The Truth About the Resistance


Robert Paxton in The New York Review of Books:

One needs also to ask what the main purpose of resistance was. De Gaulle took a predominantly military view of it. He wanted the movements to prepare a secret underground force within France whose aid to an eventual Allied landing would be so important that France would emerge from the war as a significant power, with Free France as its undisputed ruling force. The general, who always looked ahead, was determined to prevent the German occupation from being replaced by either an American or a Soviet protectorate. But this strategy, in the judgment both of de Gaulle and of the Allies, required the “secret army” to lay low until the Allies arrived.

The Communist Party, by contrast, favored immediate action, to prepare a national revolutionary insurrection at the moment of liberation. But the Party did not come to this position right away. Between the outbreak of the war in September 1939 and the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, the French Communist Party was, as a result of the Nazi–Soviet Pact, a de facto ally of the Germans. Communist propaganda called for fraternization with German soldiers and for immediate peace, since it should not matter to workers whether the Germany of Hitler and the Krupps or the Britain of Churchill and the City won the capitalist duel.

This policy was immensely unpopular with the Communist rank and file, whom Vichy pursued even more vigorously than did the Nazis. The Party could later claim to have resisted Vichy from the beginning, but only some individual Communists engaged in anti-German activity in these early days; their high point was a great strike in the northern coal fields in May 1941. The Communist leaders expected in 1940 to be tolerated by the Germans, and notoriously tried to publish their newspaper L’Humanité in occupied Paris.

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