Communist International, August 1936
By ANDRE MARTY
I. The General Election in France
The election campaign has made it possible to sum up certain results of the mass work of the Communist Party of France for two and a half years, and at the same time to show the masses the way out of the-present situation as proposed by the Communist Party.
The general line of the Party was given in the main document of the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of France, under the heading, Save the French People.
In the Manifesto was outlined the program of the Communist Party for the defense of peace, freedom and bread for the people, and the following slogans concluded the Manifesto: "Forward, unite the French people in the struggle against the two hundred families!" "Forward behind the banner of the People's Front for bread, peace and freedom!" "Forward for a free, strong and happy France which the Communists want and will achieve!" These slogans met with a very wide response not only among the masses of the working people, but also among those sections of the population who have hitherto been far from the Communists, namely, the peasants, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the intellectuals.
In addition to this general program the Communist Party drew up a program of demands for various districts. Finally, in each of the 619 constituencies, the Communist Party organizations put forward local .programs either separately or in conjunction with the district program.
Let us quote a few figures. On April 22, 1936, i.e., four days prior to the first round of the election, the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of France dispatched throughout the country nine main proclamations totaling 7,460,156 copies, 142,711 placards with texts and 143,467 illustrated placards. When the reactionaries and the fascists asked the Communists where the money came from, Jacques Duclos, in a special letter to the Echo de Paris which was the first to raise this question, replied as follows, in order that the toilers of France should not have any doubts whatever left on this account: "Exclusively from the sale of our publications at a price such as makes it possible to cover all expenses connected with the printing and distribution of these publications."
The number of votes given to the Communist Party almost doubled. The Party received 1,503,125 votes, i.e., 700,495 votes more than in 1932. The Socialist Party lost a little (receiving 1,922,123 votes as against 1,966,780 in the year 1932), but if we take into account the fact of the split away of the Neo-Socialists, then it appears that actually the Socialists made good all their losses. The Radical Socialists received 1,401,974 votes, thus losing 435,000 votes. But if we compare the number of votes received in 1932 by the parties which now belong to the People's Front, with the figures of the 1936 election, it is clear that the People's Front won about half a. million votes (5,599,763 votes as against 5,184,049).
As regards the parties hostile to the People's Front, they lost about 179,899 votes as compared with 1932 (4,276,806 votes). It must, however, be noted that one party, the Popular Democrats (Christian Socialists, a section of whom are beginning to adopt a sympathetic attitude to the People's Front and are clearly hostile to fascism) won and received 373,943 votes. Thus the losses of the parties hostile to the People's Front were really far more considerable.
The grand total of the voting was as follows: all the parties of the People's Front received 1,322,957 votes more than the parties of reaction. Thus the elections showed the profound movement of forces to the Left. And whereas in some countries such as, for instance, England, the U.S.A., etc., the Right leaders of Social-Democracy assert that the Communists gained at the expense of the Socialists, the figures speak to the contrary. We must carry on a determined exposure of such lying stories spread about by the Rights, their only purpose being to justify their splitting policy and their hostility to the united front. On the contrary, thanks to the People's Front, the Socialist Party strengthened its position, which was weakened as a result of the split-away of the Neo-Socialists, while the Radical Party reduced its losses to a considerable degree, thanks to its participation in the People's Front. The losses suffered by the Radicals are to be explained by the fact that they participated in the government which by its Exceptional Decrees plundered the civil servants and state and municipal employees, as well as workers and old people, and cut down the benefits given by public charity institutions for children, as well as pensions for ex-servicemen, etc. Had it not been for the People's Front, the losses of the Radical Party would have been twice as great.
The Communist Party won a considerable victory in the working class centers. In the City of Paris, it was the strongest party, receiving 163,531 votes and 16 seats, as compared with the last elections of 70,777 votes. (It must not be forgotten that women in France have not the right to vote.) In the Seine Department (excluding Paris) our Party received 200,428 votes. Thus, the elections in Paris, and in the Departments of the Seine and Seine-et-Oise, showed 459,740 votes for Greater Paris.
Hence it follows that, first, the Party is strong now not only in Paris but also in the industrial districts, that it is growing rapidly in some provincial industrial towns (as for instance in Marseilles). Second, the Party has made a tremendous advance in a number of departments which are mainly agrarian. In seven agrarian departments the Communist Party received more than 20 per cent of the votes registered. If we compare, as percentages, the number of votes received by the Communists with the corresponding data for other parties, then the following picture results: In the Seine Department, where we have our greatest influence, the number of votes we received amounted to 33.3 per cent of all the votes cast. Next comes the Lot-et-Garonne (mainly agrarian) where we received 31.7 per cent. This is followed by the Bouches du Rhone Department (industrial) 28.4 per cent, then Seine-et-Oise, industrial, 28.1 per cent. These are again followed by the agrarian departments of Lot, 23.8 per cent, Comeye, 21.8 per cent and Dordogne, 21.3 per cent. Thus the Communist Party has won quite a firm position in a number of peasant districts.
To sum up:
A. The parties of the People's Front are in the majority in the village. But the relation of forces between the parties in the People's Front, on the one hand, and the Right parties in the village, on the other hand, is almost without alteration. Great masses of peasants who support the Right parties still remain loyal to these parties.
B. Of all the parties of the People’s Front only the Communist Party has to a considerable degree increased its influence in the village, by almost trebling the number of votes it received.
C. The position of the Socialist Party remains unaltered.
D. The Radical Party can now no longer be regarded as the chief Left party of the peasants. The Socialist Party is now as strong in the countryside as is the Radical Party.
In sixteen departments the Right parties are in the overwhelming majority (having received from 50 to 89 per cent of the votes cast). This refers mainly to Brittany and Normandy, where the peasants and Catholic workers are under the influence of the Right parties. In these places the relation of forces can only be changed by extending the People's Front and by operating a more active policy of defending the interests of the peasants. The Communist Party's campaign, with the slogan, "Extend a hand to the Catholic working people" must consequently be carried out in Brittany and Normandy on a still wider scale and still more boldly.
As a result of the elections in France, the People's Front has 381 seats in Parliament (72 Communists and 142 Socialists). The reactionary national front has 237 seats (under proportional representation the Communist Party would have had 94 seats).
In the following resolution adopted by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of France it says:
"The people of France have unequivocally expressed their .desire to defend their bread against those who desire to doom the people to hunger, to defend their liberty against the fascist adventurists, and peace against the warmongers.
"This desire of the people is, and will continue to be, the supreme law for the Communist Party."
The people also voted for honesty, and against financial corruption. And, finally, everybody who voted for the Communists and many of those who voted for the People’s Front showed themselves to be ardent and unshakable defenders of the peace policy of the Soviet Union and supporters of the unbreakable friendship between the French people and the people of the U.S.S.R.
In its resolution the Central Committee of the Party stated the position of the Communist Party on the question of its attitude to the government in the following clear and precise fashion:
“The Central Committee and the Communist Deputies are unanimous in considering it necessary for the Communist Party to maintain close and loyal collaboration with the government in its work to bring about the fulfillment of the program of the People's Front.
“To ensure the fulfillment of this task, the Central Committer undertakes the responsibility and assures the future government, with its Socialist leadership, of its complete and unstinting support.”
Why did not the Communist Party enter the government?
First of all, it should be stated that the question whether or not to participate in this government is not a question of principle. It is a question of political advisability, a question of the timeliness of entering the government in the given circumstances. This means, in other words, that in a certain situation we can join such a government. But we shall not join it today. Why?
The present government of France cannot be identified, for instance, with the bourgeois-Socialist governments of Czechoslovakia and Denmark. Why? Because these governments came to power as a result of parliamentary combinations, whereas the present government in France, formed by the Socialists with the participation of the Radical Party and the Socialist union, came to power on the crest of a mighty wave of the People’s Front movement and on the basis of the program of the People’s Front. This program was hammered out during the last one and a half years, in the struggle against the most reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie, against the fascists. And it is precisely because this government was created by an actively operating People’s Front that the bourgeoisie are compelled to tolerate it. But in the above-mentioned countries the position is entirely different. There, coalition governments are in power, governments of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie, the result of the usual parliamentary maneuvers of the bourgeoisie.
Although the present French government was placed in power by the People’s Front, the strength of this front is still not sufficient to establish a real People’s Front government as understood by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International. The aim of the Communist Party in supporting the new government is to prevent the government from being transformed into the usual government of collaboration with the bourgeoisie and by following the program on which this government was established to urge it on to satisfy the demands of the followers of the People’s Front who placed it in power, and first and foremost to satisfy the demands of the proletariat who inspired the People’s' Front. It is precisely for this that the Communist Party supports the new government. Precisely for this reason it is actively collaborating in drawing up all the measures necessary for the fulfillment of the program of the People's Front. It is precisely for this reason that the strengthening of the People's Front is one of the conditions for the fulfillment of its program.
But why did not the Communist Party enter the government? For the following reason: If the Communist Party had sent its representatives there then the attacks by reaction for this very reason alone would have been increased by a tremendous degree. Were the Communists to enter the government now, it would make it easier for the reactionaries to exert pressure on the Radicals to leave the government, and to split away from the People's Front. Hence, this could lead to the break-up of the People's Front, since very important and considerable sections of the population would leave the People's Front. It must not be forgotten that in spite of the losses suffered by the Radical Party it received 1,402,000 votes. Were the Communists in the present situation to .join the government this could lead to the break-up of the People's Front, by driving away the Radicals or part of them. In only fourteen departments at the present time are the number of Communist and Socialist votes more than 60 per cent of the total votes cast. Thus, the united front of the Socialists and Communists is still comparatively weak throughout the whole country, and this renders it not possible (as is shown by the data as to the number of Communist and Socialist Deputies in the Chamber of Deputies, with 211 seats out of a total of 618) to form a united front government. Consequently a government without the participation of the Radicals, and where the forces of the Communists and Socialists are limited, would be a government of a minority in the country, and consequently would be doomed to helplessness.
It is absolutely clear that were the Communists to participate in the government it would call forth a ferocious attack by the reactionaries, and would give rise to serious difficulties at home and abroad as the result of increased provocation on the part of the reactionary bourgeoisie. But the forces of the People's Front are still insufficient to beat off such attacks. What would be the result then? The breakdown of the government, and the discrediting of the People's Front. But if the government, placed in power by such a mass movement, were to be discredited it would mean opening the way to fascism. This is why the Communist Party of France replied in this strain to the National Council of the Socialist Party on May 10, and later, on May 30, to the Socialist Party Congress. Taking into account these two fundamental arguments we consider that the entry of the Communist Party into the government at the present moment would not be of benefit to the People's Front, but on the contrary would make it possible for the big capitalists to smash the People's Front, i.e., to achieve their aim by clearing the way to fascism. But the slogan of the Communist Party was and still remains: "All for the People's Front, everything through the People’s Front."
In this government there are thirty-five members, of whom there are eighteen Socialists, including two women; fourteen Radical Socialists including one woman; and three members of the Republican Socialist League. For this government to be able to fulfill its program we put forward the task of establishing and extending the committees of the People's Front.
What must be done now? The Central Committee of the Communist Party gives the following answer in its resolution:
"The Central Committee understands and endorses the desire of the masses of the people who can state that insofar as nothing has been done in the three weeks that have followed the victory of the People's Front, the following measures must be taken as speedily as possible without any delay whatsoever:
"Public works must be organized on a big scale with a view to cutting down unemployment and livening up the economic situation in the country.
"The first steps must be taken to correct the injustices which have been done by the extraordinary laws, to the state and municipal employees, ex-servicemen, small investors, old people, and people with large families. Measures must be adopted to secure the protection of children, and the development of sport by allotting one billion francs which can be advanced in parts. A commission must be set up to investigate the sources of the enrichment of politicians who have accumulated wealth in politics (Tardieu, Laval, Bouisson, Fiancette, etc.). Measures must be taken to protect the franc against the traitors who are making efforts so as once again to deal a blow at the toiling peasants and small traders, against the stability of the national currency. Measures must be taken to ease the situation of the toilers in the village, and to raise prices on agricultural products to the pre-crisis level. A general amnesty must be secured. The law regarding conspiratorial organizations, whose actions should draw the attention of the French people, must be operated, so as to prevent any attempt at violent coup d'états."
We shall see below how the new government can and should act.
The strike movement which has developed at the present time in France is the most tremendous of all that have taken place since the years of 1914-18. The movement started in the aviation and automobile works of the Paris district, among the metal workers of Paris who are the heart and soul of the Paris proletariat and the Communist Party. These workers are filled with very profound class-consciousness and are distinguished by the high level of their political sense. At all stages of the history of the working class movement in France, they have invariably been at the head of the people of Paris, and have been distinguished by the unusual display of their initiative and heroism.
What were the conditions of the metal workers of Paris? They depended on the arbitrariness of the employers, received ridiculously low wages, and were always uncertain of the morrow. There were cases of metal workers being dismissed from one enterprise where they received seven francs per hour, and given work at a neighboring plant at five francs per hour for exactly the same kind of work. Since the period of the crisis, the employers have made very wide use of this method of utilizing unemployment. As a result, the wages of the metal workers of Paris gradually, and especially during the last four years, have been cut down to a very great degree. For a number of years the former Unitary Metal Workers' Union (which has now joined the united union) put forward the important slogan of guaranteed wage rates, to which it added the old demand of recognition of the rights of the trade unions (which the employers systematically ignored), and the recognition of the shop stewards.
On May 11, exactly eight days after the victory of the People's Front, the workers in the aviation works of Breguet in Havre declared a strike and occupied the factory. They put forward the demand that the two workers who had been dismissed on May 1 be given back their jobs. The strike ended in victory. Three days later, on May 14, the workers of the Bloch Aviation Works in the Paris District Courbevoise et Villeconblay struck work in the same way, their demands being wage increases for all at the rate of 25 centimes per hour, and the application at Villeconblay of the collective agreement already being applied in Courbevoise. As soon as the workers of the Bloch works struck, all the deputies and councillors of the People's Front, the overwhelming majority of whom in this district are Communists, made their way to these factories. Mayors, municipal councillors and deputies brought food supplies, and gave the workers moral assistance and support. The workers saw that they were really being supported. In two days they had won a victory.
On May 15 the workers of the Latecoere Aviation Works in Toulouse struck work. The cause of the strike was the dismissal of two workers on May 1. The workers occupied the works and in 24 hours had won a victory, achieving in addition the recognition of the trade unions, the recognition of the shop stewards, and wages for compulsory lay-offs.
The example of the Bloch works showed the metal workers that with the aid of the People's Front they could secure the satisfaction of the main demands popularized for more than a year by the Unitary Metal Workers' Union. On May 27 a strike began at three factories in the Paris region at Nieuport, Issy-les-Moulinaux, Sauter Harle, at the electric power works in No. 16 District in Paris, Hotchkiss, Levallois (machine gun works). The method of the stay-in strike, of occupying the factories, justified itself. The workers of Nieuport put forward the following demands:
1. The abolition of overtime after an eight-hour working day, and the introduction of the 40-hour working week.
2. The recognition of delegates elected by the workers themselves (without the participation of the management).
3. Guaranteed minimum daily wage.
The workers in all these factories secured the satisfaction of their demands, and on May 27 l’Humanite published the collective agreement won by the workers of the Hotchkiss works in Levallois Perret, where the demands put forward at 4:30 were met the same day at 9 o'clock in the evening, after the workers had occupied the works. On achieving their demands, the workers left the works singing the Internationale.
The considerable successes achieved with such rapidity led to a stormy growth of the movement and its extension on a wide scale. On June 5 in the Paris district alone the workers of 250 metal works went on strike, and the employers' federation in the person of Richemond, its Chairman, who is a member of the Comite des Forges, had to lower itself to the extent of entering into negotiations.
What is the characteristic feature of this movement? The splendid discipline of the workers. The workers kept the factory in complete order, delegates were elected in each department, committees were established to organize strike pickets, the entrances to the exits were guarded day and night, and workers began to clean up the departments. When sleeping quarters were organized, supper prepared, and a guard set up, the workers began to play games, to dance and to play football. It is useful to note the high degree of class consciousness of the workers. While the shops were full of goods (this refers to the food stores and the big department stores) not a single thing was tampered with.
From the first day both the giants of the automobile industry, Citroen with 22,000 workers employed in five enterprises, and Renault with 32,000 workers (factories which can compare with Ford factories in Detroit) struck work.
The workers displayed the greatest preparedness for negotiations. May 31 and June 1 were holidays. On the insistence of the union the striking metal workers left many of the factories as soon as the employers promised to fulfil their demands. But when on June 3 and 4, after the holidays, the workers saw that the employers were dragging out the negotiations, they again occupied the factories. The leadership of the movement was assured by the Metal Workers' Union which periodically called together conferences of delegates from the departments. Eight hundred worker delegates of metal workers, selected by departments and enterprises, gathered together on June 4 in the center of Paris in the Labor Exchange building. They were mostly young people, workers less than 30 years of age. They kept contact with the occupied factories by motorcycle. The strikers were in possession of the factory telephones and management offices. No outsiders were allowed into the factory.
The organizational ability of the workers, their discipline and the seriousness of the leadership, once again testify to the political maturity of the Paris metal workers, and refute the old legend about Frenchmen, and especially about the French workers, being allegedly incapable of engaging in organized activity. On the contrary there are numerous examples to show that the strictest discipline was observed.
This big strike of the Paris metal workers provides the workers of France and all over the world with an example of splendid organization.
In view of this powerful movement, which achieved the granting of the workers' demands, strike stoppages covered the entire province and workers of all specialties. Entire pages of l’Humanite were filled with the enumeration of the victories won by strikers, although the paper was not able to give full publicity to the entire strike movement, the strikes being so numerous.
The strikes in all the big centers, such as Lille, Roubaix, Dunkirk, Marseilles, and La Seine sur Mere, etc., were won. In the Northern department and in the Pas de Calais district the number of strikers quickly reached the figure of 400,000, and especially great was the number of strikers among the miners, who declared a general strike, as well as among the metal and textile workers. Faced with such a powerful movement the employers had to retreat
On June 8 l’Humanite published the text of an agreement between the General Confederation of Labor and the employers, the latter agreeing immediately to the introduction of a collective agreement and recognizing the rights of the trade unions.
Article 4 states the following:
"The wage rates existing on May 26, 1936, will be increased for all workers from the day they return to work, according to a scale, beginning with 15 per cent for the lowest categories and ending with 7 per cent for the highest categories."
An announcement was then made, which stated that the very low wage rates were to be increased, and that on the basis of the new rates wages would be increased by 15 per cent.
The movement which led to such an increase in the standard of living of the Paris metal workers, and also of other numerous categories of workers, is the best testimony to the correctness of the line taken to unify the trade unions, the line followed by the Communist Party of France in accordance with the decisions of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. Had the split in the trade union movement still continued, such a struggle would have been impossible. It is clear that if the trade unions are pulling in different directions the workers will never make headway. The employers understand this quite well, and are therefore now trying to spur on the Catholic organizations and Croix de Feu organizations in an attempt to split the trade unions. This should be of assistance to those countries where the toilers have yet to come to one and the same conclusion, namely, that, had the trade unions not been united the French metal workers and all other French workers would not so quickly have achieved big victories over the employers.
For the first time in France an agreement was signed between the representatives of the C.G.T., Jouhaux, Frachon, Semat, Codier, Milan, on the one hand, and the representatives of the General Confederation of French Industry (the so-called employers C.G.T.) composed of Duchemin, Dalbouse, Richemond and Lambert Ribot. The chairman of the Banking Syndicate, M. Lehideux, the henchman of finance capitalists, was compelled to carry on negotiations with the bank clerks' trade union. The bosses of the flour mills trust, one of the most powerful in France, had to engage in negotiations with the workers of the Grande Moulin flour mills in Paris. What a tremendous strength the C.G.T. has achieved thanks to unification!
Why did the workers develop the movement so rapidly? Because the People's Front, their People's Front, was victorious.
The Paris metal workers, politically developed, determined that the time had come to act, because the present government had been put in power by the People's Front in order to help the working people. As a result of this action the working class in a few days, in a few hours of struggle, secured a considerable improvement in their living conditions. This is a splendid reply to those who formerly asserted that nothing can be done to raise wages before the victory of the revolution.
Another result of this movement is the mass character assumed by the
French trade unions. The metal workers' union in the Paris district now
has 60,000 members, while the Metal Workers' Federation throughout the
country has 200,000 members. The united C.G.T. has three and a half
million members whereas at the time of the fusion between the C.G.T.
and the C.G.T.U. there were only nine hundred thousand members.
This is something that has not been achieved under the coalition governments of either Czechoslovakia or Denmark. The strike movement in France, however, immediately helped the government and strengthened it. In the factories, worker delegates are now being legally appointed and real factory committees established and these will undoubtedly become the bodies on which the People's Front can base itself. They will be the best lever for putting into life the program of the People's Front. Yes, a tremendous trade union movement is developing in France.
Let Le Temps talk about the "tragic situation" (June 6 and 7), let the English press, and, first and foremost, The Daily Herald and Times, talk about the "difficulties of the government". Let Morrison print an article in the Forward of June 6, entitled "Good Luck, Mr. Blum". But it is clear that the government has a support now which no government has ever had in France.
To those who, like Le Temps of June 9, say that the "Parliamentary system has now been dealt the heaviest blow it has ever received" we may reply that the very opposite is now taking place. On the contrary, the fact that a few weeks after the election masses of the people achieved such big results narrows down the basis of fascism. This is why the independent action of the working class, the inalienable right of the working class will be an exceptionally important driving force as far as the actions of the government are concerned and will be the decisive force barring the way to the efforts of reaction and finance capital. This was stressed by the National Council of the Metal Workers' Federation at its meeting of June 8, when it declared in its resolution as follows:
"The Committee of the Federation declares that if the 40-hour week, the collective agreement, and holidays with pay, are legislative measures, none the less, the metal workers cannot wait until Parliament introduces these measures into law, for the employers to satisfy these demands. The Council of the Federation in exactly the same way presumes that the fulfillment and the regular operation of these measures will depend, in no smaller degree, on the corresponding independent action of the trade union organizations."
Marcel Cachin was right when he wrote in l’Humanite of June 8, that:
"We are told to make use of our influence to put an end to this increasing agitation. We reply that there is only one way of putting an end to strikes, and that is by satisfying the demands of the working people, by making it possible for them to live by their labor, by giving them adequate wages and by giving them conditions of existence worthy of human beings."
We must bring about a situation where our work in the villages is raised to the level of our work in the towns. The Communist Party has now ardently set itself to achieve this.
This is how we can see in actual life, in action, the forces which support the government, and which make it possible for it to fulfill the program of the People's Front. In a word, the present strike movement has immediately shown how it will be possible tomorrow to support the government which has been placed in power by the People's Front and how it will be able and will have to fulfill its tasks. The strike movement in France is meeting with a wide response on an international scale, as witnessed by the strikes in Belgium and the ferment among the workers in England and even in Germany.
In spite of the great successes achieved by the working class and the People's Front, we must not forget the seriousness of the situation, since it is quite clear that the reactionary bourgeoisie have no inclination to retreat. After their first attacks, which were designed to call forth a panic, and which shook the stock exchange at the beginning of May, the campaign was renewed with additional force at the end of May when the strikes began. I will quote the following example. In view of the fact that the distribution of newspapers was held up for three days (the newspapers of the People's Front were distributed by the workers themselves) the rumor was immediately spread about that there would be a general strike the next day. Everybody rushed to the shops to purchase food supplies, which led to prices being trebled. The fascists cried: see, this is the handiwork of the new government of the People's Front. Speculation was rampant everywhere, all the more so since the big department stores were occupied by their employees, while the central market was closed for two days. After the victory of the workers the increase in prices still continued, the excuse now being that wages had been increased. The reactionary press continues to accuse the government of having allegedly let loose anarchy.
As regards the economic situation, the tendency to improvement is still relatively weak. The index of French economy has hardly passed beyond the lowest point reached during the crisis. France is the only one of all the big capitalist countries where the crisis maintained itself throughout the year 1935 as well. According to official data, on May 30 there were 422,036 unemployed, of whom 106,530 were in Paris, and 249,000 in the Department of the Seine, as a whole. Note must, however, be made of the slackening of the agrarian crisis as the result of a certain rise in the prices of agricultural products, particularly of grain. This is to a certain degree to be explained by the wide campaign conducted by the Communist Party and the government measures adopted as a result of this campaign. But the finances of the country are in a serious position. On the one hand, there has been a considerable withdrawal of gold from the Bank of France on two occasions, namely in March-April, 1935, and In September, 1935. The gold reserve fell from 82,630,000,000 francs in March. 1935, to 65,590,000,000 francs by March 31, 1936.
There is a tremendous number of hidden banknotes in France (about
10,000,000,000 francs) and, according to a recent declaration of the
Minister of Finance, Vincent Auriol, there are 30,000,000,000 francs.
That is to say, if a panic begins, and these thousands of millions are
put into circulation, then fundamentally the devaluation of the franc
will take place. On the other hand, the budget deficit, the decline in
receipts from direct taxation, have led to a situation where the
various governments of National Unity, by refusing to tax the rich,
were able to resort to loans. Prior to November 1, 1935, 18,000,000,000
francs of new loans were issued, at high rates of interest. At the
present moment, the indebtedness of the French state amounts to
334,000,000,000 francs, of which sum 70,000,000,000 was incurred in the
last five years. A great part of these debts are "floating" short term
loans* and this provides finance capital with the possibility, if it so
desires, of strangling the government in the course of a few days. We
had such a situation with the Herriot government which in 1936 was
overthrown in a few hours by this means, and the deficit in the State
Budget for 1936 is at least 10,000,000,000 francs.
* On June 19, according to the Minister of Finance, there were 66,000,000,000 francs in short term loans.
Finally, the big industrialists, as is well known, are striving to achieve devaluation with a view to carrying on a more successful struggle on foreign markets. Paul Reynaud, the agent of the big employers, recently came out in the Chamber for devaluation. The danger is exceptionally great and serious, for devaluation will not only deprive the workers of what they have achieved as a result of the present strike struggle, but it will render still more serious the conditions of the workers and the whole people. Today the attack is in full blast, by a general, rapid and big increase in the prices of all products of prime necessity, in the cost of living. Thus the first advantages obtained by the workers are already being imperiled, while the peasants and small shopkeepers are beginning to be severely hit. There is an immediate and particularly grave danger there.
On the other hand, according to law, the fascist organizations have been disbanded. But they have only changed their names and for the time being still continue to exist with their arms and their organization.
In such a situation, there is a danger that the big finance capitalists, trusts and monopolists which base themselves on the fascist bands, may exert pressure on the government. Therefore the Communist Party must at the present time display a maximum of vigilance at every step and in action. This is why the movement of such dimensions as has now broken out among the workers is an exceptionally powerful barrier against the forces of fascism and reaction, and is thereby a support to the government in the fulfillment of the program of the People's Front.
It is precisely for this reason that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of France has insisted on the need for strengthening the People's Front, and of attracting to it those strata of the population which are still far from it, particularly the Catholic, among whom we have already achieved successes.
In exactly the same way the Party's campaign for the "unification of the French people", for the struggle against the two hundred families, is meeting with support even among many of those who have hitherto been supporters of the Croix de Feu. The efforts of our Party, as expressed in the policy of stretching out our hand, are well known.
The past two years have shown that the Communist Party always inspires and fights for the extension and consolidation of the united front. The Communist Party has struck deep roots among the masses. Its influence is tremendous. Its membership is growing.
Thousands of new members have joined the Party every day since June 4. To date, the Central Committee of the Party has sent out 133,048 Party cards and stamps. The Young Communist League organizations after a period of inactivity have also begun to grow. During the recent period 40,893 membership cards and stamps have been sent out. During the District Conference which took place on January 11, 1936, the Paris city district had 6,392 members, whereas on May 31 there were 12,777 members registered, i.e., the figures had doubled. In the Paris halls where we usually hold our meetings, we can no longer find enough accommodation for all our Party members.
Approximately, 260,000 copies of l’Humanite are sold. From June 4 to 9 3,368,667 copies were sold.
These figures are higher than ever during the entire period of the existence of l’Humanite.
The self sacrifice and heroism of our comrades are well known. In 1934
and 1935, at the first call of the Central Committee they went to shed
their blood in the struggle against fascism. Many examples go to show
that the Communists in France know how to organize the masses.*
Our successes in the village and especially in the big aviation works have been brought about by the work of thousands of humble comrades, endlessly persecuted by the employers and the police, thrown out onto the streets, and condemned to hunger.
The great success of the Party is its ideological consolidation. The Communist Party of France brought about a sharp turn during the year 1934 in the whole of its tactical line. (It began its work in this direction in February and intensified it in June.) And this at a moment when great confusion existed in all parties in France. The entire Party operated this turn without any serious hesitations, and the success was such that from that moment the Central Committee of the Communist Party of France won considerable prestige both inside the Party and outside its ranks. On the other hand, the work of the Central Committee demonstrated the solidarity among the leadership, a point which is very important in a country such as France, where anarcho-syndicalist and individualist traditions are very deep rooted. Whereas conflicts are taking place in all parties in France, only one party shows itself to be a monolithic whole and possesses a united leadership, a united Central Committee, and that party is the Communist Party of France.
We can boldly declare that never yet in the history of the Communist Party of France has there been such a unanimous endorsement of the line of the Comintern, and particularly the line of the Seventh Congress. And it is not a question of formally endorsing this .line, in resolutions, but of endorsing the line of the Comintern in the entire everyday work of the Communist Party, inspired by the spirit of the decisions of the Seventh Congress.
None the less it is clear that we are still not sufficiently strong. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of France has sent out 133,000 Party cards. But eleven million French proletarians and millions of others who toil require leadership. In view of the present complicated and difficult situation, the most urgent task is clearly to recruit ever new members, in thousands, into the Party.
There has been some delay in establishing a joint federation of the youth, due to the resistance of the leaders of the Socialist and Republican youth, but the position is improving. The membership of the Young Communist League is increasing, and the basis is again being laid for the unification of all the youth, and especially for the drafting of a list of common demands for the youth. But what still remains to be done is tremendous.
As regards l’Humanite, it is of course an important newspaper, but as recently as December, 1935, its total circulation was in all 100,250 copies in the Paris district, whereas there is a population of 6,705,000 in Paris. In 188 cities with a population of more than 10,000 inhabitants each, and with a total population of approximately 9,000,000 inhabitants, only 36,952 copies of l’Humanite are sold. In the rest of France, with a population of more than 26,000,000 people, only 53,000 copies of the paper are sold. This means that the Party is faced with the tremendous task of improving the biggest Communist paper both politically and technically, a paper which is a lever for action and unity.
Finally, and this is the main thing, in this complicated and difficult situation, the Communist Party of France will only be able to cope with the situation if it rapidly prepares the numerous cadres of which it stands in need.
At the present time, more than five-sixths of the Party membership has a Party standing of two years. We are growing very rapidly, and, thus, the tasks of training and propaganda work will become colossal in dimensions. The ideology of Communism must be introduced among the huge masses of people coming into our Party. The Party is, thus, faced with the problem of raising the ideological level of our press, both national and local, and of our theoretical organ, and of all our publications. In this work we shall be led by the words of Comrade Dimitroff at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, when he said that:
“It is necessary to learn, comrades, to learn always, at every step, in the course of the struggle, at liberty and in jail, to learn and to fight, to fight and to learn. We must be able to combine the great teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin with Stalin's firmness at work and in struggle, with Stalin's irreconcilability, on matters of principle, towards the class enemy and deviators from the Bolshevik line, with Stalin's fearlessness in face of difficulties, with Stalin's revolutionary realism."*
This also raises the question of increasing discipline. It goes without saying that it is not a question of bureaucratic, moribund, and barrack discipline, but of live Communist discipline, based on political consciousness. But to achieve this a tremendous amount of educational work needs to be done. This is one of the most important tasks facing the Communist Party.
The situation of the Communist Party of France is extremely complicated, extremely difficult, and the French Communists recognize these difficulties. They are difficulties of growth, and show that the Communist Party has grown up and has achieved great successes.
The results already achieved enable us to look with confidence into the future.