THE varying positions taken by the French Communist Party towards the war in Indo-China have provided a striking example of the difficulties and contradictions which a party encounters when it tries to conciliate its local political objectives with the over-all grand design of proletarian revolution woven by the Soviet Union. Its actions, of course, also created a dilemma for the other parties in the French Parliament. As Léon Blum said: "We always find ourselves face to face with the insupportable anomaly represented by the insertion into the French body politic of a foreign nationalist party."[i]

Actually, the French Communist attitude as regards Indo-China was far from clear until the abortive Moscow Conference of the foreign ministers in April 1947. Until then, "tripartism" had been the watchword in France. The Communist chieftain, Maurice Thorez, was Vice-Premier and Minister of State, another Communist was Minister of Armaments, and other Communists, under one governmental combination or another, held important levers as Ministers of Labor, Reconstruction, Public Health. Indeed, the whole political outlook in 1946 and early 1947 seemed ideally suited to the eventual peaceful and orderly inclusion of France into the ranks of the "People's Democracies." Naturally, she would also have brought the French overseas territories into the Soviet orbit, thus permitting them--like more backward Soviet Central Asian areas--to "reach Socialism while bypassing capitalism."

This explains the quasi-colonialist enthusiasm of the French Communist parliamentarians when, in the Constituent Assembly of 1946, Edouard Herriot insisted upon tight French control of outlying French imperial bases in Africa and Indo-China.[ii] The French parliamentary record of Blum's speech of December 23, 1946, asking for strong measures against the Viet-Minh to reëstablish order in Indo-China, mentions "strong applause . . . to the extreme left"--in which, in fact, the generally colonialist right wing did not share. Better (or worse) yet, a mission to France of the puppet-government of Cochin-China, which was met coolly or noncommittally by most other French political party leaders, had received an enthusiastic welcome by Maurice Thorez at a time (April-May 1946) when the French Government was still engaged in negotiations with Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic. In the words of the head of the mission as he stepped off the plane in Saigon on May 26, 1946:

But it is Monsieur Thorez, the first [political figure] with whom I could enter into contact, who expressed to me the most remarkable opinion: the Vice-Premier has affirmed to me that the Communist Party under no circumstances wished to be considered as the eventual liquidator of the French position in Indo-China and that he ardently wished to see the French flag fly over all the corners of the French Union.[iii]

A remarkable statement, sounding something like the Churchillian: "I have not become Prime Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." We must remember, however, that for Vietnam to break away from French influence would have been a step backward in view of the apparently imminent integration of France herself into the Communist orbit; and this would have been so even if the Ho Chi Minh régime had been 100 percent Communist. It would have been comparable to what Tito did later in Jugoslavia, for it would have separated the Vietnamese and French Communist Parties and set them on divergent paths. The fact that unity actually existed and was considered important by the Communists is clearly brought out by Paul Mus, a French expert on Asia:

I remember how, upon our arrival in Saigon in 1945, General Leclerc met the local group of French Marxists and asked them about the feelings of the French Communists in Indo-China towards the "Annamite" Communists. We were answered: "There are no French and Vietnamese Communists. There is one Communist Party, and here we [happen to be] in Indo-China."[iv]

In fact, the French Communist group in Saigon apparently issued a document on September 25, 1945, two days after the entry of French troops into that city, urging the Vietnamese Communists to make sure that their actions met the criteria of what was then Soviet policy.

It warned that any "premature adventures" in Annamite [e.g. Vietnamese] independence might "not be in line with Soviet perspective." These perspectives might well include France as a firm ally of the U.S.S.R. in Europe, in which case the Annamite independence movement would be an embarrassment. . . . It advised them in particular to wait upon the results of the French elections . . . in October, when additional Communist strength might assure the Annamites a better settlement.[v]

It is still not clear whether Ho Chi Minh's dissolution of the I.C.P. in November 1945 was, as has been suggested[vi], a sign of displeasure with such "go-slow" orders and whether his subsequent rebellion of December 1946 was not at first just as much a rebellion against Communist (Soviet) "perspectives" as it was against French imperialism. If so, the approval by the French Communists of a "hard policy" in Indo-China was quite in keeping with Soviet political objectives of the time and thus perfectly logical.

The solidarity of the French Communist Party (P.C.F.) held firm in the French parliament throughout the first three months of the Indo-Chinese war. The Communist ministers and the Communist members of the Armed Forces Committee sought in no way to block the reinforcement of the French Expeditionary Corps in Indo-China in arms, men and equipment-- a fact which non-Communist members of parliament now are happy to recall. Indeed, the Socialist Premier, M. Ramadier, on March 20, 1947, showered particular praise upon the head of his Vice-Premier, M. Thorez, during the discussion of the 1947 war budget for Indo-China:

Permit me to give a share of the credit particularly to Vice-Premier Maurice Thorez. He has had the courage to put into words our will, our unanimous will. It was not a partisan idea that inspired us, him and us, but the feeling of France's needs, the will to save France, to safeguard French unity, which is indispensable at the present hour.

Incidentally, this war budget bill which was fully endorsed by the Communist ministers in the Ramadier government even included an item of $6,800,000 for purchases of arms and equipment abroad, spent entirely in the United States and Britain.

Nonetheless, the Communist Party (as also, as it turned out, the Socialist Party) was faced with an anti-colonist ground swell among its rank and file. They still were somewhat unruly after the years of rather lax party discipline under the German occupation and underground coöperation with Frenchmen of all walks of life, and apparently took little heed of Soviet "perspectives" in the matter.

For a time, then, the French Communists found themselves in a situation which, by all known rules of the book, must have appeared as rank party heresy: on one hand, Communist ministers approved of a governmental policy which the Communist parliamentary bloc disapproved of on the record and had abstained from voting for; and on the other hand, the Central Executive Committee of the French Communist Party performed the veritable tour de force of approving of both! This rather peculiar situation came about in the middle of March 1947, at the time of a policy and budget debate.

It is interesting to note that throughout the debate the Communists and members of their satellite group, the Union and Resistance Group, advocated a policy in full accordance with French national interests. The first speaker, Pierre Cot, developed the point of view as follows:

First of all, no one among us, and we must affirm it, thinks of a policy of abandonment or renouncement. France has a task to accomplish there and, without wanting to use big words, a mission to fulfill.

Mr. Paul Ramadier, Prime Minister: Very good!

Mr. Pierre Cot: It is necessary to say so in order to discourage both the illusions of certain Vietnamese extremists and the foreign manœuvres which might give rise to such illusions. (Applause to the extreme left, to the left and in the center) . . . France's departure from Vietnam would not serve the cause of freedom; quite the contrary. (Applause to the extreme left and on various benches.)

It remained for Jacques Duclos, the Number 2 man of the P.C.F. after Thorez, to formulate Communist policy as regards Indo-China in completely unequivocal terms:

We are for the presence of France in the Far East, but we have the deep-down conviction that the policy which is being pursued will result sooner or later in our being thrown out rather than being able to hold on. (Applause to the extreme left.) . . . We are for the presence of France in the Far East, contrary to what is asserted by the newspaper Le Monde . . . which pretends that there are groups in the National Assembly that are hostile to the presence of France in the Far East . . . We have understood only too well . . . that our departure from the Far East would result in the arrival of certain other elements of a not-too-democratic character.

The next day, March 19, 1947, the Central Executive Committee of the P.C.F. held a plenary meeting, which decided that it was "impossible" for members of the Communist parliamentary bloc to "vote the military credits for the prosecution of the war against Vietnam," but which advised them merely to abstain from voting. And so they did on the following day, despite the fact that even the Communist members of the Armed Forces and Finance Committees had favorably reported out the budgetary bill. The bill was passed, 421 to 0, with the Communists and their affiliates abstaining. What had happened?

Must one look for an explanation of this sudden change in [events] outside France? . . . Or are the motives of an internal nature: pressure of the militants . . . discontented with the too-governmental policy of the Party? Ideological loyalty to an anti-militarist and anti-colonialist tradition? Desire to appear abroad as the defender of the colonial peoples? Hope to attract the Socialists and their left-wing followers? All of those factors undoubtedly come into play, but more determining, perhaps, is the will to react against the anti-Communist provocations which they had had to face since the beginning of the Indo-China debates.[vii]

There is some truth in the latter statement. The Communists in Parliament, who had been "on their best behavior," had indeed been subjected to a concentrated barrage of taunts from right-wing elements. Thus, Communist abstention could well have been designed in part, along with the crippling strikes in French industry, as a public show of force to prove that one could not govern without them.

Two days after that first break in governmental solidarity, the Politburo of the P.C.F. met for a plenary session to hammer out a new party line which would reconcile the irreconcilable:

The Political Bureau, on the proposition of the Secretary-General of the Party [i.e. Maurice Thorez, who had voted for the budget], confirms the mandate given the parliamentary group by the Central Committee which "does not believe possible the vote on military credits for the prosecution of the war against Vietnam." Nevertheless, considering that the vote taken by the parliamentary group would in no way endanger the other aspects of the general policy of the Government, the Political Bureau decides that there is no reason for the Communist Ministers to break ministerial solidarity.[viii]

This compromise solution could not be considered a satisfactory long-range policy, the more so as it apparently ran counter to the desires of a large majority of the Party's rank and file. Hence it is likely that such a policy was motivated by events abroad, or, more precisely, in the Soviet Union.

It is clear that the French Communists' conciliatory attitude in March over the Indo-China question was due to their desire to remain in the government as long as that would enable them to influence French foreign policy in a direction favorable to the Soviet point of view. But at the end of April . . . the Moscow Conference had ended with a break between the U.S.S.R. and France and with an unquestionable rapprochement between France and the Anglo-Saxon Powers. As the participation of the Communists in the government had not produced the diplomatic consequences which they regarded as of major importance, they no longer had . . . reasons . . . for preserving at least the appearance of ministerial solidarity.[ix]

The time had come for a new twist in the party line. The P.C.F. had to make its exit from the government. There remained only to find a good occasion that would enable the P.C.F. to appear as the victim of a reactionary cabal. Meantime, as one source remarks, "Had the Communist Ministers abstained--not even voted against--from voting the military credits, there would have been a governmental crisis and, for all we know, the war might not have continued in Indo-China."[x]

From the point of view of party discipline, the P.C.F. performance had been remarkable. However, it had been poor politics.

In the following days, Communist policy was merely to liquidate current problems in preparation for openly entering the opposition--"of going back into the maquis," as some politicians said jokingly. The final break occurred on a home issue of great electoral importance: wage-freezing and price control. The government motion supporting such a policy was passed on May 4, 1947, by 346 votes against the 186 of the Communists--including, this time, their ministers. This gave the P.C.F. the desired propaganda headline that the "eviction of the Communist ministers" had taken place "under American pressure."

"Tripartism" and Communist hopes of being able to get control of France and her overseas possession in one swift sweep were ended. The old tactic of "Communism in one country" came again to the fore, and now the country in question was Vietnam and not France. By August 1947 the French Communist Party had set the new course.

Now the Ho Chi Minh government became the "First Democracy in Asia,"[xi] and the Indo-China issue became rapidly involved in the broadening rift between the Soviet Union and the West following the creation of the Marshall Plan and the beginning of American military aid to Greece under the Truman "containment policy."

As the battlelines began to form in what now became the "cold war" the P.C.F. line rapidly took on consistency and found the desirable black-white focus. In December 1947 the war in Vietnam now had definitely become an "imperialist" war and the Soviet Union apparently had now become the leading champion of the "anti-imperialists." The new course was expounded by Maurice Thorez as follows:

Two camps have been formed; on one hand, the imperialist and anti-democratic; on the other, the anti-imperialist and democratic. . . . The Soviet Union and the countries of the new democracies [i.e. the East European satellites] form the basis of the anti-imperialist and democratic camp. To it also belong Vietnam, Indonesia and countries like India, Egypt and Syria.[xii]

It is at least noteworthy that this enumeration includes Egypt, then still under the rule of King Farouk. However, the break was consummated now and the new course began to take shape.

The "Peace Offensive" which began in late 1948 and reached full-blown proportions in 1949 merely broadened the front of Communist attacks against French governmental action in Vietnam. Now in addition to being "imperialistic," "anti-democratic" and "Washington-inspired," the war became a "dirty war" (sale guerre), for it was waged against the "forces of peace." Indo-China was a pawn on the international checkerboard of the "struggle for peace" and the preparation of "Western aggression" against the U.S.S.R.:

. . . the prosecution of the war in Vietnam is integrated in the plans of the imperialist camp to oppress peoples and to prepare war against the Country of Socialism.[xiii]

However, pious speeches were not enough to bring an end to the war in Vietnam, the more so as the Communists now found themselves both isolated in the National Assembly and outnumbered at the polls. They were still formidable opponents, but their popularity was somewhat dimmed, as evidenced by the failure of the various Communist-staged mass strikes and walkouts with political objectives (NATO, the arrival of General Ridgway in Europe, etc.).

From now on, the Party advocated a "hard line," including sabotage and subversion, as clearly expressed in the official organ of the Central Executive Committee in September 1949. The writer first proceeded to restate the historical "fact" that it was "the blows struck by the U.S.S.R. in Manchuria" against the faltering Japanese in the last six days of World War II "which made possible the national insurrection" in Vietnam, and that as it was a "war of national liberation" it was "a just war." He then cited examples of Communist overt acts in various parts of France as examples of what should be done throughout the country:

We should not remain at the mere stage of propaganda and agitation . . . Action is more important . . . There are good examples in France and Algeria which ought to be attentively studied, so that the whole Party may profit from them. . . .

At Quimper there was a battalion of paratroopers . . . [the local Communist group] has found a way to win over the soldiers to the cause of the struggle for peace . . . On the eve of their departure, an important distribution of leaflets, captioned "Enough Dead in Vietnam," took place. . . .

On June 27, 1949, 800 Algerian soldiers embarked at Oran in the midst of a riot and to the cries of "cease-fire." At the 2nd Air Base Company at Oued Sinar, 132 young soldiers had enlisted for Vietnam. . . . As soon as this was known, soldiers from another unit discussed the dirty war with the "volunteers." The result: a few hours later, 72 of them asked that their enlistment be cancelled. . . .

To stop the war, acts are needed. This requires that the whole Party consider the Vietnam war from a Communist viewpoint. . . . By such effective actions the French working class will win the confidence and esteem of the colonial peoples. . . . Thus it strengthens its own struggle for freedom, national independence and peace.[xiv]

Official reports, such as the once top-secret Revers Report (written by France's former chief of staff, General Revers, after an inspection tour of Indo-China), show that such statements were not empty threats. In fact, the Revers Report explicitly states that 40 percent of the French equipment that went to Indo-China in 1949 was sabotaged.[xv] French trucks for Indo-China arrived with their tires slashed, tanks with loose bolts in their gear-boxes. Communist sources in Eastern Europe even boasted that one of France's biggest transport ships on the Indo-China run, the Pasteur, smuggled weapons and equipment for the Viet-Minh while it carried reinforcements for the French Army, and even that equipment directly shipped from the United States had arrived in sabotaged condition in Indo-China.[xvi] Not only did the French Communist Party advocate the perpetration of such acts but it openly admitted the authorship of them. This was clearly stated by a Communist member of the French Union Assembly, replying to an accusation that subversive acts were committed by the P.C.F.:

The war in Vietnam being against the Constitution, any act which tends to stop it is legal. (Applause to the extreme left).

In less than three years the party line of the P.C.F. had gone full circle, from all-out support of a French Union in its narrowest colonial interpretation to outright sabotage of French governmental actions aimed at maintaining the integrity of the French Union, even in the diluted version of a loose association with the Indo-China states. Henceforward until the cease-fire, changes in the Communist party line were more tactical than fundamental.

Nonetheless, the tactical changes are interesting. Until late in 1952, the "hard line" (open sabotage or delay of war supplies for Indo-China, demonstrations by women, students, "peace groups," etc.) appears to have been the only one compatible with party orthodoxy. Later, and particularly after the Peace Resolution of the World Peace Congress at Vienna in December 1952, the Communist Party again took up a more conciliatory approach, the more so as the "hard line" had alienated many parliamentarians (particularly among the Socialists) who now were in favor of a cease-fire but were reluctant to find themselves aligned with what now had become beyond dispute "a foreign national party."

The Vienna Peace Congress had, in fact, presented three resolutions for the "Cessation of the Present Conflicts" of Korea, Malaya and Vietnam which were trial balloons for later negotiations, two of which--first in Korea, then in Vietnam--materialized. In both cases (and particularly in the case of Vietnam), the eventual settlements contained a good many points which could have been borrowed from that resolution. This strongly suggests that the resolutions of the World Peace Congresses should be given serious consideration in the West, for often they express what later on materializes as Soviet policy.

Indeed, P.C.F. members placed the Vienna and later similar resolutions or proposals in the French parliamentary record, with additions of their own, as for example:

The resolution of the Vienna Congress brought the precise indication that it would be possible . . . to negotiate between the general staffs certain accords. . . .

Since no suggestion of such general staff conversations appears in the Vienna resolution, this new and more precise offer clearly emanated from more official circles than those of the Peace Congress or even of the French Communist Party. As a matter of fact, it was made even before the peace offer made by Ho Chi Minh on November 29, 1933, via the Swedish newspaper Expressen. Before that date, also, the Viet-Minh had again made overtures to the effect:

that after the conclusion of the armistice in Korea, nothing can really justify the refusal to end, by direct and precise offers to Ho Chi Minh, the shedding of blood in Vietnam. . . .

This, of course, was one thing which the M.R.P. leaders who controlled both French foreign policy and Indo-China policy steadfastly refused to do; while on the other hand, the Soviet Union--having recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (the official name for Ho Chi Minh's régime) as an independent and friendly nation--could not negotiate on Ho Chi Minh's behalf. The United States Government had plainly recognized a similar situation in Korea when it did not refuse to sit at Panmunjom with military representatives of North Korea and People's China "Volunteers" despite the widely-proclaimed American policy of nonrecognition of Red China. This point, too, had been made clear by French Communist or affiliated sources:

The Soviet Government would very probably reply that, having recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the respect of international law [sic] does not allow her to discuss problems concerning only [the D.R.V.N.][xvii]

Hence, there can be no doubt that over a period of three years, from 1950 until 1953, various French Communist or affiliated sources put forward proposals toward a settlement in Vietnam that accurately reflected the policy of the Soviet bloc, inasmuch as the settlement in Geneva in July 1954 can be considered--with minor variations--as following the proposals put forward by the Soviet bloc.

Retrospectively, it can remain only a matter of regretful speculation as to what might have been achieved by direct negotiations between the French and Ho Chi Minh in the fall of 1953, following six months of continuous if not spectacular French Military successes in Indo-China. There can be little doubt (and the Korean settlement supports the view) that for a time at least the prosecution of such wars in the Far East did not fit in with Soviet political "perspectives." By then, however, the French governing coalition was again riding the crest of an unjustified wave of optimism that the Indo-China conflict could be settled militarily by a fairly clear-cut French victory, the more so as the new trend in American foreign policy appeared to favor a "hard" policy in the Far East. The United States was promising a vastly increased military aid program for Indo-China and eventual direct American naval and air support appeared a distinct possibility.

The rapidly worsening situation in the spring of 1954 merely increased the weight of the Communist arguments. Large segments of the French population were tired of the Indo-China affair and so were many elements outside of France, particularly after the not precisely victorious turn events had taken in Korea. This permitted the Communists to put the Indo-China problem back into a specifically French context. Now the P.C.F. appeared, so to say, as the amicus curiae, concerned above all with the effects of the Indo-China war upon France:

it is contrary to the article of the Constitution[xviii] according to which the French Republic shall never use its arms against the freedom of any other people. . . .

it is contrary to the United Nations Charter which, in its Article 2, invites the development of friendly relations between nations. . . .

it has become the mere instrument, in Asia as well as in Europe, of our absolute dependence upon the United States. . . .

it is extremely costly in human lives . . . notably the yearly loss of officers the equivalent of at least one graduating class from St. Cyr. . . .

with us, all honest Frenchmen suffer from whatever degrades and mutilates our country, from everything that humiliates it.[xix]

In the diplomatic lull between the Berlin Conference of February 1954 and the Geneva Conference of April-July 1954 the P.C.F. and its affiliates exploited to the full the fact that, for a time at least, the party line ran almost parallel to that of the non-Communist French Government. In comparison to 1946-47, when this also had occurred, the new situation was even better, for now the P.C.F. had no share in government responsibility and could afford to sit back quietly with an "I-told-you-so" air while the coalition parties as well as the "national opposition" groups (e.g. the Socialists and some smaller splinter groups) finally were compelled to come to grips with a desperate situation which the Communists had foreseen and prophesied.

The Communists were prepared to make the best of this. The XIIIth Congress of the P.C.F., held from June 3 to 8, 1954, just in time to set the party line for the last act of the Geneva Conference (and for the end of the Laniel government), was the occasion for the first public appearance and speech of its chieftain, Maurice Thorez, following his return from the U.S.S.R. The new line, in fact, was not very new, but merely an authorization for the Party to depart from its intransigent stand and to return to a more opportunist policy. Thorez stated:

By demanding an immediate cease-fire and a negotiated settlement in Indo-China, our people will find a solid support in the generous and equitable proposals . . . of the D.R.V.N., supported by the Soviet Union and China . . .

By working with all its energy to unite for the defense of peace and of national independence . . . the French Communist Party shows itself faithful to the teachings of the masters of Marxism. Lenin, in particular, has constantly insisted upon the necessity of the working class and of its party to take interest in any democratic movement and not to fear temporary agreements even with unreliable allies . . . providing that such compromises and agreements really help the working class . . . to carry forward the general democratic movement of the masses.[xx]

Needless to say, such advice (in Thorez' own words, "the law of the whole party") was immediately heeded when the collapse of the Laniel government on June 12, 1954, reopened the thorny problem of finding a premier with a working majority to back him up in the stormy days ahead. Here again, the French Communist Party showed its amazing coördination with Soviet policy objectives. The prerequisites for the new premier were, in the words of the spokesman of the Communist parliamentary group:

The Communists are ready to support any candidate who is decided: 1. to refuse to ratify the Bonn and Paris treaties; 2. to implement an immediate cease-fire in Indo-China so as to put an end to a situation that is extremely menacing to world peace; 3. finally, to satisfy the demands of the working class and to assure the effective defense of democratic freedoms.

The set of priorities is noteworthy. France was in the middle of a crisis involving her opposition in the Far East. However, as the Communists well knew, a solution to the Indo-China problem either by a total French military defeat (by now American intervention was out of the question and would have come too late anyway to save the vital Red River Delta) or by a negotiation on terms ultimately favorable to the Soviet bloc was assured even without the aid of the P.C.F. Hence, the P.C.F. immediately set its sights on a political issue that was of far greater importance to the U.S.S.R. than was the Indo-China problem. The third demand was, of course, pure window-dressing for home consumption.

This opportunistic attitude of the P.C.F. became even clearer when it threw the weight of its 100 votes (96 P.C.F. and 4 "Progressives") behind Pierre Mendès-France at the latter's investiture on June 18, 1954. Mendès-France's program had not changed since June 5, 1953, when he had presented himself for the first time to the same legislators and had been defeated by a lack of 13 votes. At that time, the 100 Communists and affiliates had solidly voted against him. Had the P.C.F. ever been the stout defender of peace and democracy it so loudly proclaimed to be, it could, perhaps, have shortened the Indo-China war by a full year and thereby saved thousands of French (and Communist Viet-Minh) lives. However, the time had then apparently not been ripe as yet for "temporary agreements even with unreliable allies." Now, apparently, this time had come, and Communist parliamentary behavior--matched to a certain extent by the party press--showed considerable restraint throughout the whole period.

Only once during the period of negotiations at Geneva did the P.C.F. depart from its newly-acquired decorum and committed a slight faux pas. When former Premier Joseph Laniel announced the fall of the fortress of Dien Bien Phu, the National Assembly rose to its feet to pay homage to the fallen defenders--with the exception of the Communist members, who remained seated in stony silence. The ensuing uproar even in circles hostile to the Indo-China war definitely worked against the new party line of coöperation, and the error was not repeated when Mendès-France returned from Geneva on July 22, 1954, with the signed cease-fire agreement. Before beginning his report, he asked the National Assembly to rise in homage to the combatants of the French Union Forces who had fought and died for the cause of France and of the Associated States since 1946. The Communists and their affiliated members rose along with all the others and "listened without a movement to the President as he expressed to our American and British friends the gratitude of the National Assembly" for their help during the war and at the conference table in Geneva.

As the year 1954 drew to a close and it became apparent that Premier Mendès-France was unwilling to go along with an Indo-China policy of full collaboration with the Viet-Minh régime in North Vietnam--a policy which the P.C.F. defined as the only one which would be "realistic and in accordance with the interests of France and of peace"[xxi]--the P.C.F. shed any last remnants of cordiality for the Premier whom it had hailed so loudly in July. Nonetheless, in accordance with the new soft-toned line adopted since Geneva, the party's intervention in the December 1954 debate on the French budget for Indo-China was markedly moderate and sprinkled with citations from Western non-Communist sources. The moderation of the P.C.F. speaker, Pierre Villon, probably was due to the fact that the Soviet bloc's present main target, the debate on the ratification of the Western European Union accords, was to follow on the heels of the Indo-China debate and that the P.C.F. was badly in need of making once more "temporary agreements with unreliable allies" to bring about that measure's defeat.

Once more, the P.C.F. showed that it was an effective mouthpiece of Soviet foreign policy objectives. Villon's approach alternated between promises of expanded economic intercourse and threats of a military nature. His first speech ended on a menacing note well worth pondering, for, as many times before, it seems to outline what might be the Soviet response to a further strengthening of South Vietnam by increased American commitments:

This policy [of the French Government], . . . if it were to go to its logical conclusion--to the sabotage by the Americans and by their agents of the expected elections--would, in the end, let France again bear the heavy burden of its consequences.

This menace was immediately followed by a recitation of the advantages France would derive if she would align her Far Eastern policy with that of the Soviet orbit, and here, too, the arguments used were designed to appeal to right-wing "unreliable allies" who in the course of the same debate had decried the increasing American economic penetration in South Vietnam:

France would appear as a great peaceful power in the eyes of the Asian peoples by developing, in full accord with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam [e.g. the Viet-Minh], her educational establishments and the propagation of her culture.

This argument, embodying the old theme of the mission civilisatrice which marked French colonial expansion just as "the white man's burden" or "manifest destiny" marked that of France's allies, was supplemented by a more down-to-earth proposal of economic advantages in the case of full French acceptance of "coexistence" with Ho Chi Minh's régime:

Above all, France could, by agreements concluded on a basis of equality, establish fruitful economic exchanges [with the Viet-Minh] which would let us forget about the piastre smugglers and about the ideas that have prevailed in the war policy of this country.

In the ensuing test vote, the budget for Indo-China was voted down by a slim majority which included all the Communists and affiliates as well as representatives of practically all other parties. The fact that once more the issue at stake was not Indo-China alone but France's general attitude toward the Soviet bloc became apparent on December 20 when a speaker for the "Progressive" group affiliated to the P.C.F. bluntly stated:

What will be voted upon? Will it be Indo-China? Will it be, in advance, the [W.E.U.] accords of London and Paris?

During the same debate the P.C.F. again attempted the approach of alternating menaces and cajolery: the threat of reopening the hostilities and the bait of advantageous economic treaties with the Viet-Minh régime. However, it apparently had overplayed its hand--or perhaps, contrary to Communist expectations, no group in the National Assembly wished to assume the responsibility of taking over the reins of government before the forthcoming debate on the ratification of the London and Paris accords. The final vote on the Indo-China budget was 310 against 172.

As the preceding pages show, the changes of the foreign policy line of the French Communists on the vital Indo-China problem have been far more responsive to actual international conditions than those of any other French party. It must be considered as one of the most serious errors of successive French governments not to have been more aware of the fact that such changes reflected quite accurately concurrent changes in Soviet foreign policy. The French Communist reaction to governmental Indo-China policy was substantially more realistic at any given moment than that of most of the other parties. The United States as well as the other allies of France could have put to excellent use the existence of this "direct line to Moscow" to adjust their actions accordingly.

[i] Débats Parlementaires, Assemblée Nationale, March 11, 1947, p. 905. (Further quotations given here from parliamentary debates are from the same source.)

[ii] Herriot then stated, to applause from all benches: "In matters such as national defense we must, just as the Soviets did, foresee centralized means; and you know very well that on such matters Russia does not compromise--and she is right."

[iii] Paris-Saigon, Saigon, No. 19, May 29, 1946.

[iv] Paul Mus, Viet-Nam, Sociologie d'une Guerre. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1952, p. 342.

[v] Harold Isaacs, "No Peace for Asia." New York: Macmillan, 1947, p. 173.

[vi] Cf. Department of State, OIR Report No. 3708 (declassified), Political Alignments of Vietnamese Nationalists, Washington, 1949, p. 92.

[vii] André Siegfried et al., "L'Année Politique 1947." Paris: Editions du Grand Siècle, 1948, p. 41.

[viii] Comité Central du Parti Communiste Français, Cahiers du Communisme, editorial by Jacques Duclos, "Notre Politique," March 1947, p. 108.

[ix] François Goguel, "France Under the Fourth Republic," Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1951, p. 25.

[x] Mahdi Elmandjra, unpublished manuscript on the P.C.F., 1946-1949, Cornell University, 1954, p. 20.

[xi] For home consumption, the P.C.F. conveniently overlooked the existence of Communist régimes in China and North Korea, unless it did not consider them as "democratic."

[xii] Cahiers du Communisme, op. cit., December 1947, p. 1101.

[xiii] Jean Lautissier, "La Campagne Contre la Guerre du Vietnam," ibid., April 1949, p. 491.

[xiv] Jean Guillon, "La Lutte Contre la Guerre du Vietnam," ibid., September 1949, p. 1111.

[xv] Débats Parlementaires, November 22, 1950, p. 8006.

[xvi] Guenther Halle, Légion Etrangère, Verlag Wolk und Welt, Berlin (Soviet Sector), 1952, p. 129, 210.

[xvii] Gilbert de Chambrun, "Sur quelles Bases négocier?" Paix (monthly of the French Peace Movement), Paris, June 1953, p. 23.

[xviii] The speaker errs here. It is part of the preamble to the 1946 Constitution.

[xix] Débats Parlementaires, March 5, 1954, p. 709.

[xx] Le Monde, June 9, 1954 (emphasis supplied).

[xxi] Débats Parlementaires, December 18, 1954, and following days.

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  • BERNARD B. FALL, a young Frenchman who spent 1953 in research in Indo-China and has since received his Ph.D. in international relations from Syracuse University; author of "The Viet-Minh Régime."
  • More By Bernard B. Fall