From the July 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists are opposed to what de Gaulle stands for on principle, because he stands for French capitalism, and Socialists do not support any capitalist faction anywhere or at any time. But the Socialist principle on which we oppose de Gaulle just as imperatively lines us up against the French political parties that oppose de Gaulle, the so-called “Communists" and the minority of the French party misnamed Socialist (its majority supports de Gaulle).
The immediate issue which so bewildered de Gaulle's opponents of a few weeks ago that many of them ended by voting him into power, was the alleged “defence of democracy." Faced with a threat of civil war from the rebel generals and French settlers in Algeria and their sympathisers in France, they chose what they thought the lesser evil making de Gaulle head of the government in the hope that he could and would control the generals. The French Communist Party, which defends the Russian dictatorship and still applauds the bloody suppression of the Hungarian workers by Russian troops in 1956, came out hypocritically for the “defence of democracy" against the “Fascist" de Gaulle. We need waste no words on them except to wonder whether their failure to back up their outcry against de Gaulle with something more than words may not have been due to a lurking fear—that perhaps de Gaulle may do a deal with the Russian government behind their backs.
But although the Communist Party did not change its ground while the crisis was on, the French Labourites, the so-called Socialist Party, made themselves ridiculous with a series of somersaults. Starting with a resolution not to support de Gaulle in any circumstances, they followed this with a decision to let the M.P.'s have a free hand either to follow their leader Mollet who backed de Gaulle, or to vote against him; then another decision a few day later to let them abstain from voting on the question of handing over power to de Gaulle. With Mollet and others of their leaders in de Gaulle's government the party is split into nearly equal halves; with likelihood that more will swing over to Mollet.
The time-worn tactic of the lesser evil is the philosophy of the reformist labour movement in France as in Britain, but both movements might recall that 25 years ago the German Social Democrats in the same dilemma helped elect Marshal Hindenburg to the Presidency of Germany “to keep Hitler out" but as it turned out to open the door to Nazism. It does not necessarily follow that matters in France will take the same course, with Soustelle or some other playing Hitler to de Gaulle’s Hindenburg, but the “lesser evil" supporters of de Gaulle in France have no guarantee at all that this will not happen. They have taken a leap in the dark because they did not know what else they could do. Standing by the Socialist principle in the matter did not enter into their minds.
Are we entitled to condemn them and disregard their plea that they had to make a cruel choice? Emphatically, yes! Had they been Socialists, adhering to the Socialist principle which recognises as basic that working class interest is opposed to all supporters of capitalism, they would never have had to consider the matter at all. But that would presuppose that their organisation, their thinking, their propaganda and their actions in the past had all been fundamentally different from what in fact they have been.
In the last resort they accepted de Gaulle because, like, the British Labour Party and Trade Unions which rallied round their “enemy” Churchill in 1940, many of de Gaulle’s capitalist aims are acceptable to them. De Gaulle stands for French patriotism and “ greatness,” so do they—almost their last act in the Assembly before they changed sides was to stand singing the Marseillaise, the battle-hymn of French capitalism in its triumph over the old regime, in the French Revolution.
De Gaulle still lives in the atmosphere of the wars against German capitalism—so do they.
De Gaulle stands for a forceful foreign policy as in the Franco-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956—so did the French “Socialist” party under its leader Mollet.
They believe not in Socialism, but in Republicanism and patriotism, nationalisation and the reform of capitalism—so does de Gaulle. In his declaration of his aims at a Press Conference on May 19th, he stressed the grounds calculated to appeal to social reformists:—
“I fought the war to win victory for France. But I did it in such a way that it was also the victory of the Republic. I did it with all those without a single exception who willingly wanted to join me. And at their head I restored the Republic to its place. In its name, on its behalf, in conformity with its spirit, my Government accomplished an enormous task of renovation. Political renovation: the granting of the right to vote to women, citizenship given to the Muslims of Algeria, the beginning of an association within the French Union of peoples who formerly depended on us. Economic and social renovation: Nationalisation of the mines, gas, electricity, of the Bank of France, of the main credit institutions, the State-owned Renault car works, works committees, a social insurance organisation on such a scale and in such a way that workers are covered against century-old scourges . . . ” (Times, 20th May, 1958.)
So he went on reminding the workers and their organisations that if what they wanted is reforms of capitalism he was the man who did what they wanted.
The French “Socialist” party supported him before and served in his government, so why not again?
Thus do years of reformist propaganda rise up to mock those who used it. Elements in the British Labour Party fall for the same stuff and for the same reason. Philip Noel-Baker, writing in the Labour journal “Forward” (May 23rd, 1958) joined in the praise for de Gaulle, while reserving judgment as to whether he would succeed in resisting pressure to go in for “Fascist courses.” Noel Baker wrote about the General’s work for “nationalisation, economic planning and social reform” and ended his article:—
“But, whatever the fears and suspicions of the politicians, de Gaulle is one of the great Frenchmen of the modem age, with matchless courage, and great achievements to his name. I believe that history will judge him to be a writer of the finest modem prose, and, in his instincts, a democrat, and a reformer inspired by a visionary belief in the enduring greatness of his country, France."
The British Labour Party is divided in its attitude to de Gaulle for the same reason as the French party, with their leader Mr. Gaitskell counselling a waiting attitude and no hasty condemnation of Mollet, while others, including Bevan, taking a line of strong criticism. But neither side is guided by an over-riding Socialist principle, each treats it just as an issue in everyday practical politics.
Mr. Gaitskell in a speech at the conference of the Boilermakers Union at Scarborough paid tribute to de Gaulle’s past, hoped he would succeed, and ended by calling on his listeners to express “our support for and solidarity with all those French comrades, whether they voted ’for’ or ’against' de Gaulle, who are striving to preserve the democratic system and to resist the continuing threat of Fascist dictatorship” (Daily Telegraph, 4/6/58).
What will de Gaulle's efforts aim to achieve and actually achieve? French capitalism, after losing to England in the Napoleonic wars, the dominance of Europe and the seas of the world, built up a great colonial empire in the late nineteenth century. But, with the rise of the U.S.A and Russia as the two great world powers, with the decline of Europe and, with the emergence of local capitalist dominance in many of her African, Middle East and Far Eastern colonies, French capitalism, as an empire, even more than British capitalism, faces a hazardous battle to avoid relegation to the ranks of second class powers.
Whatever course events may take we have to face the lamentable fact that there does not yet exist in France, any more than in any other country, a united Socialist working class aiming internationally to end capitalism. As facts are, all the rival sections want to do is to play capitalist politics over the question whether French capitalism should be governed in the chaotic manner of the past 20 years or placed under an authoritarian regime with de Gaulle. The French scene presents us with another example of the emptiness of the reformist argument that because most workers are not yet Socialists, only a programme of reforms can unite the workers. Far from being united against de Gaulle they are divided for and against him, and on each wing there are yet other bitter divisions over yet other relatively minor issues. Socialism cannot unite the world’s workers now, but in the long run there is no other programme capable of bringing them together, for Socialism and against all the forces of capitalism.