File No. 763.72119/1582

Report of the Consul at Paris ( Lay )


Pacifism and Popular Unrest in France

France is passing through a period of political ferment which portends the most serious crisis of the war. There can be no doubt that the populace is becoming strongly impregnated with the virus of pacifism and that it is growing impossible for this country to pursue a strictly military programme without an effective resort to other means for the early termination of the war.

This movement, however, should not be construed as one of “peace at any price,” for its price is specifically the “peace of the peoples” from which it draws both its force and its inspiration. French pacifists have nothing less in view than the realization of the “Wilson peace” and their entire campaign is one of coercing their Government into its acceptation. The existing state of unrest may be attributed to the fact that the present Government has neither subscribed publicly to the Wilson programme, nor offered any substitute therefor; that it appears bound to a purely military programme by treaties which it will not reveal, and therefore is not free to utilize the effective arm of diplomacy in shaping the destiny of the nation.

The same movement and the same tendencies are equally menacing in England, but the aspects of the situation in the two countries are contrasted by the predominance of Socialistic factors in France. In England there are three elements of initiative; in France only two, for there exists no middle ground of purely liberal democracy, comparable to the Lansdowne school, capable of standing as a buffer between the present regime and Socialism. Lord Lansdowne espouses the cause of the Wilson peace which he conceives to be obtainable through other means than purely military effort; he believes that such a peace would be possible through negotiations should the Allies abandon their present programme of “war at any price.” This conception clearly concedes a higher degree of obstinacy on the part of the Governments of the Allies than on those of the Central Empires, but if the Lansdowne movement is designed to modify the energetic war policy of the Lloyd George Government, it none the less checks and restrains the radicalism of the Socialistic faction.

In France the line of cleavage is particularly pronounced, and when one departs from the established war policy of the present Government in the direction of the Wilson peace, the first group of [Page 211] associates encountered is that of the Socialistic Party itself. No strong democrat has publicly embraced the policy of “peace by negotiations,” and therefore there is no intermediate group on whom the power of state might fall if wrested from the hands of the present governing element. In England Lord Lansdowne, as representing democracy rather than socialism, would get credit for any benefit which might accrue through a departure from the present policy; in France this credit would fall to the Socialistic Party. The reason for the existence of these two extremes without a middle is that all of the prominent public men, as regards the war policy, either belong to what might be called the Clemenceau school, the Caillaux school, the Socialistic Party, or the Royalists. During the war the leading men of the “Clemenceau school” (Viviani, Briand, Ribot, Painlevé, etc.) have all been tried, and have each had a part in binding France to inter-Allied obligations, and this fact now renders it impossible for any one of them to seek to repudiate or modify these obligations which constitute the chief objective of the pacifist attack. The Caillaux followers are all either in prison, or badly compromised politically, while the Royalists are vigorously military and uncompromising. This leaves only the Socialistic leaders to profit by all developments towards what must eventually be the established policy of France.

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On December 25, 1917, the Conference of the General Confederation of Labor, held at Clermont-Ferrand, issued a declaration of which the following are the principal provisions:

The Conference demands, first of all, precisions as to the war aims pursued by our Government, condemns secret diplomacy, wants no annexations and seeks the establishment of the right of peoples to dispose of themselves; reconstitution in their territorial integrity of the invaded countries; reparation of damages caused; no war contributions; liberty of the seas; obligatory arbitration for the regulation of differences. The Conference demands insistently that the laboring classes of all the countries at war require of their respective governments the publication with the same precisions of their peace conditions. This general action already demanded by the Russian Revolution at its debut, and to which the Conference subscribes, appears at the present hour to be the only means of such a nature as to avoid a separate peace.

For these reasons the Conference affirms the right for the working class of all countries and for that of France in particular to participate in an international conference and to bring it about in case of need.

It will be recalled that following this declaration the Socialistic Party and the General Confederation of Labor sent delegates to the Interallied Conference at London and that delegates from these two [Page 212] organizations are now en route to the United States for the purpose of securing the participation of American Socialists and syndicalists in the proposed international conference which is shortly to bring together representatives of the Entente Powers and of the Central Empires.

During the present period, preparatory to decisive action, the labor element of France is being intensively organized and committed to its programme through resolutions passed by the working men employed in each establishment. This is particularly true as regards munition plants, aviation works and other industries essential to the prosecution of the war. The laborer has become suddenly conscious of the fact the war is continuing because of the work of his own hands and thus, since he must bear a heavy responsibility for permitting its continuance against his doctrinal principles, he has himself seized the occasion to proclaim his own war aims and strive for their realization. The following resolution, selected at random, is translated from a Socialistic paper as typical of the hundreds now being passed in the various establishments:

Considering that the moment has arrived for an intense propaganda in favor of syndicalism in view of the present situation, the General Assembly decides, jointly with the delegations of other firms and the support of syndicalist organizations, to direct an action for the realization of the resolutions voted by the congress at Clermont-Ferrand;

Invites the counsels of administrations of all the syndicalist and labor organizations to exert a pressure in every way and under all circumstances on their Members of Parliament … (3 lines censored) …

To oblige the Government to take a clear position as regards the propositions of peace of President Wilson and to reveal publicly its war aims and its peace conditions.
To obtain from the Government in particular and the Allies in general the participation of delegates of the working class in the negotiations of peace.

On the other hand, basing itself on the messages of President Wilson and on the resolutions of the reunion of the representatives of the shop delegates of the Department of the Seine the Assembly … (3 lines censored) … to arrive at a peace of the peoples without annexation or indemnity and with the liberty of the peoples to dispose of themselves under the safeguard and the control of the Society of Nations;

Binds all the laborers to group themselves under the syndicalist banner, the only organization capable of action;

Insists that the General Confederation of Labor and all Federations adopt these resolutions in order that … (15 lines censored) … the old track of a secret diplomacy incapable of solving great international problems;

Vows the [eternal] hatred of conscious peoples for all governments which henceforth do not use all their efforts to conclude at the earliest moment a durable peace—a peace of the peoples.

[Page 213]

Many similar resolutions express profound sympathy for their brothers who are now imprisoned for expressing their views on the war, etc.

The rapidity with which the entire Socialistic fabric is being woven into a single piece by this process is due largely to the fact that issues touching the war are combined with demands for increased wages and action on the two taken concurrently. When the hour arrives for the revealing of whatever may be now accumulating in a latent state there is little doubt that absolute solidarity will be an accomplished fact among all factions of organized labor, and that the action of the proletariat will be as compact and as concurrent as an effectual levée en masse. France will be permitted to prosecute the war only so long as syndicalism permits, and the present temper of its disciples, with their growing pacifism and spirit of self-assertiveness, indicates that there must shortly be a change in the public policy or that an attempt may be made to effect a change of institutions.

Respectfully submitted:

Tracy Lay