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Submitted by martin on Sun, 12/06/2011 - 08:42

In my article I cited two examples to establish the general idea that it is possible to reject "absolute opposition" to something like the NATO intervention in Libya and at the same time to express general political opposition to NATO.

Taaffe offers no comment on one of them - where the police, on a day of an EDL demonstration and a left-wing counter-demonstration, at one point turned against and fought the EDLers, saving a group of left-wing counter-demonstrators from a severe beating by the EDL.

If concern for the safety of those left-wing demonstrators tells us that "absolute opposition" to the police fighting the EDL that day would have been idiotic, then it is hard to see why concern for the lives of the Libyan rebels should not indicate a similar attitude on Libya.

If Taaffe concedes the EDL example, then his general argument that anything other than "absolute opposition" to the NATO intervention must mean becoming "the political attorney and apologist" of Britain and France immediately falls down. He has to establish some specific argument about different, and other, principles being involved in Libya.

An argument that we are still in, or are re-entering, the age of colonial high imperialism - so that even in-the-short-term-benign big-power intervention must almost certainly be reckoned inseparable from quick subsequent moves to colonial conquest - might meet Taaffe's case, if it could be sustained. It would be as if, in the EDL incident, we had to take it as almost certain that the police, once arrived, would follow up any scuffle with the EDL by arresting all the left-wing counter-demonstrators and jailing them for long sentences.

As Sean Matgamna comments, Taaffe seems to assume something like that argument, but never actually makes it.

Taaffe comments on my other illustrative example, but not illuminatingly.

Me:

Trotskyists "did not 'absolutely oppose' the entry of American and British-sponsored French forces into Paris in August 1944 to defeat and oust the Nazi occupiers on the back of a popular rising which had started a few days before.

On the contrary, if the Americans had stopped their advance and camped outside Paris until, maybe, the Nazis had crushed the uprising - as Stalin's army camped outside Warsaw from August 1944, letting the Nazis exterminate a popular rising before the Russian army finally entered to push out the Nazis - the Trotskyists would have denounced the Americans".

Taaffe:

"In France in 1944 [Martin Thomas] falsely ascribes to the Trotskyists at that time that they looked towards US and British forces to intervene on behalf of the working class. In reality, the August 1944 uprising in Paris took place while the Allied imperialist forces – including De Gaulle’s Free French – were 50 miles from Paris. They were rushed towards the city by US forces because of the fear of all the leaders of the capitalist armies of a new version of the Paris Commune with the working class taking power in the city and then spreading this example to the rest of France. There was no possibility of a repetition of the crushing of the Warsaw uprising because the masses themselves had already partially defeated the German forces in the city.

In fact, it was the working class and, increasingly, sections of the middle class who bore the brunt of the struggle and resistance against the Nazis, while most of the 'elite' were collaborators".

Taaffe's comments are all beside the point, inaccurate, or both.

Of course the Trotskyists did not "look towards US and British forces to intervene on behalf of the working class"! It does not, and did not, follow that they expressed specific "absolute opposition" to the American troops entering Paris.

The German commander in Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, was specifically ordered by Hitler to hold the city at all costs, and destroy it if necessary. As it happened, von Choltitz defied orders, and was not pushed aside by a subordinate more loyal to the Führer.

With almost 20,000 troops, the Germans could have crushed a Resistance uprising which started on 19 August with a total of only 1800 firearms of all sorts. But they "contented themselves with holding key buildings and arteries as well as they might and protecting their own security" (Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War, p.90). The Resistance did not "defeat the German forces in the city". Its proclamation for the uprising declared its aim as "to open the route to Paris to the victorious allied armies and to welcome them there" (Kolko, p.89).

The US commander, Eisenhower, was reluctant to enter Paris. (He did not "rush": he was less than 25 miles away, according to Kolko [p.91], yet took five days to get there).

One argument used by De Gaulle to persuade Eisenhower was an alleged danger of Stalinist takeover in Paris if he did not move. To the US military mind, a Stalinist takeover would have seemed indistinguishable from "a new version of the Paris Commune". Taaffe should register that a Stalinist takeover would have been the very opposite of a "new Commune".

In fact neither a new Commune nor a Stalinist coup was on the cards at the time. The real drama behind De Gaulle's difficulties with Eisenhower was that the Americans were reluctant about handing over France to De Gaulle, seen as closely tied to Britain. They wanted to see if they could construct a more malleable alternative with defecting Vichy-regime leaders. Their first plan was to make their advance round Paris, instead of through it, and thus stop De Gaulle declaring an independent post-occupation French government in the capital.

In the end, Eisenhower decided that conceding to De Gaulle was both safe and unavoidable. De Gaulle's lieutenant Jacques Leclerc took the Germans' surrender on 25 August.

Martin Thomas

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