Ted Grant

France Threatened—Franco-type Coup?

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 4 no. 1 (February 1962)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

The running sore of Algeria still remains the major problem facing French capitalism. Every day brings its toll in the towns and countryside of Algeria of its dead and wounded. In the centres of European population, especially Algiers and Oran, the reactionaries of the O.A.S. [A] have organised to try and cow the Muslim population by lynchings and assassinations. This is a counter-terror to the terror campaign of the F.L.N.

The war of liberation of the F.L.N. has undoubtedly obtained the support of the overwhelming majority of the Algerian population in the countryside and in the towns. The endeavour to obtain a “military victory” continued by de Gaulle as by his predecessors has been a complete failure. Once the Algerians had developed a national consciousness it was impossible to defeat them. Despite the decimation of the population the struggle continues. The new generation, even more than the old, continues the struggle. The retreat of Imperialism in the rest of North Africa, in Tunis and Morocco; the conceding of independence to the rest of French Africa, have reinforced the determination of the Algerian people to be free.

Under these circumstances French Imperialism has reluctantly concluded that the continuation of the war can only weaken French capitalism, without gaining any positive result. The war is costing French capitalism from £800 million to £1,000 million a year, and weakening her for the role she wishes to play in Europe. De Gaulle, as the most serious representative of Big Business has long come to the conclusion that the effort to hold down Algeria is not worth while, and therefore wishes to conclude the best bargain that French capitalism can obtain in negotiations with the Algerian nationalists.

De Gaulle’s fears

The main stumbling block to agreement has been the fears of the reaction of the French officer caste and of the European population of Algiers, Oran and the other cities of Algeria. The ruling class and the de Gaulle Government fear another attempt at a coup d’etat this time not only in Algeria but also in France.

The European population including the white working class, in Algiers, Oran and the other cities of Algeria have gone over to the gangster reaction of the O.A.S. This despite the fact that at one stage the Socialist Party and the Communist Party had widespread support among the European working class, as well as among the Algerians. This has been lost by the cowardly policies of these parties which failed to offer the Algerian and French masses the perspective of a Socialist Algeria, linked in fraternity to a Socialist France. Thus the European workers without any perspectives or leadership have succumbed to the prevailing chauvinism and in the majority have supported passively or actively the O.A.S.. That also has happened to the “little men”, the small shop-keepers, professional people and lower ranks of civil servants.

Meanwhile in France itself there has been a growing weariness of the senseless and interminable war to hold down the Algerian people. The overwhelming majority of the people, not only the working class but the middle class as well, desires peace.

Yet despite the reaction of the people to the last Algiers coup when the conspirators were compelled to call off the attempt in face of the 12 million strong general strike, the biggest general strike in history, and the refusal of the conscripts in Algeria to obey the orders of the rebel generals, France faces the possibility of a renewed attempt by the fascist and quasi-fascist gangsters. How is this possible in the face of the opposition of the overwhelming majority of the French people?

Marxist analysis of the state

The answer can only be given by a Marxist understanding of the state and of society. The officer core, trained, selected and organised by the capitalist class to defend its interests is reactionary in its big majority. They have been imbued with the ideology of militarism. They blame the successive defeats of the French Army in Europe, in Asia and in Africa on the French people and its rights. They burn with hatred of the working class. Their outlook is very similar to that of the German army after the First World War, when the forerunners of the Nazis, the Freikorps, composed of ex-officers and the scum of German society conducted a campaign of assassinations and murders. Many later became Stormtroopers and S.S. Men.

In Algeria this corps has organised reprisals, torture and murder. They have forcibly “re-settled” hundreds of thousands of the Algerians. Their whole outlook is coloured by brutality, ignorance, arrogance and chauvinism. But to take action against this cadre, would be to saw away the trunk on which the state rests. Marx and Lenin never tired of emphasising that the state could be reduced to “armed bodies of men”. Without these armed bodies of men, police, army etc. the capitalists would be powerless. Consequently de Gaulle and the capitalists cannot take action against these cadres without undermining their own rule.

Impunity of O.A.S. criminals

Thus the crimes which blacken the name of the French people continue with impunity, on the part of the perpetrators, as they did in Germany. Salan and the other criminals continue contemptuously their preparations for a new attempt. The state apparatus, the police, and the army are riddled with sympathisers and members of the O.A.S. The latest glaring example has been the acquittal of the torturers of a Muslim woman by an army court-martial. The facts were beyond dispute, the woman died, doctors testified to the means of torture, particularly bestial, but the criminals go scot free. Officers arrested somehow or other succeed in escaping. The O.A.S. continue their insane campaign of plastic bombs in France…few are arrested.

Action is taken, of course, against a police trade union secretary who protested against a Government ban on an anti O.A.S. demonstration by the trade unions, Catholic and Communist. Here the de Gaulle Government is swift to act. But the real reason for the immunity of those sections of the officer caste who are plotting and preparing treason is the fear of the undermining of the power of the state, which would open the road to the overthrow of capitalism.

The French “Socialist” leaders who pretend to stand on the basis of Marxism, the French “Communist” leaders who pretend to stand on the basis of the teachings of Lenin, have forgotten all the lessons of the class struggle, especially the rich history of France. If it depended on them the road would be clear for the victory of reaction. The French C.P. is working for a new Popular Front—i.e. an agreement between the workers’ organisations and the alleged “progressive” capitalists. In the Daily Worker of January 9th Sam Russell writes: “...of that famous Popular Front which did so much for the people of France...” It was the strike-breaking conspiracy of the Popular Front which prepared the way for reaction in France. J. Berlioz, C.P. leader was compelled to write in the C.P. journal now World News and Views on December 10th, 1938: “The sentiment in favour of unity (C.P.-S.P.) is now increasing, above all among those workers who realise the ominous consequences of the concessions which have been made to the forces of capital by the various Popular Front Governments.”

These people when it comes to applying Marxism spit on the basic teachings of Marx and Lenin. Their “Marxism” is but a means to fool the working class and the people. Marxism is not a set of pious incantations but a guide to action especially at periods of tense class struggle.

Form defence committees

Had the Communist Party of France retained an iota of the method of Marx and Lenin they would have been systematically preparing the working class for the battle. They would have agitated on the lines of “no confidence in the ruling class and its institutions”. They would have prepared systematically an agitation for defence committees in the factories, for armed guards of workers defence, for committees in the army, for active solidarity with the Algerian people, for the control of the officers in the army by soldiers’ committees, committees in the Air Force and Navy joining with the committees of workers to defend the rights of the French working class and French people. Above all they would have explained the need for a Democratic Socialist France as the only answer and guarantee against such conspiracies.

Fortunately for the people of France and for the French working class the issue will not be decided by the policy of the leaders of the working class. The last coup was a dress rehearsal not only for reaction…but for the working class. Their reaction to a new reactionary uprising will be even stronger than the last. If the O.A.S. maniacs stage a new uprising they will provoke a counter-movement which could be the beginning of the Socialist revolution in France. This could only be successful by a mass split in the Communist Party by a left wing determined to struggle for a Marxist class policy.

Events in France and internationally—especially the crisis of Stalinism in the Soviet Union—have prepared the way for such an eventuality. The French C.P. was formed by a majority of the French Socialist Party. Thus a new split would be in the tradition of French Socialism. Joining with the French Marxists they would prepare the way for the winning of power by the working class as the only solution to the problems plaguing the French people for the past decades.


[A] Organisation de l'armée secrète (“Organization of the Secret Army”). French far-right terrorist organisation during the Algerian War (1954-62). The O.A.S. used terrorist tactics, often with the complicity and cover of the French military, to prevent Algeria’s independence. Its motto was “Algeria is French and will remain so”.