(November 19, 1944)
The talk between Stalin and Thorez is being printed here in the English language for the first time, although it was previously published in the original Russian and in French. This publication is important because it exposes several lies and distortions about Stalin.
One of the most important of these lies, spread for decades by all the Trotskyites, as well as by social-democrats and other bourgeois apologists, is that Stalin sold out the French (as well as Italian) partisans by telling them to disarm. First, one should note the irony of the position of such people, for if the French or Italian Communist Parties had been able to take power, these people would been the first to denounce this as an extension of ‘Stalinist totalitarianism.’ But if we examine the text of the article, we see that what Stalin clearly advised was that the armed partisan detachments should be transformed into a political organization, ‘but the arms should be hidden.’ [a oruzhiye nuzhno spryatat’] Clearly, hiding ones arms is not at all the same as disarming.
We will take just one example of the lies on this question, from the article ‘Origins of the Cold War: New Evidence,’ by Patrick Flaherty in the internationally known U.S. ‘Independent Socialist Magazine’ Monthly Review of May 1996. While criticizing the openly pro-imperialist ‘scholars’ who attack the Soviet Union and Stalin from the right, the Monthly Review article proceeds to attack Stalin from the ‘left.’ It even quotes from the talk, citing the Russian version published in Istochnik, saying that ‘Stalin’s main concern was to persuade reluctant French communists to dissolve their armed partisan militias and submit themselves to the authority of [a phrase never used by Stalin – George Gruenthal] ‘a government recognized by the allied powers.’ Of Stalin’s admonition to the French CP that the militias should hide their arms there is, of course, no mention.
Furthermore, the Monthly Review article states that ‘Stalin tacked on the suggestion that the French Communists stop flying their red flags in their parades and refrain from the use of the term ‘communist’ in their programmatic literature.’ Readers of the actual text printed below will see that although Stalin makes a general reference to the fact that ‘our flags frighten certain people a lot,’ the only mention of not using the term ‘communist’ is in reference to creating a broad youth organization, not to programmatic literature.
Of course, our phony ‘lefts’ say that the French CP should have immediately tried to take power. They would have liked the CP to fall into the trap that Stalin warned about, of trying to carry out what would have been in essence a ‘putsch.’
The armed seizure of power (and not the ‘peaceful transition to socialism’ that all the revisionists preach) is not something that can be accomplished without carefully taking account of the specific conditions of the country at the given time. In particular, what was the situation in France at the time of the discussion, in November 1944? Most of France had been liberated from Nazi occupation, with the exception of some of the western ports and some small areas on the west bank of the Rhine River. But the main armed forces in France, besides de Gaulle’s five divisions mentioned in the talk, were the U.S. and British troops that had taken part in the long-delayed Second Front opened only some 5 months earlier. The partisans, although they had heroically carried out the main resistance against the Nazis and the collaborationist Vichy government (and due to which many thousands had died fighting or were summarily executed), were relatively weak militarily, having only rifles and no heavy weapons. Moreover, and most importantly, the French people, under the leadership of the Communist Party but in a correct alliance with the anti-German sector of the French bourgeoisie led by de Gaulle and with the U.S. and British bourgeoisies, as well as with the Soviet Union, were just winning victory in an anti-fascist war. It would have been impossible practically and politically to try to turn the situation into an immediate socialist revolution. That is why Stalin correctly emphasized the need for the French CP to consolidate a bloc against reaction to prevent their isolation. At the same time Stalin twice pointed out in the talk that such a bloc would also be useful in a future offensive.
Finally one should note Stalin’s clear portrayal here of the war aims of the U.S. and British imperialists. Thorez points out that the French bourgeoisie was sabotaging the restarting of industrial production in France. Stalin adds his correct observation that this is because the U.S. and British monopolists want everyone to buy their goods, and that that is also the reason why they were bombing German industry. They did not want even a bourgeois France (or Germany) to be a source of future competition for them.
Notes of a Talk of Com. J.V. Stalin with the General Secretary of the C.C. of the French Communist Party Com. Thorez
November 19, 1944, 8 PM
Comrades Molotov and Beria are present at the interview.
After exchanging greetings Com. Stalin asks when Com. Thorez plans to leave for France.
Com. Thorez answers that he plans to leave Moscow tomorrow with his wife and a member of the CPF, Com. Ramette.
Com. Stalin asks on what plane Com. Thorez will fly.
Com. Thorez answers that he will fly on a Soviet plane up to Teheran and then on an English plane and, if it arrives, on a French plane.
Com. Stalin says that he might be able to arrange the flight of Com. Thorez on a Soviet plane to Paris. One never knows with the English, they might plot something.
Com. Molotov says that he can arrange the flight of Com. Thorez on our plane to Paris.
Com. Stalin asks what questions Com. Thorez has.
Com. Thorez answers that the most important question for the French Communists is how to get through the present difficult period since the Communists are not in control of France and since they have enemies and friends. How to rally their forces and not allow the reaction to rally its forces.
Com. Stalin asks how Bidault(1) presents himself.
Com. Thorez answers that Bidault before the war had belonged to the Popular Democratic Party. He is a Catholic. Before the war he edited a newspaper, L’Aube [The Dawn], an opposition Catholic paper.
Com. Stalin asks whom this paper was opposed to.
Com. Thorez answers that this paper was in opposition to the leading officials of the Catholic Church. On questions of foreign policy, Bidault before the war held a position close to that of the French Communists. He was for good relations with the USSR, he spoke out against Munich and against Germany. However, after the beginning of the war, as many people who were previously close to the communists, he began, more ardently than other enemies of the Communists, to speak out against us. After the beginning of the war he was drafted, he served in the army, he was taken prisoner by the Germans and later he was freed.
Com. Stalin asked whether Bidault was freed by the Germans or whether he escaped from prison.
Com. Thorez replied that Bidault was freed by the Germans because he had taken part in the First World War, and the Germans freed such people. However, the Germans did not apply this rule to all those who had taken part in the First World War.
Com. Stalin is surprised that a former prisoner of war holds a post in the government.
Com. Thorez says that there are other people in the government who were in German prisons. For example General Juin. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and was later freed and named by the Vichy Government in Africa Commander of the French troops in place of Weygand in whom the Germans did not have full confidence. The former Minister of Finance, Lepercq, who died recently, was in a German prison.
Com. Stalin asks what kind of relations the French Communists have with the Socialists.
Com. Thorez answers that the Communists have obtained some success in winning over the mass of Socialist workers to our side. However, the leadership of the Socialist Party does not want to collaborate with the Communists. Recently, at the Congress of the French Socialist Party, its Secretary declared in his report that the Socialists are for unity with the Communists, but in reality the Socialists refuse unity. The Socialists claim that everything is fine in France, all the people are fine, except for the Communists who should apologize for the position that they held at the beginning of the war with the Germans. The leadership of the Socialist Party insists on the fact that the Communists at the beginning of the war did not support the defence of the fatherland and that it was only after 1941 that they became heroes of the fight against the Germans.
Com. Stalin says that there may be pressure exerted on the Socialists to try to isolate the Communists. It is totally possible that de Gaulle is embarking on a process of isolating the Communist Party.
Com. Stalin says that he thinks that in that case, it would be good if the Party had allies. The Party should examine this question closely and should look for allies among the Radicals, including among those groups of Radicals that have not yet formalized themselves. One must also seek allies among the Socialists. One must try to create a bloc against reaction. It would be good to also attract Socialists to this bloc. One might still find certain elements whom one can use in this bloc. One must create determined forces grouped around the Communist Party for defence and, when the situation changes, for the attack. The Communists should not look among those Socialists who at one time spoke out against the Soviet Union. We know the Socialists well. The Socialists are the left wing of the bourgeoisie. Now the most important thing for us is to create a left bloc. The Communist Party, although it is stronger than ever, should not be the only force speaking out against reaction. The Communist Party must not be isolated. The present-day objective of the Party is the establishment of direct links with the trade unions and with the youth. The youth should not call itself the Communist Youth. One must take into account the fact that our flags frighten certain people a lot. One must take this into account.
The Communists, continues Com. Stalin, are not strong enough that they can carry out the fight against reaction on their own. Com. Stalin says that he hopes that the Party does not overestimate its forces. If the enemy manages to provoke it, the Party will be crushed. One must little by little and patiently create a left bloc. If one can achieve some success in this sphere, then reaction will be more cautious.
Com. Stalin says that that the Communists should keep in mind that fact that de Gaulle will take measures against the Communists, even if he does not want to do so himself, he will be incited by the English and the Americans, who want to create a reactionary government in France, as everywhere else that this might be possible. This is why the Party must have allies, even if they are weak at first. If the leader of the Socialist Party says in his report that the Socialist Party is for unity with the Communist Party, then one must answer him: ‘Please do it!’ One must attract other political groups into the bloc created. One must have allies in the trade unions, one must create something like a bloc.
Com. Stalin asks whether the resistance organizations have any armed forces.
Com. Thorez answers that there are armed detachments of the patriotic militia, which were the main forces of the resistance during the occupation of France. Presently these militia detachments retain their arms.
Com. Stalin says that one must take account of the fact that presently in France there is a government recognized by the allied powers. Under these conditions it is difficult for the Communists to have parallel armed forces, since there is a regular army. It can be asked of the Communists for what purpose they need parallel armed detachments. As long as there was no provisional government, as long as there was no rear area under its command, then the existence of these detachments had a definite sense. For what purpose do these detachments exist now when there is a government with its own army? Such could be the arguments of the enemies of the Communists. These arguments could convince the average French person. That is why the position of the Communist Party of retaining its own armed forces appears weak and will be weak. It is difficult to defend this position. This is why it is necessary to transform these armed detachments into another organization, into a political organization, but the arms should be hidden (‘a oruzhiye nuzhno spryatat’).
Com. Stalin explains that he has raised this question because it seems to him that the Communists have not yet understood that the situation in France has changed. The Communists are acting brashly and are continuing to follow the former line at a time when the situation has changed. They would like to send all the Socialist scoundrels to hell at a time when one must try to create a bloc and find allies among the Socialists. The Communists are trying to retain the militia. This will not happen. There is a government that is recognized by Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States and other powers, but the Communists continue to act by inertia. Meanwhile, the situation is new, different, it provides an opportunity for de Gaulle. The situation has changed and it is necessary to make a turn. The Communist Party is not strong enough to hit the government on its head. It must accumulate forces and search for allies. It must take measures so that, in the case of an offensive of reaction, the Communists can have a solid defence and can say that reaction is attacking not only the Communists but the people. If the situation changes for the better, then the forces united around the Party will be useful for the offensive.
There must be a platform for the political organization. This platform should include the recovery of industry, giving work to the unemployed, the defence of democracy, the punishment of those who stifle democracy.
Com. Stalin asks what the organization of the resistance in France is called.
Com. Thorez answers that this organization has the name ‘Movement of the Resistance.’
Com. Stalin says that now one must give it another name. Maybe this organization should be called the ‘Front for Reconstruction.’ Formerly, it was a question of the liberation of the country and now it is a question of its reconstruction. If, under this banner, one rallies the forces of the left, the workers, the intelligentsia, the cultural groups, this would be good.
Com. Thorez says that it would be good to also win over the peasants to this movement.
Com. Stalin says that he had forgotten to speak of the peasants. It is definitely necessary to win them to this movement. Among them there are people who can be useful.
It is necessary that the Communist Party be strong and that it should be surrounded by allies. The enemies want to isolate the Communist Party. One must not allow this.
Then Com. Stalin says that it is not useful to call this bloc a ‘front.’ In this case, the name will remind the bourgeoisie of the ‘popular front.’ One must find another name. Maybe it could be called: ‘Movement to Strengthen Democracy in France.’ If one says ‘Movement of Struggle for Democracy,’ they could reply that there already is democracy in France, that there is a Republic, etc. Perhaps the best would be to call it: ‘Movement for the Reconstruction of a Strong France and the Strengthening of Democracy.’ This name is certainly a bit long, but the French Communists can find a better name themselves. Com. Stalin explains that he is only giving his idea, but the French Communists can find the concrete forms of its realization.
In the platform of this movement, says Com. Stalin, one should include above all the economic reconstruction of the country and the consolidation of democracy. The platform should be explained in this framework.
Com. Stalin says that he has made the comments that he wanted to make and he asks whether Com. Thorez has any questions with regard to these comments.
Com. Thorez answers that he has no questions.
Then Com. Stalin says that de Gaulle wants to take part in the occupation of Germany. In one of his speeches de Gaulle said that the French want to put their forces to the test until the end of the war. Therefore de Gaulle wants to show what the Gauls are. He is not afraid to take a fighting position in relation to Germany. Among other things, de Gaulle is complaining to our people that he would like to receive arms for the army, but that the English and the Americans are not giving him arms.
Com. Stalin asks how many divisions de Gaulle has at his disposal.
Com. Thorez answers that de Gaulle has five French divisions equipped with American arms. Besides, there are French partisan detachments that do not have heavy weapons. They are armed only with rifles. Among other things, these partisan detachments are blocking the ports of the French west coast occupied by the Germans.
Com. Stalin says that while he was in Moscow, Churchill had touched on the question of the future of the Rhine region and of the Saar. Churchill called for the dismemberment of Germany. He declared that Germany, not including East Prussia which would return to Poland, should be divided into the following three parts: first Prussia; second Austria centred at Vienna, including the southern provinces - Baden and Württemberg; third, Westphalia and the Rhine region, which should form a separate region under international control. The idea for the creation of this region would be not to allow Germany to make use of iron and coal. Massigli(2) apparently supported this plan. He at one time called for the separation of the Rhine region and Westphalia and for the establishment of an international control over them.
Com. Stalin says that he would not advise the Communists to demand the annexation of the Rhine region and the Saar at the present time. The situation is not clear. One must find out what the attitude of the French people would be towards these demands. For now the best would be to abstain from raising slogans of annexation. If the situation changes and it becomes clear that public opinion, the intelligentsia, the people are for it, that would be another matter. Com. Stalin says that he is afraid that otherwise the Communists would find themselves in the same camp as the blackest reaction. Then it would be said to the Communists: ‘Look whom you are with!’ The best would be to wait with this slogan. Wait one month, maybe two months. It is necessary to gather information, to test the waters.
Com. Stalin comments that de Gaulle in his declaration called for the annexation of German territory, at the same time as Bidault spoke out against such annexation. What is this? How can it be that within one government there are two different political lines.
Com. Stalin asks what the attitude of Bidault is on the question of Alsace and Lorraine.
Com. Thorez replies that Bidault considers Alsace and Lorraine as part of French territory. In speaking against annexation by France, Bidault means that Alsace and Lorraine belong to France.
Com. Thorez says that, in his opinion, Bidault opposed the annexation of German territory in order to also oppose the transfer of part of present German territory to Poland. The French reactionaries want Poland to extend as deeply as possible into the Soviet Union and therefore the shifting of Poland towards the west is not to their liking. The French reactionaries, as also the English ones, would like to see Poland become a tool against the Soviet Union.
Com. Stalin says that, certainly, both the English and the French would like this but they will not achieve it. The Poles want to obtain German regions that are rich and developed, and they will lose only the Pinsk swamp.
Com. Stalin asks if the factories of the military industry are presently functioning in France.
Com. Thorez answers that the factories are standing still in the majority of cases. This is usually explained by the lack of raw materials, by the ruin of transportation and similar reasons. In those places where the workers, on their own initiative, have started up the factories, the central authorities have intervened and disrupted the work of the factories. Thus, French industry is at a standstill and there are a great number of unemployed.
Com. Stalin says that one of the main objectives of the mass movement for the reconstruction of France should be the restarting of industrial enterprises, first of all the enterprises of military industry. Com. Stalin says that in the Soviet Union industry suffered from the war more than French industry, and nevertheless it has succeeded quickly enough in reestablishing industry in the regions that had been occupied by the Germans. The bridges, the railroads and such things were also restored.
Com. Thorez says that the workers in these places want to reestablish the industry but as soon as the matter reaches the central authorities it is delayed. Com. Thorez says that this is sabotage.
Com. Stalin agrees that this is sabotage, and says that one must fight for the reconstruction of French industry.
Com. Thorez remarks that the English and the Americans do not want the reconstruction of industry in France.
Com. Stalin agrees with this, and says that the English and the Americans want to be the only ones to have industry, so that the whole world would buy their goods. That is why their planes are bombing the industrial enterprises in Germany so ferociously. The English and the Americans want to destroy as many of the industrial enterprises in Germany as possible so that it would be difficult to obtain reparations from Germany. Com. Stalin asks what should be done if de Gaulle asks for arms from the Soviet Union. Should he give him arms?
Com. Thorez replies that it all depends on what these arms would be used for.
Com. Stalin says that it is difficult to provide arms with this particular condition in advance. Com. Stalin asks if the English are providing arms to the French.
Com. Thorez answers that Churchill, in one of his declarations, promised to give arms to the French, but afterward, in a second declaration, he said that since up to now the French have received only American arms, the question needs further examination in order to achieve the unification of a system of provision of arms.
Com. Stalin asks if the French troops have their own sector on the front against the German troops.
Com. Thorez answers that they have a sector at the extreme south of the front facing Belfort.
Com. Stalin asks if the 5 French divisions of de Gaulle are composed of French or colonial troops.
Com. Thorez answers that a large part of these divisions are made up of colonial troops.
Com. Stalin says that the old French commanders will try to maintain colonial troops, who are very obedient. One should try, as much as possible, to see to it that there are more French in the French Army. There are also good lads among the Algerians but all the same they are not French. Com. Stalin says that one should also try to see to it that the French troops have their own sector on the front and that the troops in this sector are under French command.
Com. Thorez says that, in his opinion, France should have a strong army.
Com. Stalin replies that he is in agreement with this and that the French Communists have nothing to fear from the creation of a large army. They should have their own people in the army.
Com. Stalin says that the ‘Normandy’ squadron is fighting on the Soviet-German front. Our people have praised the pilots of this squadron. They say that the French pilots fight well. Among them are real aces. Does Thorez know these pilots?
Com. Thorez replies that he knows some but not all of them. He says that among these pilots there are reactionary elements, representing the big noble families. They always keep to themselves and they behave towards us with a certain suspicion. However, when recently the aircrew of this squadron were decorated, these pilots also received a decoration. This made a great impression on the whole crew of the squadron. General Petit told Thorez about this recently.
Com. Stalin says that we do not give decorations for no reason and that they reward those who have fought well against the Germans. We plan to give some of the French pilots the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Com. Stalin says that it is possible that de Gaulle, when he arrives in the Soviet Union, will ask for permission to transfer the ‘Normandy’ squadron to France. Should one then permit the pilots to also take their arms and their planes with them?
Com. Thorez says that this would be good and he adds that the French pilots are very proud that they are fighting on such good fighter planes.
Com. Stalin replies that really these planes are not bad and he adds that it would be a pity if the pilots disarmed before leaving the Soviet Union. Let them leave with the planes. Com. Stalin asks if Com. Thorez has any more questions to put to him and the other comrades present.
Com. Thorez answers that he has no more questions.
In concluding the talk Comrade Stalin wishes Com. Thorez success and asks him to give his greetings to the French comrades, Duclos, Marty and the others. In shaking hands and saying goodbye to Com. Stalin, Thorez says that he assures him of his devotion to our cause and to Com. Stalin and thanks him for the meeting.
Com. Stalin replies that there is no need for thanks among comrades.
Com. Thorez says that he thanks Com. Stalin all the same and that he always is in need of his advice.
The talk lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.
Podtserob took the notes.
This translation into English has been made by George Gruenthal from the French translation in the journal ‘Communisme’, No. 45-46, 1996, and has been checked by ‘Inter’ from the Russian original as it appeared in the magazine ‘Istochnik’ No. 4, 1995, pp. 152-158. The document is from the Presidential Archives of the Russian Federation F 45/0/1/D/390/ff. 85-93.
1) From 1943-44, Bidault was the leader of the National Council of Resistance of France. In September 1944 he was appointed foreign minister of the Provisional Government by de Gaulle.
2) From 1943-44, Massigli was the head of the Foreign Affairs department of the French Committee of National Liberation. From 1944-55, he was French Ambassador to Great Britain.
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