Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

Neither Washington nor Moscow? the Rise and Fall of the Rassemblement Democratique Revolutionnaire

Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

Neither Washington nor Moscow? the Rise and Fall of the Rassemblement Democratique Revolutionnaire

Article excerpt


The Rassemblement democratique revolutionnaire (RDR) [1] is now largely forgotten, one of the many mysterious acronyms that appear from time to time in the footnotes to a history of the post-war French left. Yet for a few months after its foundation in February 1948 the RDR seemed to have the potential to make a significant impact on French political life. It had the support of a number of leading figures on the left, and the good wishes of two national newspapers. It appeared capable of drawing significant support both from the left of the Socialist Party (SFIO) and from the non-aligned left. Its programme embodied a clear rejection of both the pro-Moscow Stalinism of the French Communist Party (PCF) and the pro-Washington social democracy of the SFIO. Fifty years later, when Stalinism has collapsed and social democracy is abandoning any commitment to redistribution, it may be of some interest to look back on the experience of a movement which aspired to a socialism that was revolutionary and democratic, but which rejected both Stalinism and reformism.

If the RDR is remembered at all nowadays, it is as part of the political itinerary of Jean-Paul Sartre, who was its most celebrated, though not necessarily its most influential member. Thus the RDR gets a name-check in most accounts of Sartre's life. [2] However, without an understanding of its significance in the context of French political life, it is impossible to assess its place in Sartre's evolution.

In subsequent years Sartre himself was always disparaging about the RDR. In notes written at the time of its collapse, he stated that its failure had been a 'coup dur', but concluded that it did not respond to 'un besoin reel chez les gens'. [3] In later accounts Sartre minimized both his own role and the viability of the RDR, [4] and in the seventies, discussing with his Maoist comrades, he dismissed it as a 'grosse connerie'. [5] Even such a sympathetic commentator on Sartre's political evolution as Ronald Aronson has seen it as an 'impossible project' and 'doomed from the outset'. [6] While a number of the participants have described the events in the course of their memoirs, there is not, to the best of my knowledge, any book or article which attempts a full account and analysis of the rise and fall of the RDR. (The 'SRL', which features in Simone de Beauvoir's novel Les Mandarins, is not an accurate representation of the RDR and is set in the immediate post-war period rather than during the early Cold War.) [7]

The two years of the RDR's brief life coincided with the intensification of the Cold War. The post-war honeymoon between the victorious powers of the Second World War came to an end in 1947 with the Truman doctrine and Marshall Aid; Stalin responded with the formation of the Cominform. 1948 was the year of the Communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin blockade; 1949 saw the formation of NATO.

The international situation transformed the political line-up inside France. From the Liberation to 1947 France was governed by a series of coalitions, in almost all of which the PCF had participated alongside the SFIO. But in May 1947, under pressure from Washington and in the context of a Trotskyist-led strike at Renault, the SFIO Prime Minister Ramadier removed the Communist ministers from his government. The PCF, which up to this point had pursued a policy of opposing strikes, now encouraged a wave of industrial militancy. The SFIO took an increasingly pro-American stance, while a new militantly right-wing organization, de Gaulle's Rassemblement du peuple francais (RPF), emerged.

There were enough parallels between France and Czechoslovakia, where the Communist Party had participated in a coalition government and then eliminated its allies, for there to be some anxiety that the PCF might attempt a similar seizure of power in France. But above all there was a feeling on all sides that France would soon find itself the battlefield for a new world war, this time between the US and Russia. …

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