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The News Line: Feature LEON TROTSKY’S ‘WHITHER FRANCE?’ TODAY Part 3: A Programme of Action for Workers’ Struggles
French workers occupying a factory in 1936, during a wave of occupations. Supporters are bringing supplies
THE election results from May 6th in Greece and France show that the working class will use every opportunity to fight against paying for the capitalist crisis.

The counter-revolutionary reformist Socialist Party in France called for ‘growth’ as a means of defending French imperialism against the angry movement of the working class.

In Greece, Syriza proclaimed a ‘Left’ policy but supports continued membership of the bankers’ and monopolists’ EU and the eurozone.

Having gained support in the elections the counter-revolutionary French Socialist Party is consciously seeking to control the revolutionary movement of the working class in order to divert, dissipate and betray it.

Similarly in Greece the leaders of Syriza are performing a similar role, either consciously in the case of the reformists in its leadership, or as a treacherous act of political cowardice on the part of the revisionists.

In analysing the revolutionary situation in France in the mid-1930s in his writings Whither France? Leon Trotsky exposed the counter-revolutionary role of the ‘People’s Front’. This was the alliance of the Socialist Party (SFIO) and the Stalinist Communist Party of France (PCF) with the bourgeois Radical Socialist Party.

Trotsky declared: ‘An alliance with the Radicals would be an alliance against the middle class.’ (Whither France? by Leon Trotsky, New Park, p14)

Later he wrote: ‘ “The People’s Front” represents the coalition of the proletariat with the imperialist bourgeoisie, in the shape of the Radical Party and smaller tripe of the same sort.

‘The coalition extends both to the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary spheres.

‘In both spheres the Radical Party preserving for itself complete freedom of action coarsely imposes restrictions upon the freedom of action of the proletariat.’ (ibid, p99)

Both the leaders of the Socialist Party and the Stalinists proclaimed ‘Left’ policies with the former calling for ‘the struggle for power’ and the latter talking of a ‘general strike’. (ibid, p39 and 65)

The working class took the workers’ parties at their word and elected the ‘People’s Front’, which took office in June 1936.

SFIO Prime Minister Leon Blum became the ‘honest manager’ on behalf of the French bourgeoisie. The Socialist Minister of Internal Affairs declared that strikers’ occupations would not be tolerated. (ibid, p141)

The working class regarded the electoral victory of the ‘People’s Front’ as a green light to escalate the class struggle. Mass strikes and occupations began in June 1936.

Trotsky highlighted the political logic of the ‘People’s Front’, writing: ‘The French Stalinists have renamed the Committees of Action People’s Front Committees, imagining that by doing so they would reconcile revolutionary struggle with the protection of bourgeois democracy.

‘The present strikes destroy this miserable illusion to its roots.

‘The Radicals dread strikes. The Socialists dread the fear of the Radicals. The Communists dread the fear of both.

‘The slogan of the Committees can be realised only by a genuinely revolutionary organisation, unwaveringly devoted to the masses, to their cause and their struggle.’ (ibid, p129)

For Trotsky, exposing the counter-revolutionary role of the ‘People’s Front’ was necessary to carry out his primary task, that of providing revolutionary leadership.

After the February putsch by the Fascist-Bonapartist-Royalist bloc on February 6th, 1934 and the general strike on February 12, before anything else, Trotsky produced A Programme of Action, in June 1934. (ibid, p145-158)

This statement was prepared for the Communist League of France (LCF) and published in its newspaper La Verité.

The idea of a United Front against fascism had been the LCF’s main agitation for some time and this began to gain support in the mass working-class parties and unions.

A Programme of Action was designed to provide the political demands and goals of the United Front.
In Whither France? (November 1934) Trotsky referred to A Programme of Action, writing: ‘The struggle for power must begin with the fundamental idea that if opposition to further aggravation of the situation of the masses under capitalism is still possible, no real improvement of their situation is conceivable without a revolutionary invasion of the right of capitalist property.

‘The political campaign of the united front must base itself upon a well elaborated transitional programme, i.e. on a system of measures which with a workers’ and peasants’ government can assure the transition from capitalism to socialism.’ (ibid, p35-36 – see footnote)

A Programme of Action declared: ‘Down with business secrets: Those who demand sacrifices must start by presenting their account books. Thus will their crookedness be unveiled!’

It put out a call: ‘Factory committees, peasant committees, committees of small functionaries, of employees could very easily, with the help of honest technicians, engineers, accountants loyal to the working people, do away with the “business secrets” of the exploiters.

‘It is by this method that we must establish public control over banks, industry and commerce.’

It continued: ‘Under this general appeal, the Communist League fights for the following measures on behalf of the workers:

‘1. Forty-hour week, wage increases. Workers’ control will demonstrate that the level of productive forces permits the reduction of the working day.

‘Wage increases at the expense of the magnates of the Comite des Forges, of the Comite des Houilleres, of the Finalys, the Schneiders and the Staviskys, and to the material and moral advantage of the labouring people.

‘2. Real social security and, first of all, unemployment insurance. Annual vacation of at least one month. Retirement pensions permitting one to live after fifty years of age.

‘3. Equal wages for equal work. Abolition of the superexploitation imposed on women, young people, aliens and colonials.

‘4. For working women, the same wages and same rights as for working men. Maternity protection with supplementary leaves of absence.

‘5. For young people, wages equal to adults. Extension of study and apprenticeship at the collective expense. Special hygienic measures.

‘6. Repeal of all special legislation applying to foreign and colonial workers.’

It called for ‘Nationalisation of Banks, Key Industries, Insurance Companies and Transportation’ declaring: ‘Nationalisation by the workers means the destruction of the great private monopolies, support of small enterprises, redistribution of products for the benefit of the great mass of producers.’

Its demands included a ‘Monopoly of Foreign Trade’, ‘The Alliance of Workers and Peasants’, ‘Social Security for the Collectivity’, Disbanding of the Police, Political Rights for Soldiers’ and ‘Right of Self-Determination of Nationalities, including Separation’.

It declared: ‘Throughout the aged European continent, divided, militarised, bloodstained, threatened with total destruction by a new war, we raise the only banner of liberation, that of the Workers’ and Peasants’ United States of Europe, the fraternal Federation of Soviet States!’

The Programme also called ‘For the Defence of the Soviet Union’.

It declared: ‘Down with the Bourgeois “Authoritarian State”! For Workers’ and Peasants’ Power’ and advocated ‘The Struggle for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Commune’.

It called ‘For a Single Assembly’ Parliament and warned that ‘The Bourgeoisie Will Never Give Up Voluntarily’.

In 1938 Trotsky incorporated many of the demands from this document into The Transitional Programme, the Founding Programme of the Fourth International. (The Transitional Programme, by Leon Trotsky, Union Books)


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