Ted Grant

Capitalists fear armed Paris workers

Written: September 1944
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 6 no. 5 (September 1944)
Transcription: Lisi 2004
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2006

The Nazis have been routed in France. But most significant has been the mass movement of the French workers in Paris and throughout France, in taking up arms against the Nazi oppressor.

It has been this mass movement of the French workers, peasants and middle class which has forced the retreat of the German army. The culminating point, which has marked the entry of the French masses once again onto the arena of history, was the insurrection of the workers of Paris.

Despite the capitalist censorship of the news from Europe and the meagre reports that have been allowed to come through, it is possible to piece together the chain of events. As the Allied armies marched towards Paris, on August 13th, the workers in the industrial suburbs began demonstrations which rapidly developed into armed insurrection, despite the little equipment possessed by the workers. [?] The strike broke out throughout the Paris area which brought the life of the capital completely to a stand-still. The strike involved the French railwaymen, thus preventing the Nazis from moving troops and supplies to and from the capital. So powerful was the movement and so intense the feeling of the masses that two days after the insurrection had broken out, even the Paris police came out on strike and joined the insurrectionaries. Barricades were set up in all the working class districts of Paris and tens of thousands, armed with revolvers, sticks and rifles were joined on the barricade by hundreds of thousands without arms.

Thus, within a few days, despite, the fact that the Nazis possessed many tanks and other heavy equipment, they were completely defeated. It is noteworthy that the capitalist de Gaullists, who had placed themselves at the head of the movement with the assistance of the Stalinists and reformists, quickly made a truce with the Nazi generals at a time when the movement was developing successfully. The Nazi troops were to be allowed to withdraw from Paris within 48 hours of the agreement which had been signed.

The reason for this is not hard the find. It was not tender humanitarianism but fear for their property which might be destroyed in the fighting. Thus the Nazis were enabled to gain time, draw in reserves, and continue the struggle for several more days at the cost of many more workers’ lives.

In 1940 the French capitalists sold Paris to Hitler without a struggle for the same reason–fear of the destruction of their property. But also because of their fear of an armed working class which could see their degeneration and corruption clearly, and which might take control of Paris and then the whole of France. The nightmare of a new and more permanent occupation of the factories as in the great stay in strikes of 1936 obsessed them. Then they had been saved by the workers’ leaders through the policy of Popular Frontism. But they were not sure it would suffice them now!

Capitalists fear armed workers

The Gaullist leadership was compelled to place itself at the head of the present movement would [?] get out of control and also to demonstrate to Anglo-American imperialism that they were the only force in France with whom the Allies could deal. Thus they issued the call to insurrection.

But immediately the Nazis were driven from Paris, the main preoccupation of the capitalist forces has been the disarming of the Parisian workers. The entire capitalist press has reported this as one of the “major” problems with which the de Gaullist government is faced. The Herald of 29th August, says:

“But another problem facing General Koenig, new commandant of Paris, will be to get the Maquis underground and demobilised soldiers of the French Forces of the Interior[1] to lay down their arms. To wean the high-spirited youths, who are still racing through the city in their small cars, waving flags and brandishing weapons, back to the hum-drum existence of labour and rebuilding, will be one of his weightiest problems.”

The News Chronicle of August 30th reports an even more far-fetched excuse for the disarming of the workers who freed Paris:

“To organise the legions of armed French youths now wearing the armband of the F.F.I., and training them into a disciplined force, General Koenig will first of all disarm those not at the moment authorised to carry arms. In this way the attempts of Darnand’s militia[2] and German soldiers in civilian uniform to infiltrate into the F.F.I. will be largely defeated.”

This is so much balderdash. It is obviously ridiculous to suggest that the fascists, especially the German troops, could enter the F.F.I. How many German soldiers can speak French sufficiently well to pretend to be Frenchmen? They would give themselves away immediately. In addition to which, according to the reports of the correspondents, the only German troops in Paris are prisoners. Their captors would have to be very obliging to allow them to change into civilian clothes and enter the Maquis. So far as the fascists are concerned, those of Darnand’s militia who have not been dealt with or arrested, by the armed workers would be only too glad to skulk into some corner where they would not be recognised.

That the ostensible reason for disarming the French workers is false, is shown by an article in the Manchester Guardian of 31st August by their Military Correspondent, headed: “Demobilising the Guerillas”. In this the anxiety of the ruling class at the possibility of an armed people in Europe is revealed frankly:

“It would be dangerous sentiment to feel that because a man has been a hero in battle he can be excused if he shows signs of anti-social behaviour when the battle is over.”

It is control of the arms for their own ends that the capitalists are after. They are deadly afraid of the armed workers, who have especially bitter memories of the collaboration of the French bankers and trust magnates with their Nazi colleagues in the exploitation and repression of the French masses. They have many scores to settle with the capitalists who made agreements with Hitler. But apart from a handful of capitalists who they will have to sacrifice as scapegoats, the de Gaullists represent precisely the interests of the big capitalists, despite their demagogic programme. As in Italy, so in France, the Allies will protect them.

Swing to the left

Already the masses have begun revolutionary seizures. The Paris press, which functioned as an instrument of Nazi propaganda has been seized by the sinned [sic?] legions of the underground movement. This act alone, which violates the sacred rights of private property, must have sent shivers of fear down the spines of the capitalists.

The Daily Worker reports that the circulation of the workers’ papers now published in Paris on the presses seized by the underground, is higher than the rest of the press put together! L’Humanité, Communist Party organ, has a circulation of 230,033. Populaire, organ of the Socialist Party has a circulation of 160,000, and twelve capitalist papers together, only 120,000! These figure indicate the revolutionary movement of the French masses, which the Stalinists and reformists will not hold back for long. Before the war, in all France the circulation of Populaire was only 60,000! The tremendous increase in its circulation in the Paris area alone, where formerly the Stalinists were completely dominant, shows the swing to the left of the masses. Socialist Party policy has been more “Left” than that of the Stalinists, so the workers have swung towards them. This position in the first hours of liberation, indicates the beginning of the revolutionary wave which can only grow more intensive and deep as the masses see the real programme of De Gaulle and Anglo-American Imperialism in action. Workers, peasants and middle class will all be driven on the road of social revolution. The demonstrating crowds are demonstrating for socialism and freedom–even if this is not clearly expressed. That the capitalists realise this is shown by the haste with which they are raising the problem of disarming the workers.

They remember the Commune

It is the memory of French history too, which they fear. Paris is a city of revolution. In 1789, 1830, 1848 and in 1871 the Parisians rose in insurrection. For the first time in history the Paris workers seized power in 1871 and organised the glorious Paris Commune. The capitalists have not forgotten that this took place after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war when the Paris workers organised the armed National Guard–at a time when the Prussian army was at the gates of Paris and when the corruption and degeneracy of the French capitalists was manifest to the workers. But they should remember too, that what caused the complete overthrow of the capitalist Government in Paris was the attempt of Thiers to disarm the Paris workers.

Then, as now, in order to retain control, the capitalists had to destroy any independent armed organisation of the masses. This fear of the revenge of the people is also shown by the attempts to divert the anger of the French masses from the real criminals–this is seen by the treatment of women who have had relations with German soldiers. Hooligans have been photographed shaving off the hair of their heads in public, and women have been forced to march through the streets unclothed.

That this will not be successful is indicated by the report of one correspondent who reports the disapproval of this practice by a small woman shop-keeper. He reports that she suggested instead, the punishment of “merchants” etc., who had collaborated with the Nazis. What she no doubt expressed was that the real criminals should be punished–the big trusts and combines who notoriously have had intimate relations with the Nazi trusts and combines.

France is celebrating in “unity” her [?] liberation from the Nazis, according to de Gaulle and others. That the masses are overjoyed at the defeat of the Nazi oppressor after four years of occupation, is clear enough. That because of the foul propaganda of the Communist Party and Socialist Party, the workers do not clearly differential between the Nazis and the German workers, is probably to a great extent true. But how long will this last?

Anglo-American imperialism will hold France and all Europe in slavery to their financial dictatorship. The awakening after the first joy of liberation will be rapid and profound.

The ruling class will tremble for the coming period, Paris has spoken! In the coming days the full meaning the uprising of the Paris workers will became clear. They threw out the Nazis; they can just as easily throw out the French capitalists too.

Paris and France will yet present their reckoning for the crimes of French imperialism. Red Paris has spoken, but it has not yet said its final word. The French Trotskyists will play their part in the coming days. Events will show the Paris workers soon enough who are their real enemies and who are their real friends. They will spurn the treacherous class-collaborationist policy of the Stalinists and reformists. After Rome and Warsaw comes Paris. These are just the beginnings of the revolutionary movement which will sweep all Europe. Paris [?] workers will remain true to socialism and internationalism!

The workers of France will fight for a Soviet France together with a Socialist United States of Europe!

Editor's Notes

[1] Resistance fighters.

[2] Joseph Darnard, a vicious anti-Bolshevik, was leader of the Milice, a collaborationist militia that fought against the Resistance. He was executed in 1945.