris and London.

The leaders of the French Radicals and “Socialists” are loath to speak about the aims of the war openly. They make shift in their declarations with demagogical and commonplace phrases about equality, justice and ethics. The war aims, however, are determined by the ruling classes and not by their political lackeys, the Blums, Attlees, Jouhaux and Citrines.

What are the aims of the financial oligarchies of France and England? Above all, they want to hold fast to their colonial empires and to their “right” to rob, exploit and oppress the Indian, Indo-Chinese and other people without hindrance. They want to bring about the military collapse, territorial dismemberment and complete subjugation of Germany. They want to convert Germany into an obedient tool of the Anglo-French war bloc in its struggle against the Soviet Union. They want to establish the military, political, financial and economic tutelage of France and England over all the other European nations. They want to establish a European federation, or federations, in which the Anglo-French bloc will be supreme.

This war, for which the English and French imperialists have been systematically preparing for the last twenty years, and which they are now extending and desire to bring to a “victorious conclusion,” is nothing more nor less than a continuation and consequence of the imperialist foreign policy they have been pursuing for years.

* * *

By betraying the program of the People’s Front in the sphere of foreign politics, in regard to protecting peace, Daladier, Blum, Faure and Jouhaux betrayed this program also in the sphere of French home politics.

The bourgeoisie considered that it would be impossible to wage an imperialist war unless they enchained “their” workers, unless they increased working hours, speeded up labor, reduced wages, oppressed still further the colonial peoples and overthrew the “internal” enemy.

The rallying of broad masses of the people under the banner of the People’s Front, which for three years (1934-36) organized vast mass actions of the working people, and the unity of the trade unions brought about on the basis of the class struggle, represented a great political achievement for the proletariat. During the period of the People’s Front the industrial workers, office workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie succeeded in achieving a number of concessions and reforms which improved their conditions.

The reactionary bourgeoisie, determined to nullify the achievements of the People’s Front, launched a counter-offensive. This counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie was made possible by the assistance rendered it by the leaders of the Socialist and Radical-Socialist parties, by the Jouhaux-Belin groups in the Confederation Generale du Travail, and several other politicians who had formerly belonged to the People’s Front movement.

At the culminating point of the success of the People’s Front, the Blum Government set all the machinery of government in operation against the workers and the masses of the working people. It proclaimed a “pause,” that is to say, actually a cessation of social legislation. The Blum Government suspended the introduction of the peasant’s insurance plan, refused to pay old-age pensions and emphatically opposed the introduction of democratic reforms in the system of taxation. The Blum Government suppressed the workers’ strike movement with the aid of the police, and condoned the flight of capital. In this manner, the Blum Government sabotaged the People’s Front, which had put it into power. At the same time it helped the big capitalists who sabotaged the financing of industry and caused a panic on the money market. The Blum Government did everything to discredit the People’s Front politically and to weaken it.

After Leon Blum had achieved “considerable success” in this direction, he went a step further. He took the trouble to form—as a counterblast to the People’s Front, this unification of the masses of the working people under the leadership of the proletariat that was fighting the bourgeoisie—a coalition of all parties except the Communist Party.

The Daladier Government took more decisive measures to smash the People’s Front. In this it was supported not only by the Radicals and “Socialists,” but also by all the parties and groups of the big capitalists. From the time Daladier came to power (April, 1938), to the beginning of December, 1939, the Chamber of Deputies was in session in all only fifty hours. This was enough, however, for it to pass the following decrees: abolition of the forty-hour week; penal measures against workers in munitions factories who refused to work overtime; prosecution of those who opposed the working of overtime; as well as a number of other decrees which have greatly worsened the conditions of the working class.

In March, 1939, the Chamber granted Daladier emergency powers which authorized him still further to curtail democratic liberties, increase working hours, reduce wages, and partly or entirely to withdraw concessions previously gained by the workers. Several days later, on March 20, the decree introducing a sixty-hour week was promulgated. The National Council of the Socialist Party rejected the proposal of the Communist Party to take joint action against these emergency decrees and adopted a resolution prohibiting joint action with the Communists. Some time later, in May, the Socialist Party, at its Congress in Nantes, prohibited its members from collaborating with the Communists and demanded the dissolution of the Friends of the Soviet Union society, the French People’s Aid, and other democratic organizations. The Socialists thus severed their last contacts with the Communists, and gave their “sympathies” for the People’s Front a “third class funeral.” The Socialists then definitely and openly set out to form a bourgeois imperialist coalition. War was in the air.

Thus, the reactionary offensive against the democratic liberties of the French people and against the social and economic achievements of the working class was started long before the Soviet-German pact of non-aggression was concluded. Similarly, the “Socialists” and Radical-Socialists smashed the unity of the French proletariat in the People’s Front long before this pact was concluded.

On August 25, 1939, the degree militarizing all munitions factories was issued. This decree affected over two million workers. The workers were subjected to the conditions and requirements of military discipline. Any worker who stays away from work or leaves a job is liable to a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

In August, 1939, the government suppressed l’Humanité, the central organ of the Communist Party, which had a daily circulation ranging from 350,000 to 400,000. It suppressed the other publications of the Communist Party and also Ce Soir, an evening newspaper that was sympathetic to the Communists. By the end of August, 1939, the reactionary and imperialist bourgeoisie were already in command of all the key positions in the state apparatus.

* * *

After the general mobilization on September 1, 1939, and particularly after the declaration of war on Germany on September 3, 1939, France was put completely under the heel of the military and police dictatorship of the imperialist bourgeoisie. On September 3, the weekly rest-day for workers in state establishments as well as in private enterprises engaged in war work was abolished. On September 7, a decree was issued lengthening the working week to seventy-two hours (eleven to twelve hours per day); at the same time, collective agreements and courts of arbitration were abolished. As a consequence of the mobilization of male workers for military service, women, old men and children were brought into industry, particularly in the metal and chemical industries, where they are also compelled to work eleven to twelve hours a day. With the issue of the decree of November 11, the last and most important social achievement of the working class, namely, the right to elect factory councils, was liquidated. All these measures were accompanied everywhere by reductions in wages.

The cost of living is rising, but the purchasing power of the workers is steadily declining. The decree of November 10, 1939, established a “stabilized” wage, completely ignoring the steadily rising prices. Since August, 1939, the publication of the cost of living index, as well as of the wholesale prices of a number of articles of mass consumption, has ceased. Le Peuple in a leading article in its issue of January 25, 1940, was compelled to admit on the basis of a private investigation that “in a number of districts in France, the cost of living index has risen 25 to 30 points."

Although large numbers of workers have been called up for military service, and in spite of the fact that the war industries and agriculture need labor, there are still large numbers of unemployed in France. It must be stated that in many factories mobilized workers are working for a miserable soldiers’ pittance. The London Economist in an article comparing the conditions of the workers in England and France wrote that five million Frenchmen had been mobilized, and a large number of these are working in the munitions factories getting no more than soldiers’ pay. In the other industries in France, mostly women, old men and children are employed, and their wages are much below the average.

The conditions of the working class have become worse for a number of other reasons; speed-up, police supervision in the factories, and difficulties connected with the evacuation of factories, etc. At the slightest protest, the workers are sent off to the front, or to prison or concentration camps.

Since the war began, the conditions of the peasantry and, in particular, of the small and middle peasants, have also steadily become worse. Exceptionally hard are the conditions of the agricultural laborers who even before the war barely eked out a livelihood. The whole bourgeois and “Socialist” press is discussing the catastrophic condition of agriculture. Matin of January 30, 1940, reported that thousands of tons of beets are rotting in the ground. The fields remain unplowed and barely 10 per cent of the winter crop was sown.

All this is due mainly to the shortage of labor in agriculture: 60 per cent, and in a number of districts up to 90 per cent, of the able-bodied rural male population have been mobilized for the army. The mass requisition of agricultural produce, as well as the requisition of cattle by the military authorities, is still further ruining agriculture.

The conditions of agriculture have been aggravated by the fact that owing to the shortage of fodder a large number of horses have perished. At the same time, however, the big landowners and the rich peasants are becoming richer with the aid of the state. They are making enormous profit out of army contracts and by speculating in agricultural produce. The peasants’ program of the People’s Front was betrayed by the Socialists and Radicals just as they betrayed the program of struggle for peace and the program of social and economic demands of the working class.

* * *

The program of the People’s Front, which the Communist Party alone is consistently defending, contained the demand for the democratic reform of the fiscal system, the demand for reducing the burden of taxation for the masses of the people, and for a heavy and graduated tax on big capital. It also demanded a fundamental reorganization of the Banque de France, control of banking, prevention of the flight of capital, etc. The Blum, Chautemps and Daladier governments hindered the execution of this financial program of the People’s Front, and, obeying the dictates of the bourgeoisie, pursued a policy of plundering the masses.

During the past four years, military expenditure has increased almost fourfold. In 1936, this expenditure amounted to 15,250,000,000 francs; in 1939 it amounted to over 50,000,000,000 francs. The ordinary budget for 1940 amounts to 79,000,000,000 francs, whereas the expenditure on war for 1940 is estimated at 250,000,000,000 francs (calculated from the sum assigned for this purpose in the first quarter). To this must be added the sum of 15,000,000,000 francs for the maintenance of soldiers’ families. In the press, it is being freely stated that the amount of 1,000,000,000 francs per day on war expenditure is an underestimation rather than an overestimation.

Where does the government get the money to cover its expenditure, and where will it obtain these sums in the future? On August 31, 1939, the national debt of France amounted to 445,000,000,000 francs. In the middle of August, notes in circulation amounted to 144,000,- 000,000 francs. With these astronomical figures how is the financial problem to be solved? Who will pay to meet this war expenditure? To this question the premier, Paul Reynaud, then Minister of Finance, made the following reply in the Senate on December 28, 1939: “The French will pay—we must always bear that in mind!” In other words, the working class, the peasants, the masses of the people, will pay. They will have to meet the expenditures for a war waged in the interests of the capitalists.

* * *

The program of the People’s Front demanded an energetic peace policy. Blum, Daladier, Jouhaux and Co., however, pursued a policy that is dictated by the interests of French imperialism. They prepared for the imperialist war, and they drove the French people into it. They betrayed the cause of peace.

The People’s Front united the proletariat and the masses of the working people to fight reaction and to protect and extend democratic rights and liberties, Daladier, Blum, Jouhaux and Co., however, pursued a policy of systematically restricting these liberties; they paved the way for their complete abolition and for the introduction of a military police dictatorship. They betrayed the cause of people’s liberty.

The People’s Front demanded a number of social and economic reforms for the benefit of the working class, the peasants, office employees, civil servants and the urban petty bourgeoisie. Blum, Daladier, Jouhaux and Co. pursued a policy that was entirely in the interests of big capital and nullified the achievements of the proletariat and the working people. They betrayed the interests of the workers, the peasants and of all working people.

Blum, Daladier, Jouhaux and the other leaders of the Socialist and Radical-Socialist Parties and trade unions solemnly promised on July 14, 1936, that they would exert every effort to carry out the People’s Front program. They posed as stern Jacobins and threatened the bourgeoisie with a new edition of the revolutions of 1848 and 1871. Actually, however, they have proved themselves to be thrice perfidious: they have betrayed the cause of peace, the cause of democratic liberties and the vital interests of the people!

It is becoming clearer and clearer every day to the French proletariat and the French people who are their friends and who their enemies and betrayers of their interests. They are seeing more and more clearly who is deceiving them and robbing them of their freedom.

* * *

The Communist Party of France is the only party that has remained true to the program of the People’s Front. It is still championing the demands and interests of the proletariat and the masses of the people. It is continuing the struggle to protect these interests, to unite the proletariat, to restore and strengthen trade union unity, to strengthen the Confederation Generale du Travail, to achieve the fighting alliance of the proletariat, the peasants and the other working people. The outbreak of the war and its continuation have exposed the shameful treachery of the leaders of the Radical-Socialist and Socialist Parties, of the Jouhaux followers and of all the other elements who had joined the People’s Front with the object of disrupting it. That is why the Communists now regard it as their duty to fight these “Socialist” and Radical-Socialist leaders, to fight these traitors who have proved to be an obstacle in the people’s path of emancipation from the yoke of reaction and police tyranny, from the burdens and sufferings of the imperialist war.

The discontent of the proletariat, the masses of the working people and the soldiers, their movement for peace, their resistance to the capitalist offensive, their anger at the oppressive laws and military and police terrorism of the reaction are only in their initial stages yet.

The longer the war lasts, the harder and more terrible will its consequences be for the masses the people, and the more will its imperialist, predatory and reactionary class character be revealed. The more unrestrained the police tyranny becomes, and the more the vile and repulsive treachery of the “Socialist” leaders and their cringing before the bourgeoisie are revealed, the more clearly will the mass understand that the political position of the Communist Party, its directives, advice, warnings and slogans were right, and the more will the workers, peasants and soldiers heed the voice of the Communists, respond to the calls of the Communist Party and wage the struggle against the war and against their own imperialist bourgeoisie.

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