Introduction to Western Europe after the War

From 1944, the RCP was the official British section of the Fourth international, the leadership of which, the International Secretariat (IS), was based in the United States during the war. Because of the nazi occupation, the British had been the only European section which had functioned openly in wartime, so that by the time the IS was re-established in Paris, it was the most developed section in the continent politically and one of the most developed organisationally.

The end of the war brought about an entirely novel situation in Europe, presenting the Marxists with difficult and unforeseen theoretical problems. The revolutionary wave in Western Europe did indeed manifest itself in the election of left governments and the strident demands of the workers for concrete reforms and social change. But the full impact of the workers' movement was blunted by the Communist and Socialist Party leaderships, acting as a brake on developments. The precise characterisation of the post-war regimes in Western Europe and the perspectives for these countries were the subjects of intense debate within the Trotskyist movement.

No less controversial were the developments in Eastern Europe. By far the greatest amount of conflict had occurred on the Eastern Front and Germany had only been defeated after a titanic struggle with the Red Army. But the end of the war left the Stalinist bureaucracy in effective occupation of half a dozen countries and a large slice of Germany and controversy soon developed over perspectives for Russia itself - whether the bureaucracy had been strengthened or weakened by the war - and the occupied states.

From the very beginning of its formation, the Revolutionary Communist Party had fundamental differences with the IS on their analysis on all these questions. The post-war leaders of the International were completely incapable of re-adjusting to the new situation and judging developments from a Marxist point of view. They clung dogmatically to the analysis that had been developed by Trotsky in the thirties, repeating sometimes parrot-fashion phrases and formulations which by 1945 were out-dated. Alone among all the Trotskyist groups, the RCP was able, under the theoretical guidance of Ted Grant especially, to apply the method of Marxism to come to terms with events and thus to broaden, deepen and extend the ideas worked out by Trotsky.

The first part of this chapter is a document entitled The Changed Relationship of Forces in Europe and the Role of the Fourth International. It was presented by Ted Grant as a policy document at the March 1945 Central Committee of the RCP, approved in August at the national conference and printed in Workers International News in September. The resolution presents a broad analysis, an estimation of the political situation coming out of the war and a tentative perspective for the future.

In relation to those parts of Europe occupied by the Red Army, the document was conditional because at this stage of developments it was not clear how events would unfold. It points out that the Stalinists had 'retained capitalism', but it also raises the possibility of the Russian bureaucracy becoming an agency of social change, albeit on the basis of a totalitarian state: 'the bureaucracy will be forced, against its own wishes and at the risk of antagonising its present imperialist allies, to nationalise industry in the permanently occupied countries, acting from above and, if possible, without the participation of the masses.' These developments are dealt with more fully in the next chapter on Eastern Europe.

More significantly, the resolution The Changed Relationship of Forces, for the first time acknowledged that there was a relative stabilisation in the political situation in Western Europe. Against the leadership of the IS, who were not prepared to face up to reality, the resolution argued that there had been, thanks to the role of the workers' leaders, a 'counter-revolution in a "democratic" form'. It was a counter-revolution in as much as the capitalist class had been able to ride out the revolutionary moods within the working class - 'given the weakness of the revolutionary vanguard...there is no hopeless position for the bourgeoisie' - but 'democratic' because of the weakness of reaction and the pressure of the mass organisations.

It is important to note that at this point, mid-1945, it was possible to anticipate a relative political stabilisation, although that was not to suggest that it would be permanent: 'It is possible on the basis of the support rendered to world imperialism by Stalinism and classical reformism (and this is one of the objective factors to be reckoned with) that world imperialism can succeed, for a period, in "stabilising" bourgeois-democratic regimes in certain countries.'

But what was not apparent at this stage, and could not be, was the fact that Europe, and the West in general, was on the threshold of an historic economic upswing which was to last 25 years. What the resolution explains, in effect, are the favourable political conditions which predicated the post-war boom.

The leadership of the International were still repeating old and out-dated ideas. Among such leaders was Pierre Frank, one of the leaders of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), the French section of the International. He wrote an article, published in the June/July 1946 Workers International News, which argued that in Western Europe, there had been established only Bonapartist governments, ie 'Governments by the Sword', denying, in other words, that 'normal' capitalist democracy existed. The expression coined by the RCP resolution, that there had been a 'counter-revolution in a democratic form', was without meaning according to Frank.

Ted Grant's reply, published in the August 1946 Workers International News, and reprinted here for the first time, was a devastating critique of Frank's muddled and un-Marxist approach. To this day, the reply serves as a classic description of Bonapartism, and an explanation of the role of the state in capitalist society. In it, the ideas first put forward in The Changed Relationship of Forces are further developed. While the International leadership refused to face up to reality, the RCP inisted on what was increasingly a self-evident truth. that 'everywhere in Western Europe since the "liberation" the tendency has been for a steady movement towards bourgeois democracy', adding that ' a later stage, this tendency will be reversed.'

This document was one of many major works that drew a line between the method and outlook of genuine Marxism and the increasingly petit-bourgeois and sectarian outlook of the IS. Although it is not the subject of this work, it is worth pointing out that the manoeuvres of the IS - because of its inability to answer the political criticisms of the RCP leadership - eventually led to splits and then the disintegration of the British section between 1947 and 1949. At that point Ted Grant and the British Marxists turned their backs on this international organisation. The fundamental differences in political outlook were never resolved and eventually the so-called Fourth International degenerated to the point where it was no more than an umbrella grouping of tiny ultra-left sects.

One organisation that took the post-war IS position to its logical, and absurd, conclusion was the IKD, an organisation of German and Austrian Trotskyists who had spent most of the war years in exile in Britain. It published a statement in 1943 (WIN April 1943), entitled The National Question -Three Theses, in which it argued that the occupation of Europe by nazi Germany had led to an economic regression', that is, to the destruction of technology and advanced methods of production, in favour of small and even handicraft techniques. At the same time, the democratic rights of the masses had been completely destroyed. The conclusion they drew was that the basic tasks in the post-war period would be the struggle for democracy, not unlike the capitalist revolutions of the nineteenth century. The fundamental aim of the post-war regimes, they argued, was 'basically equivalent to a democratic revolution'.

Further material published by IKD members (WIN July-August 1945) reiterated the same ideas adding, for example, that in 'liberated' France, 'the national oppression has remained, only the uniforms of the oppressors have changed.' This was answered by Ted Grant in WIN October 1945 (reprinted in Militant International Review number 26, Summer 1984). Another contribution by IKD members, published in WIN September-October 1946, was entitled Two Balance Sheets. This repeated, with minor modifications conceded under the pressure of RCP criticisms, the basic ideas already outlined in the Three Theses.

Extracts from a second reply by Ted Grant are included here as the third item in this chapter. This was first published in Workers International News in January-February 1947 and once again it explains the fundamental character of the revolutionary movement in Western Europe, notably in Greece and Germany, while at the same time pointing to the treacherous role played by the leaders of the mass workers' organisations.

The fundamental hostility that developed between the imperialist powers, dominated by the United States, and the 'soviet' bloc, dominated by Russia, were reflected in the post-war arms race and the so-called cold war. Nowhere was the hostility more clear than in the continued division of Germany. The areas occupied by British, French and American imperialism, on the one side, and the area occupied by the Red Army on the other, were becoming the de-facto, permanently separated states of West and East Germany.

In the British labour movement a controversy began over the question of West Germany's status within the defence agreements of the capitalist powers and especially over whether or not she should be allowed to re-arm. The NEC of the Labour Party, dominated by the right wing, published a statement in July 1954, entitled In Defence of Europe, in which it argued in favour of a German contribution within the structure of the European Defence Community. This proposal, for strengthening the armed forces of the capitalist states against the soviet 'threat', was dressed up in the language of 'reconciliation', 'partnership' and so on.

A month later, Tribune, then a paper of the left of the Labour Party, published a pamphlet replying to the NEC. It was written jointly by Aneurin Bevan, Barbara Castle, Tom Driberg, Harold Wilson, Ian Mikardo and Richard Crossman, and was called It Need Not Happen. It challenged the doctrine that German rearmament was inevitable and argued that within the context of NATO-Warsaw Pact rivalry, a re-armed West Germany, backed by the United States, would be facing a hostile and armed East Germany, backed by Russia. 'Once that is allowed to happen,' the Bevanites claimed, 'World War Three becomes inevitable.'

In a pamphlet published as Socialism and German Unity, Ted Grant polemicised against both the position of Labour's right wing and that of the Tribunite left. In particular, it attacked the idea, inherent in both left and right pamphlets, that the German working class were responsible for the war and that there was something inherently different about German (as opposed to French, British or American) capitalism that predisposed it to war. The pamphlet was reprinted in 1980, under the title Socialism and German Rearmament, (although wrongly dated as 1953) and extracts are reproduced here.

The last section in this chapter deals with the coming to power of General Charles de Gaulle in France in May 1958, on the back of a political crisis triggered by the beginning of the Algerian national war of independence. De Gaulle, irreverently nicknamed 'Big Asparagus', had been the leader of the 'Free French' government based in London during the war and had led the immediate post-war government. He was followed into office by a succession of unstable governments, the longest of only 16 months duration, reflecting the social crisis in France at the time.

Already by 1958, sections of the capitalist class were preparing to cut across the chronic instability of the French parliamentary government by a shift towards Bonapartism, with de Gaulle cast in the leading role. The general would then be given new constitutional powers to form a 'strong government' to deal with the trade unions.

The pretext for this constitutional coup arose over the war in Algeria. On May 13, the reactionary officers in Algeria carried out a coup, involving the occupation of the Ministry of Algeria and other public buildings by paratroops. The officers announced the formation of a 'Committee of Public Safety' under the chairmanship of General Massu, commander of the crack paratroops division. General Salan (Commander-in-Chief, Algeria) announced on radio that the Army had 'provisionally taken over responsibility for the destiny of French Algeria'.

From his chateau near Paris, General de Gaulle issued a statement which, while avoiding any reference to Algeria, made it clear that he was ready 'to assume the powers of the Republic'. To keep up the pressure on the incumbent government of prime minister Pflimlin (referred to at one point in the text by his nick-name, 'Little Plum'), eight days later paratroops effected a coup in Corsica, isolating the island from the government in Paris and linking it to Algiers.

To the labour movement around the world, all these events recalled the rebellion of General Franco -beginning in Spanish Morocco - against the Spanish Popular Front government in July 1936. The difference was that the leaders of the French Communist and Socialist Parties played an even more despicable role than their counterparts had in Spain 22 years before.

Bearing in mind the end result of the Franco rebellion, it seemed possible in May 1958 that there was a mortal threat against the very existence of the workers' organisations in France. Yet in this situation, the Communist Party refused to mobilise the enormous support it had within the workers' movement against the conspiracy of the officers, and the leadership of the Socialists even supported the handing over of power to de Gaulle as a 'lesser evil' compared to the generals.

The background to all these events was the subject of a pamphlet, originally published as France in Crisis, written by Ted Grant and completed only two days before de Gaulle was brought into office. The pamphlet, extracts of which are published here, was reprinted in 1980 as The Rise of De Gaulle and the Class Struggle. It represents a further development from the writings on post-war Europe of 1944-8, again elaborating on the theme of Bonapartism.

As the pamphlet anticipated, de Gaulle's accession to power, forming the twenty-sixth cabinet in 14 years, heralded the development of constitutional changes in the direction of Bonapartism. But what it also anticipated were the limits of Bonapartism. Unlike a fascist movement, which is based upon a mass movement of the frenzied petit bourgeois, a Bonapartist movement lacks a stable social base from the very beginning, and therein lies its relative weakness.

Because the power of the trade unions - despite their leadership - remained intact, de Gaulle was never able to assume full and unbridled dictatorial powers. He was always constrained by the pressure of the labour movement and so was not able to do more than hold in check the aspirations of the workers, until they burst into the open in the revolutionary events of May-June 1968.

When he first assumed power he appeased and promoted those who had been responsible for the officers' rebellion of May 1958. But he was nevertheless obliged at a later stage, because of the power of the labour movement, to clip the officers' wings. In typical Bonapartist fashion, after having leaned on the right to strike blows at the left, he now leaned on the left to strike blows to the right. In this way, he was able to extricate France from the unwinnable war in Algeria - against the wishes of the French settlers, the colons - and destroy a new generals' conspiracy in the form of the OAS, the Secret Army Organisation.

The pamphlet, The Rise of De Gaulle, with the earlier writings of 1944-7, is essential background material for understanding all the subsequent developments in post-war France. It must form part of any serious study of so-called 'Gaullism' or more general studies as to the development and role of Bonapartist regimes.

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