What the Trotskyists did in Nazi-occupied France

Submitted by dalcassian on 28 September, 2013 - 4:31

From La Verite, 30 Sep 1944, the paper of the Trotskyist Internationalist Communist Party.

This was part of an open letter to the President of the National Federation of the French Press in protest against delay in legalising publication of La Verite in liberated France. The Gaullist Minister responsible for the affair was Andre Malraux.


Special issue of La Verite, 11 August 1944, at the time of the collapse of the Nazi occupation of Paris


We are asked whether La Verite was an organ of "resistance" for four years. The first number of La Verite was secretly mimeographed as early as August 1940.

There was another clandestine organ, L'Humanite, (official organ of the French Communist Party) but all Parisians remember that it was then distributed in the streets with the tacit consent of the occupying forces and besides, officially applied for legal publication. L'Humanite appeared then without a single line against German occupation by virtue of the German-Russian agreement, which it warmly defended.

In contrast. La Verite, which had on its masthead "Neither Petain nor Hitler - For a Workers and Peasants Government" violently attacked Nazism, denounced the (Nazi) raiding of goods, appealed for regrouping against fascism on both sides of the demarcation line, etc. To our knowledge. La Verite was the first organ of resistance.

OUR STRUGGLE

For four years, in 19 mimeographed and 54 printed issues, La Verite campaigned against fascism and the occupying imperialism. Its campaigns were oriented as follows:

1. Struggle Against Fascism

To this struggle was devoted the first editorial of La Verite; since then, there has not been a single issue of La Verite where it was abandoned. For the rest, let us recall that since the first months of the occupation, our youth comrades organized against the fascist gangs, assured the physical defence of the last free youth organization, the CLAJ (Youth Hostels). The Nazi authorities soon dissolved it and arrested its leaders.

2. Struggle Against Racism and Anti-Semitism

Also since the first issue.

3. Struggle for the Peoples' Right of Self-determination

This right being applied to all the peoples including the colonies.

4. Struggle Against Imperialist War

We struggled with all our strength against imperialist war - which, as the Franc Tireur recalls, is the fruit of the whole of the capitalist regime - by appealing to the workers of all countries to unite, in order to overthrow the bourgeoisie. That is why our masthead reads: "Workers of all countries, unite." This is why our doctrine is that of the Socialist United States of the World, which alone can prevent the return of fascism and war, and this is also why we denounced the manoeuvres of the occupying imperialism trying to make the working peoples pay for the imperialist war.

5. Struggle for Fraternization

We appealed to the German soldiers to turn their arms against their officers and to fraternize with the workers of Europe, at the same time as we appealed to the workers of this country to' address fraternally the workers dragooned by Hitler into his army, calling upon them to struggle together against fascism and capitalism. This propaganda is that for which L'Humanite reproaches us with most hatred, pretending that we want to "give our hand to the murderers."

On the contrary, La Verite repeats unceasingly that "we must execute the agents of the Gestapo, the SS, the reactionary officers. It is against them that we must give our hand to the German workers in uniform". Here, for instance, is one of our most recent posters, in German: "German soldier! Start the struggle immediately-against Hitler, the Nazis, the Gestapo. Start the struggle immediately against all capitalists! Disarm your officers, form your Soldiers' Councils! Don't throw your arms away! Give them to us! Struggle with us, your brothers, the French workers! Bring the revolution to Germany and establish the power of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils!"

For L'Humanite, the whole German army is indistinguishably a mass of murderers, although in that same newspaper numerous facts are reported which demonstrate the contrary. We even refer them to the Catholic newspapers like the Temoignage Chretien to make them understand that the German soldiers have been forcibly integrated into the Wehrmacht and are Hitler's victims like the workers of the occupied countries. Most of them hate Hitlerism, and the revolution would have started in Germany long ago if they had not been welded to their General Staffs by the wall of national hatred which encircled them, and if they had seen a way out of their situation. This is why the Gestapo reacted violently against our fraternization efforts.

Thus, in one single case, in October 1943, against our comrades who edited Der Arbeiter in Brittany, 65 of our comrades, of whom 30 were German soldiers, were arrested, deported and murdered. On that occasion four members of our leadership were caught and tortured. But this repression did not prevent our work from continuing. Up to August 1944, we edited several organs in German, namely Unser Wort and Arbeiter Und Soldat, the latter distributed in the barracks, from 5,000 to 10,000 copies.

6. Struggle for Food Supplies

From the very beginning La Verite called upon the working masses to constitute housewives committees, to demonstrate, to take into their hands the distribution of the food supplies, against the Hitlerites, the Vichyites, the monopolists and gangsters of the black market. This struggle of the city workers was conducted in close alliance with the peasant workers. This same campaign can be found in our most recent issues.

7. Struggle Against the Downfall of the Standard of Living and for the Workers' Demands

In our newspapers, we devoted a considerable section to the workers' struggles, promoting strikes and mass sabotage. We supported these campaigns of our central organ by hundreds of leaflets and plant newspapers. We participated in almost all the workers' movements and led a certain number of them.

8. Struggle Against Deportations

La Verite was the first newspaper that warned the workers about the deportations that were being plotted, and that called upon them to resist collectively, and if they were forcibly compelled to leave, to advise them on the organization of resistance in Germany, mass sabotage, strikes, in liaison with the foreign and German workers,

9. Struggle in Support of the Maquis

Through workers' strikes and the solidarity of the population. Precise instructions were given in that sense to all our districts which backed the partisans everywhere by demanding democracy within their ranks.

10. Struggle for the Workers' Militia

But for us the centre of the straggle is in the factory. We called upon the workers to organize themselves militarily in order to struggle against fascism: against that of Darn and Deat and Doriot, and also that which might develop tomorrow under cover of the resistance movement and with the backing of big capital. On this point, our campaign has been parallel to that of L'Humanite.

11. Struggle for the General Strike

Always insisting that the strikes should retain the character of fights for workers' demands we supported all the strike slogans launched by the CGT (General Workers' Confederation). For instance in July-August 1944, we backed the slogan of general strike and of occupation of the plants. The militant workers know that our comrades were not the last ones in the plants that carried out these slogans.

12. Struggle for the Unity of Action of the Workers

We never ceased our appeals for the regrouping of the working class. In various regions our leaders hove cooperated with that of several other groups. We also appealed in particular to the Socialist and Communist Parties, asking them to carry out unity in action. Also from the beginning we fought against the traitors like Belin who tried to enslave the CGT while we struggled.

OUR MARTYRS

Such is, in its general lines, the policy which our comrades defended during four years despite the violent blows of the Hitler and Petain police. We are asked whether we belonged among the "resisters". But let that question be asked of the hundreds of our militants who paid with their lives or their liberty for their attachment to our ideas and their devotion to the working class.

To speak only of a few of those shot, there is Meichler, ex-manager of Unser Wort who was among the first shot in Paris. There arc Marc Bourhis and Guegen, the former secretary of our Concarneau district, the latter former Communist mayor of Concarneau who rallied to our ideas, both shot in October 1941 at Chateaubriant at the same time as Timbaud. There are young workers like Lebacher of Drancy, teachers like Thiolon of the XIth (arrondissement, Paris), regional leaders like Cruau of Nantes, oldl militants like Wintley, leader of our German group in Paris, caught and murdered by the Gestapo in particularly atrocious circumstances, or young workers like Van Hulst of Suresnes, killed by a ballet in his head in a fight against the Darnand militia.

Among the hundreds of our comrades who were arrested and deported, let us name the various regional leaders like Chauvin from Bordeaux, Demaz from Marseilles, Albert of Paris, Gerard Block from Lyon, Henri from Nantes, all our leadership of the South zone in 1941, almost our entire leadership of Brittany in 1943. And eight members of our Central Committee; Souzin, Corvin, Leblanc, Regnier, Liber, Blasco, Filliatre, Marcoux, the first well-known to Comrade Saillant with whom he worked in the Building Federation and the latter having escaped wounded from the torture chambers of the Gestapo.

Such are those whom L'Humanite dares call "Gestapo agents!" Such are those about whom we are asked whether they "resisted against Hitler!"

From The Militant, New York, SATURDAY, MARCH 3, 1945



In a way similar to that in which Ralph Miliband is being denounced as "the man who hated Britain", in France, after the end in August 1944 of the Nazi occupation, the Trotskyists faced charges that they had not really opposed the Nazis.

The charges came mainly from the Stalinists of the French Communist Party (CP), but the CP was strong enough then, and the bourgeois authorities reluctant enough to authorise left-wing publications, that for a while the Trotskyists' paper remained as illegal as it had been under the Nazis.

In the statement reprinted here, the Trotskyists outlined the real record of their activity during the war. There had in fact, at times, been confusion and disarray among the Trotskyists, but fundamentally they remained the only active force loyal to working-class and internationalist principles.

The main French Trotskyist organisation, the PCI, was declared legal in June 1945, but its paper not until early 1946. Until then, it could buy paper on which to print the publication only under the counter.

The Trotskyist group grew substantially in 1944-7, because it was almost the only group supporting workers' basic demands. The CP argued against strikes on the grounds that "national reconstruction" was the priority.

When the CP lost its place in government, in May 1947, and turned to backing strikes; the Cold War sharpened; and France's capitalist economy began to recover from its shattered condition of 1944, the Trotskyists came under pressure on all sides. They suffered splits and losses. A minority did the best they could to keep Trotskyist ideas alive until they again acquired a large audience, in the late 1960s: their vicissitudes are another story.

A book about the French Trotskyists' activity in the war, by Yvan Craipeau, one of their leaders at the time, has recently been translated into English by David Broder, under the title Swimming Against The Tide, and is available here.

# French original of this article.

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