Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

 Front Cover
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of Illustrations
 1. Currents of change
 2. The policy proclaimed
 3. The policy rebuffed in Rome
 4. The social explosion
 5. The Spanish Civil War
 6. The policy of collaboration
 7. The policy pursued
 8. The pope speaks
 9. The party secretary speaks
 10. Events overtake the policy
 11. The policy appraised
 Back Matter
 Back Cover
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Material Information

Title: Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939 the politics of the outstretched hand
Series Title: University of Florida monographs in social sciences ;
Physical Description: viii, 159 p. : ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Murphy, Francis J
Publisher: University of Florida Press
Place of Publication: Gainesville


Subjects / Keywords: Communism and Christianity -- Catholic Church   ( lcsh )
Communism and Christianity -- France   ( lcsh )
Katholische Kirche   ( swd )
Geschichte (1936-1939)   ( swd )
Katholizismus   ( swd )
Politics and government -- France -- 1914-1940   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 145-152.
Statement of Responsibility: Francis J. Murphy.
General Note: Includes index.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 19981014
lccn - 89005133
isbn - 0813009367 (alk. paper)
Classification: lcc - DC396 .M87 1989
ddc - 320.944/09/043
System ID: UF00101417:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00101417/00001

Material Information

Title: Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939 the politics of the outstretched hand
Series Title: University of Florida monographs in social sciences ;
Physical Description: viii, 159 p. : ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Murphy, Francis J
Publisher: University of Florida Press
Place of Publication: Gainesville


Subjects / Keywords: Communism and Christianity -- Catholic Church   ( lcsh )
Communism and Christianity -- France   ( lcsh )
Katholische Kirche   ( swd )
Geschichte (1936-1939)   ( swd )
Katholizismus   ( swd )
Politics and government -- France -- 1914-1940   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 145-152.
Statement of Responsibility: Francis J. Murphy.
General Note: Includes index.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 19981014
lccn - 89005133
isbn - 0813009367 (alk. paper)
Classification: lcc - DC396 .M87 1989
ddc - 320.944/09/043
System ID: UF00101417:00001

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
    List of Illustrations
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
    1. Currents of change
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
    2. The policy proclaimed
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
    3. The policy rebuffed in Rome
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
    4. The social explosion
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
    5. The Spanish Civil War
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
    6. The policy of collaboration
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
    7. The policy pursued
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
    8. The pope speaks
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
    9. The party secretary speaks
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
    10. Events overtake the policy
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
    11. The policy appraised
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
    Back Matter
        Page 160
    Back Cover
        Back Cover 1
        Back Cover 2
Full Text


Communists and Catholics in France,

University of Florida Monographs
Social Sciences Number 76

Communists and Catholics in France,
The Politics of the Outstretched Hand

Francis J. Murphy

University of Florida Press

Copyright 1989 by the Board of Regents of Florida
All rights reserved.
Printed in the U.S.A. on acid-free paper.

University of Florida Social Sciences Monographs

George E. Pozzetta, Chairman
Professor of History

James Button
Associate Professor of Political Science
Frederick 0. Goddard
Associate Professor of Economics
John C. Henretta
Associate Professor of Sociology

A. J. Lamme
Associate Professor of Geography
Paul J. Magnarella
Professor of Anthropology
Dorene Ross
Associate Professor of Education

Library of Congress catalog information may be found
on the last page of this book.


List of Illustrations vi
Preface vii
1. Currents of Change 1
2. The Policy Proclaimed 15
3. The Policy Rebuffed in Rome 22
4. The Social Explosion 32
5. The Spanish Civil War 42
6. The Policy of Collaboration 54
7. The Policy Pursued 66
8. The Pope Speaks 77
9. The Party Secretary Speaks 93
10. Events Overtake the Policy 102
11. The Policy Appraised 113
Notes 119
Bibliography 145
Index 153


"Condemnation papale"
"Christmas in Madrid"
"Le Pape a raison"
"La Main tendue"



The political forces of the French Left embarked on a new joint pro-
gram in 1935, a staunchly Republican, anti-Nazi union called the
Popular Front. At the time of its formation, two fresh currents were
entering the mainstream of French political life. The first consisted
of French Catholics, whose traditional tie with the political Right
had been weakened by condemnation of Action Franpaise in 1926
and whose support of the Third Republic had been encouraged by
the "second ralliement" of Pope Pius XI. The second was the French
Communist Party (PCF), which had recently abandoned its anti-
parliamentary posture and become the self-proclaimed heir of the
Jacobin tradition as well as the most vocal defender of the Republic.
Observers wondered what was to be the relationship between these
previously antagonistic and ideologically opposed forces.
The initiative for some form of rapprochement between these
two forces was soon forthcoming from the PCF through Maurice
Thorez, its secretary-general. The Communist appeal to Catholics
was symbolized by the outstretched hand of friendship. Hence, the
resulting policy was known as la main tendue. Several historians,
both in France and North America, have recently begun to analyze
and interpret the significance of the policy of the outstretched hand,
but they have tended to focus on either the impact of this policy on
French Catholics or its implications for Marxist theory.
I aim to examine the origins, development, communication,
apologetics, and effectiveness of the PCF's policy of the out-
stretched hand toward Catholics. My primary sources are the
media through which the PCF advanced its policy. Access to offi-
cial Communist documents is problematic but not insurmountable.
A careful examination of the publications of the PCF provides a
clear perception of official thought as well as a solid sense of how
the party wished to present itself to its members and to the public.
In this regard, Cahiers du Bolchhisme (the theoretical journal of the


Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

PCF), L'Humanite (the party's daily national newspaper), and the
CEuvres de Maurice Thorez are indispensable.
Quotations from these works and other relevant sources are
often cited at some length because the reference material involved
is largely inaccessible to readers outside France, and the fuller con-
text of certain key sentences is necessary for an accurate apprecia-
tion of the ideas presented. This method of citation has been de-
veloped with remarkable effectiveness by Rene Remond in his
related work Les Catholiques dans la France des annees 30. Unless a
specific translation is cited, translations from French and Latin
sources are my own.
Reactions to the outstretched hand are analyzed not in their
totality but only insofar as such reactions were assimilated, either
favorably or unfavorably, into the Communist appeal. Accordingly,
this study principally concerns the formulation and implementa-
tion of French Communist Party policy. That this policy became the
prelude to the more lasting and still continuing process of Chris-
tian-Marxist dialogue could not have been foreseen in the years
1936 to 1939.
In order to place this policy in the broader context of French
life in the 1930s, in the first chapter, I explore the major relevant
tendencies within the PCF, the French church, and the Third Re-
public. These considerations are selective and interpretative, since
abundant scholarly works are readily available for more detailed,
specialized study.
The central theme of this study is the constancy of the PCF's
political appeal to French Catholics, especially Catholic workers, in
the years 1936 to 1939. Despite their general rejection of the out-
stretched hand, French Catholics were profoundly affected by this
Communist initiative. The resulting ferment in French Catholicism
becomes, therefore, a secondary theme of reflection. The electoral
success of the Popular Front and the dramatic growth of the PCF in
these years seemingly occur in spite of the Communist appeal to
Catholics, not because of it. However, a deeper examination will
show that the outstretched hand was not extended in vain. It be-
came an important component of the PCF's entry into the main-
stream of French political life, as well as a stimulus to a reorienta-
tion of French Catholicism. In this light, the policy deserves
renewed historical consideration.


Currents of Change

At the time of the formation of the Popular Front in France in 1935,
the French Communist Party (PCF) was barely fifteen years old.
The Catholic Church, in sharp contrast, had been an institution
integral to French history for several centuries. Both the party and
the church, however, were grappling with the question of the most
fruitful form of participation in national life. The goals of the PCF
and the church were decidedly different and seemingly conflictual.
Nonetheless, the achievement of the temporal objectives of the PCF
no less than the success of the spiritual mission of the church
required winning over the minds and hearts of millions of French
men and women. How could that be done?
The young PCF represented the potential of revolutionary
change in society.' Its vision was based on the theories of Marx,
Engels, and Lenin, as well as on the triumph of the Bolsheviks in
the Russian Revolution. From the moment of its birth at the Con-
gress of Tours in December 1920, the French Communist Party was
inextricably linked to its Russian origins. In order to promote world
revolution along Communist lines, Lenin and his followers had
established a new Third Communist International (Comintern) in
March 1919. The Comintern was founded both to replace the Sec-
ond International, which had been discredited by its disarray and
ineffectiveness in World War I, and to direct from Moscow the
progress of world revolution, which was anticipated as imminent in
the wake of that war.
Membership in the Third International was made contingent
upon the acceptance of twenty-one conditions that imposed central-
ized organization, strict discipline, and Soviet dominance on
member parties. At the Congress of Tours, the majority of delegates
at what had begun as the 18th Congress of the French Socialist
Party (SFIO) voted to accept the twenty-one conditions, thus trans-
forming the convention into the Foundation Congress of the PCF.
The fragile union of the reformist and revolutionary wings of
French socialism forged in 1905 was destroyed. The new, revo-

Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

lutionary PCF was launched but played only a marginal role in
French national life until 1934. In its formative years from 1920
through 1934, the PCF achieved a distinct identity, a disciplined or-
ganization, and a preparatory political experience-the indispens-
able prerequisites for its eventual entry into the mainstream of
French national life.
The PCFs first task in shaping its identity was to distinguish
itself from the older reformist and anarchist tendencies within the
French worker movement. To accomplish this goal on the opera-
tional level, the PCF excluded those who did not initially accept the
twenty-one conditions and expelled those who subsequently
rejected Comintern decisions. On the theoretical level, the PCF
required strict conformity to Marxist-Leninist doctrine as defined
by the Comintern.
The resulting Marxism, in the language of Leszek Kolakowski,
was "institutional" rather than "intellectual," since its content was
supplied by authoritative decree from above.2 This form of institu-
tional Marxism was imparted to party militants through a network
of Comintern schools. These schools guaranteed the ideological or-
thodoxy of the members' formation while providing additional op-
portunities for formal education to the working-class cadres, who
customarily had left school at an early age. Revolutionary workers
especially were sought as party members and potential leaders.
Unlike the rival Socialists, whose leadership was often bourgeois
and reformist, the PCF consciously sought to be the party of, for,
and by the revolutionary proletariat.
Discipline became the organizational hallmark of the PCF.
During the years of maturation, the form of the party became fixed
along Bolshevik lines. This bolshevization was mandated by the
Fifth Congress of the Comintern in June 1924. Ronald Tiersky has
accurately analyzed the three crucial components of bolsheviza-
tion.3 The first, factory cells, simultaneously shifted the locus of or-
ganization to the workplace and provided the leadership with an
organizational structure of cells, sections, and federations deter-
mined by its own standards rather than by political geography. The
second characteristic was democratic centralism. This organiza-
tional principle permitted debate before, but not after, a decision
was made. Once a decision was reached, it became binding upon
all members in a strictly hierarchical order. The third component,
the establishment of a full-time, incontestably loyal leadership,
proved to be the most challenging. However, that third challenge
was successfully met by 1934, when Maurice Thorez assumed un-

Currents of Change

disputed leadership of the PCF, with the able, faithful assistance of
Jacques Duclos in governmental affairs and Benoit Frachon in
organized labor.
The political experience of the PCF's years of maturation
likewise mirrored its relationship with the Comintern. In turn, its
successive strategies of the "united front" (1921-27) and "class
against class" (1928-33) reflected respectively Lenin's "New Eco-
nomic Policy" and Stalin's goal of "Socialism in One Country." The
generally conciliatory strategy of the united front was consistent
with the needs of the Soviet Union in the wake of the Civil War and
of the PCF in the period of its inception. The stridently sectarian
strategy of class against class facilitated the bolshevization of the
PCF but at an enormous political price.
The five years from 1928 to 1933 were among the darkest in
the history of international communism. The experience of the PCF
was no exception to that rule. Party membership fell from 50,000 in
1928 to 19,000 in 1933.4 The circulation of L'Humaniti, the PCF daily,
reached its lowest point, selling only 70,000 to 80,000 copies each
day.5 Similar decline in strength was experienced in the Commu-
nist labor movement (CGTU). By 1932, application of the class
against class strategy had reduced to ten the number of PCF
deputies in the Chamber of Deputies. In addition, by splitting the
vote of the Left, this policy had actually benefited the candidates of
the Right and the Center.
The Socialists (SFIO) and their affiliated labor organization,
the Conf6deration Generale du Travail (CGT), were the intended
target of this policy of noncollaboration with any agents of the
bourgeois government of capitalist France. In fact, this policy back-
fired, isolating the PCF on the revolutionary margins of French na-
tional life. The PCF had successfully become a distinct revolution-
ary alternative, but the political situation of France was not at that
time revolutionary.
When the French political situation did change in 1933-34, the
PCF was poised to act. During the years of maturation, it had be-
come a distinct party of the Leninist model-well organized, tightly
disciplined, ideologically revolutionary, and proletarian. Before
examining the political changes of 1933-34, attention needs to be
directed to the condition of the Catholic Church in France in the
wake of World War I.
France, although customarily called the "eldest daughter of
the Church," underwent drastic dechristianization in the wake of
its political revolution in 1789 and its industrial revolution in the

Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

nineteenth century. The lingering memory of Catholicism's pre-
viously privileged position in French national life made the vast
majority of active Catholics long for a restoration of what seemed to
have been, in retrospect, an ideal integration of church and society
in the old regime.6
The resulting identification of the church with the restored
Bourbon monarchy (1814-30) and its close ties to the Second Empire
(1851-70) predictably produced a strong anticlerical reaction in the
Third Republic. For most champions of the Republic, the enemy
was the church. For most champions of the church, the enemy was
the Republic. In marked contrast, for a statistically small but
intellectually influential group of Catholics, reconciliation with, not
rejection of, the secular state and the industrial society was the
proper goal of French Catholicism. However, even the direct ap-
peal of Pope Leo XIII in 1892 for French Catholics to rally to the Re-
public failed significantly to alter the mutual distrust of most Cath-
olics and most republicans. This "ralliement," as the appeal was
termed, was soon swallowed up in the Dreyfus affair. Here again
the most vocal forces of the French church clashed with the republi-
cans. In the wake of the vindication of Dreyfus, retaliatory
measures against the mainly anti-Dreyfusard role of the church led
to the separation of church and state in 1905. The French state thus
completed its long process of secularization.7
Despite the dire effects of separation and its accompanying
anticlerical legislation, the church struggled on with unprecedented
freedom in the spiritual sphere. Its loss of wealth and status was
undeniable. On the positive side, however, the church was, in its
diminished posture, no longer seen as a threat to the state. Only in
the realm of education was there still serious strain. For both the
church and the government, the crucial questions then became the
spread of socialism and the problem of war. The full participation
of French Catholics in the service of the nation during World War I
led to a more positive relationship between church and state. The
principal political expression of that rapprochement was the re-
establishment of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy
See in December 1921.
The French church now entered into a phase somewhat com-
parable in duration and direction to the PCF's period of maturation.
That statistically small but intellectually influential group of Catho-
lics committed to reconciliation with modem society embarked
upon a period of exciting creativity. Its contributions enriched both
the church and the nation in fields as diverse as literature and


Currents of Change

social service. The efforts of this small group received both Vatican
encouragement and renewed impetus from Pope Pius XI's condem-
nation of Action Frangaise in December 1926.8
Action Francaise was a militantly nationalist, royalist, and
elitist movement directed by Charles Maurras and supported
strongly by the Catholic Right, both clerical and lay. While not per-
sonally religious, Maurras stressed the social utility of religion and
drew countless Catholics to his reactionary, royalist vision of France
under the tutelage of the church. Just as the condemnation of
Action Franpaise advanced the efforts of the Catholic progressives
in the political realm, so the publication of the encyclical "Quadra-
gesimo Anno" in May 1931 reinforced their commitment to
resolving the social problem.
Herve Chaigne has convincingly shown "Quadragesimo
Anno" to be much more nuanced in its analysis of socialism and
much sharper in its condemnation of laissez-faire capitalism than
previous encyclicals. While revolutionary socialism was still cate-
gorically condemned, moderate socialism was now more positively
perceived. In this regard, Chaigne concluded:

I think that this text can have finally only one meaning: that
beyond the traditions of economic liberalism, and despite the
everyday behavior of Catholics, there exists a profound Chris-
tian tradition that coincides with certain elements of the great
socialist claims; and therefore Christians ought to hasten to
retrieve from socialism the Christian values that the latter is

Although the letter of Chaigne's analysis was dated much
later, the spirit of his interpretation was already being implemented
by many Catholic progressives. The "second ralliement," as Pius
XI's initiative was termed, sought anew to reconcile the church in
France with the realities of a modern secular, industrialized, demo-
cratic, and pluralistic society. The vitality of French Catholic pro-
gressives during the period 1930-36 has been widely and justifiably
studied by historians.10 It must be remembered, however, that this
development involved only a minority, albeit a dynamic minority,
of French Catholics. Likewise, it must be recalled that even among
Catholic progressives there was wide diversity in goals and
methods. For a variety of internal and external reasons, which

Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

will be subsequently considered, by 1936 both the French hierarchy
and the Vatican were becoming more cautious, especially regarding
the threat of Communism and the danger of war.
Among Catholic "rallies" a fundamental division was destined
to complicate efforts at a concerted solution to the social problem.
In Rene R"mond's analysis, two different conceptions of the role of
the church in French society coexisted in the 1930s.11 The first,
which I would term the "unitary" conception, sought to unite all
Catholics as a type of pressure group to defend Catholic liberties.
The second, or "participatory," conception called instead for a
rechristianization of the existing society based on an acceptance of
the legitimate values of that society. This second conception of the
church's role in French society was especially energized by its own
selective interpretation of the encyclical "Quadragesimo Anno."
The apostolic goal of reaching out to the dechristianized work-
ing class was a particularly compelling concern of Catholic pro-
gressives. This apostolate necessarily involved encounters with
Communist workers, organizations, and propaganda. The PCF, in
its formative period, had consciously rooted itself in the French
proletariat and claimed to be its authentic voice.
Abb6 Joseph Dusserre has summarized both the general con-
dition of the French church and the particular project of apostolic
initiatives toward the proletariat on the eve of the Popular Front.

This was a time of disengagement from a certain policy which
still weighed heavily on the Church [integralism]; this was the
time of the birth of the Young Christian Workers [JOC] and of
Catholic Action; this was the time of a genuine renewal of social
Catholicism. Such was the context in which a few generously
venturesome Christians, not all Catholics, stretched out their
hand, which the other [proletariat] ignored or pretended to
ignore. The absence of official [ecclesiastical] warnings at this
time should not be surprising. However, it should be noted that
the episcopacy, the clergy, and Catholic Action were then dis-
couraging Catholic workers from joining the CGTU [Conf6de-
ration Ge6nrale du Travail Unitaire, the Communist labor
union], while urging them to enter the CFTC [Conf6deration
Frangaise des Travailleurs Chr6tiens, the Catholic labor union].
The Church of France remained watchful. Time would tell.12

Time, however, was by 1934 proving more unsettling for France.

Currents of Change

The political policies and even the institution of the Third Republic
itself were being severely strained.
French stability in the interwar years rested on presupposi-
tions that by 1934 were proving to be very dubious.13 The keystone
of the French recovery had been the relative weakness of Germany.
The triumph of National Socialism in 1933 was the harbinger of a
violent German nationalism, against which even the Maginot Line
seemed an inadequate defense. The expectation of peace through
the collective security of the League of Nations had lost its credibil-
ity in the wake of Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The
economic foundations of renewed French prosperity were being be-
latedly battered by the Great Depression. Among French workers,
unemployment increased, while wages fell. The peasants and the
middle class were in similar distress; the former because of falling
prices and the latter because of the declining standard of living.
Discontent was general. Its causes were complex and little
understood. The resulting frustration had as its sole tangible target
the national government.
The growing popular distrust of the government was fanned
by the inflammatory rhetoric of the press, especially in the extreme
Right dailies L'Action franaise and L'Echo de Paris. Throughout Jan-
uary 1934, these two papers relentlessly exploited a genuine politi-
cal scandal, the "Stavisky affair," in such a way as to confirm the
antigovernmental suspicions "of crowds of ordinary folk in all
classes who did not hate the Republic but distrusted its leaders of
the moment."4 The Stavisky affair, in turn, became the occasion for
a full-scale attack upon the Republic, which culminated in the riots
of February 6, 1934.15
The "Sixth of February" left in its wake at least fifteen dead
and several hundred wounded. The prolonged vilification of the
Republic by the extreme Right had emboldened the rightist
Leagues.16 These paramilitary groups, often sympathetic to fascism
and its methods, had set out to overthrow the government by force.
At first, there were indications of their success. The moderate
minister Edouard Daladier resigned, and the reins of government
passed into the hands of the more conservative Gaston Doumergue.
His new national government of the Center and the Right was op-
posed by only the Socialists and the Communists.17 However, the
forces of the Left did not remain passive. The Jacobin tradition of
the defense of the Republic in danger was still a vital reflex in
French politics.

Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

Julius Braunthal has pinpointed the effect of the Sixth of Feb-
ruary on the Socialists and Communists in France:

The counter-revolutionary attempt of 6 February 1934 created
a new situation in which the question over which the Socialist
Party had split became meaningless. For now a Union Nationale
government was in power with the support of the right wing in
Parliament, and Fascism had risen menacingly to become an
acute danger which could no longer be dealt with by parliamen-
tary methods alone. The working class itself would have to be

The working class was ready for united action, but its leaders
were not. On February 7, separate protest demonstrations were
announced by the PCF and the CGT. This made little sense to the
largely unorganized rank and file of the Left. Six demonstrators
were killed February 9, when the Communist protest rally was vio-
lently quelled by police. The spilled blood of workers was suffi-
cient to bring the Communists and Socialists together for a massive
general strike on February 12. However, only "a revolutionary
somersault" would be able to draw the French Communist Party
out of its sectarian isolation into the mainstream of French national
life.19 That somersault was already in the making. For the Nazi
triumph in Germany altered political perspectives in the Soviet
Union and the Comintern as well as in France.
Hitler's success in Germany signaled a turning point in the
history of international Communism. The threat of Nazism had
been seriously misinterpreted in both Russia and Germany. The
rising Nazi movement had been largely ignored by the German
Communist Party (KPD), the full force of whose energies was
directed against the reformist Social Democratic Party. Only be-
latedly, after Hitler was already firmly established in power and
the KPD already dissolved, did Moscow realize the gravity of the
German situation, which was in part the result of KPD refusal to
unite with the forces of the German Left in opposing the National
Socialists.20 Such a course would not be repeated in France. The
policy of class against class had to be reversed. The Sixth of Febru-
ary and the working-class reaction that it spawned provided the
occasion for a fundamental change in Comintern policy.
By 1934, the Soviet Union avidly sought closer ties with the
democracies of the West, especially France, which was similarly
threatened by a resurgent Germany.21 In this framework, the PCF

Currents of Change

had a pivotal role to play. However, until June 1934, the PCF under
the leadership of Maurice Thorez continued to pursue the policy of
class against class, for such had been the Comintern line since 1928.
Moreover, Thorez had denounced Jacques Doriot, the popular
Communist mayor of St. Denis, as an opportunist and oppositionist
for his criticism of the class against class policy. Doriot championed
a rapprochement with the Socialists. Paradoxically, the special Na-
tional Conference of the PCF in June 1934, which adopted the very
policy of unity espoused by Doriot, also expelled him from the
Meanwhile, Thorez had been summoned to Moscow in April
1934 to be briefed on the Comintern's change in policy. Upon his
return from Moscow, Thorez's position at the head of the PCF was
secure, but his understanding of the scope of the "turn" in Comin-
tern policy was still incomplete. Only detailed instructions from the
Comintern secretariat, when the National Conference at Ivry was
already in progress, finally convinced Thorez of the necessity of the
full and immediate implementation of the policy of the united
front. From that moment on, he became the most ardent evangelist,
first of working-class unity and then of national unity.
The changed perception of the world situation that prompted
the new policy of the united front in France in June was destined to
lead the Soviet Union into the League of Nations in September 1934
and into the Franco-Soviet Pact in May 1935.23 Fascism, especially in
its German form, was viewed no longer as merely "proof of
capitalist instability," to be overcome by the immediate struggle for
the proletarian revolution and the overthrow of capitalism.24 The
defeat of fascism was now considered a victory to be won in its own
right, in collaboration with whatever forces might help.25 For the
PCF, this constituted both an historic opportunity and a difficult
The differences between his opening report on June 23 and his
closing speech on June 26 at the National Conference at Ivry show
how completely and how quickly Thorez made the "turn."26 On
June 23, Thorez condemned the Socialists for following a policy
"which aims at maintaining and aggravating the division within
the working class."27 Three days later, he struck a very different
note: "We have a duty to clear up all the misunderstandings which
have separated us and still do separate us from our brothers, the
Socialist workers."28 "Unity at any price" replaced "unity from
below" as the slogan of the PCF. In return for unity of action,
Thorez guaranteed that neither the Socialist leaders nor their or-

10 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

ganizations would receive "the slightest attack" in the written or
spoken pronouncements of the PCF. Genuine unity of the working
class was now possible.
The Communists began the drive for unity immediately and
resolutely. Its end product was to be the Popular Front, "the most
significant work of the next two years and, in retrospect, of the
entire interwar period."29 A vast literature already exists concern-
ing the origins and development of the Front populaire." The Com-
munists became the most vocal partisans of an ever widening spiral
of united action. However, other groups of the Left soon realized
that the change in Communist policy was far more profound than
Thorez had indicated when he said at Ivry:

This is not a new line, nor is it a turn. This is a more determined
and more rapid march down the right road marked out by the
Communist International and practically laid down in concrete
situations by the Central Committee of our Party.31

One month later, on July 27, the Pact for Unity of Action was
signed by the leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties.32 But
the Communists' newfound quest for unity did not stop there. Two
headlines in the text of Thorez's opening report at Ivry contained
seeds of even wider unity in the future. These headlines read, "No
policy of the clenched fist toward religion," and "We love our coun-
The rediscovered patriotism of the PCF became the bridge to
the Radicals, to whom Thorez was to appeal beginning in October
1934. The rejection of the "policy of the clenched fist toward reli-
gion" was the signal for a future initiative toward Catholics, which,
however, had to wait until after the formation of the Popular Front.
During the next year and a half, the French Communist Party
devoted all its energies to the massive propaganda and complicated
negotiations that climaxed in the birth of the Popular Front on
Bastille Day, July 14, 1935. On that day, at the Buffalo Stadium in
Paris, in a ceremony repeated throughout the provinces, the leaders
of the Communist, Socialist, and Radical parties as well as the
directors of the CGT, the CGTU, and several smaller organizations
joined in a solemn pledge before the assembled throng.

We pledge to remain united to defend democracy, to disarm
and dissolve the factious leagues, and to place our liberties be-

Currents of Change

yond the reach of fascism. We swear on this day, which brings
back to life the first victory of the Republic, to defend the demo-
cratic liberties won by the people of France, to give bread to the
workers, work to the youth, and true human peace to the

The Popular Front became a reality on July 14, 1935, even
though its formal program was not adopted until January 11, 1936.
Despite the cloud of French economic depression and despite the
thunder of German remilitarization, the movement toward the Pop-
ular Front imparted to millions in France a new sense of purpose, a
new feeling of involvement, a new hope.m
The same efforts that produced the Pact of Unity between the
Communists and Socialists in July 1934 and led to the formation of
the Popular Front on Bastille Day 1935 won for the French Commu-
nist Party the highest praise of the Comintern. At the Seventh
World Congress of the Communist International in 1935, Georgi Di-
mitroff, secretary-general of the International, said in his main re-
port on August 2:

France, as we know, is a country in which the working class is
setting an example to the whole international proletariat of how
to fight fascism. The French Communist Party is setting an
example to all the sections of the Comintern of how the tactics of
the united front should be applied.... This is not merely a
movement of a united working class front; it is the beginning of
a wide general front of the people against fascism in France.?

The French Communist Party became a model for the Comin-
tern, and Maurice Thorez returned to France with renewed enthu-
siasm for the further expansion of the policy of unity, so auspi-
ciously begun. Francis Joy is correct in the distinction he noted in
Comintern policy:

In the Communist or Dimitroff plan of campaign, a distinction
is made between the United Front and the Popular Front. The
United Front seeks to unite the whole working class and only
the working class. The Popular Front has a wider embrace: it
includes the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, the "left" Catho-
lics--all, in fact, who are prepared to unite in a common front
against the common enemy, Fascism.37


12 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

The distinction, if not the vocabulary, had been explicit in Dimi-
troff's report itself.
Once the Popular Front was firmly established, the French
Communist Party, having successfully united with the Socialists
and the Radicals, was ready once again to widen the span of its em-
brace. Jacques Duclos, who was in 1936 a member of both the
central committee of the PCF and the executive committee of the
International, has frankly stated this fact.

It was after having succeeded in the policy of the Popular
Front that our Party turned its attention to the problem of rela-
tions between Communists and Catholics. It was a matter of
broadening the Popular Front's base and of preventing the per-
petration of the division between Socialist and Communist
workers on the one hand, and Catholic workers on the other, all
equally exploited by the capitalists and all equally interested in
the common defense of their rights.3

There had been indications of a possible rapprochement be-
tween Communists and Catholics in France as early as 1934. L'Hu-
manite had given the suggestive headline, "No clenched fist policy
toward religion"39 to part of the opening report by Maurice Thorez
at the National Conference at Ivry. However, it would be almost
two years before "the clenched fist" was replaced by "the out-
stretched hand."
In the text below that headline, Thorez revealed how the party
viewed religion in general and Catholicism in particular, on the eve
of the turn in Comintern policy. In reproving the divisive practice
among certain groups within France, which opposed the traditional
Catholic processions with antireligious counterdemonstrations,
Thorez stated:

We struggle against the Church; we struggle against the forces
of clericalism; we struggle against the fact that the Church
serves the forces of reaction; we struggle against all forms of re-
ligion, not just the Catholic clergy; we consider religion the
opium of the people.Y But is it not a correct tactic to try to work
within the Catholic trade unions, to try to win over the Young
Christian Workers?41 Is it not necessary to win over to us the
peasants and the workers who are under the influence of the
Church? Are we going to win over these workers when we
simply gather at the door of a church for a quarrelsome demon-

Currents of Change

station whose result, on the contrary, guarantees Fascist influ-
ence among their numbers?42

The strident tone of struggle and the admitted goal of prosely-
tization in his remarks about religion were obviously incompatible
with the clear, urgent demand for unity, laid down by the Interna-
tional and elaborated by Thorez in his closing speech three days
later. This momentary lapse on the part of Thorez was eliminated
from the text of his opening report when it was subsequently
printed in brochure form and published in the CEuvres.43
A year later, in an article in the Cahiers du Bolchevisme, Jacques
Duclos, in commenting upon the growing French opposition to fas-
cism, noted that "even in Catholic circles, there are certain indica-
tions of hostility against the 'Croix de Feu' [the most prominent
rightist League]."44 Franz Borkenau saw in these words "a hint to
the initiated that more than simple propaganda among catholics
[sic] was involved, that a genuine offer of collaboration with the
conservatives was in the making, but could not yet be launched
except by hints of the type quoted above."45
If the brief reference to Catholics by Duclos on July 15 were a
trial balloon, it was punctured by Dimitroff two weeks later at the
World Congress in Moscow. There, after his high praise for the
French Communist Party, Dimitroff enumerated the eight tasks fac-
ing the working class in France. The seventh task was "to develop
the struggle against the leaders of the reactionary cliques of the
Catholic church, as one of the most important strongholds of French
As late as January 30, 1936, the PCF continued to work faith-
fully on the seventh task assigned by Dimitroff six months earlier.
In a speech to Parisian militants that evening, Thorez remarked:

We are not abandoning the criticism of religion, the struggle
for the doctrine of Marx and Lenin, the struggle for our
materialist philosophy....
But ours is not a policy of the clenched fist with regard to
Christian workers and Catholic working-class youth.
We want to continue the criticism, not only of religion, but
also of the clergy, taking into consideration, however, the fact
that a segment of the lower clergy is opposed to fascism.47

As the spring elections approached, the party leadership was
preoccupied with winning the broadest possible support for the


14 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

candidates and for the program of the Popular Front as well. It was
this starkly political motivation that animated PCF considerations
toward Catholics. In contrast, the apostolate of Catholic progres-
sives to the working class, including Communists, was spiritual in
motivation and pastoral in nature. That motivational difference, in
turn, became one of the central, unresolved tensions in Catholic-
Communist relations and a divisive, inflammatory issue within the
French church.

The Policy Proclaimed

In the two weeks preceding the first round of the French national
elections of April 26, 1936, the tempo of the political campaign
quickened. Each day L'Humaniti reported the progress and pros-
pects of the French Communist Party in the forthcoming elections.
Great publicity was given to the first nationwide broadcasts by the
leaders of the PCF. Readers were reminded of the schedule of
broadcasts and urged to invite friends to listen.1 The party leader-
ship realized the tremendous potential of the national broadcasts.
Thousands of French homes and millions of French voters would
for the first time be directly exposed to the programs and per-
sonalities of the PCF. Communist participation in the Popular Front
had given the PCF new respectability in quarters where it had pre-
viously been anathema. Maurice Thorez described the curiosity of
the electorate in these words: "Everybody wanted to know what we
were and what we stood for."2
In the advance publicity for Thorez's broadcast on April 17,3
there was no hint of the subject of his speech. However, its content
had obviously been discussed among party leaders. Jacques Duclos
had indicated that before the policy of la main tendue was adopted
by the PCF and subsequently inaugurated by Maurice Thorez,
"there was dispute, to be sure, within the Bureau Politique. But in
the end there was no hesitancy and we awaited impatiently the
statement that Maurice Thorez made on the radio." The dispute
centered on the risk of "mockery from certain anticlericals," but the
negative reactions within the party were "relatively limited," ac-
cording to Duclos.4 Thorez himself acknowledged the role of the
party leadership: "The Central Committee had instructed me to
make a great appeal for the unification of the French people, an
appeal which would reach beyond the narrow limits of party
Thorez opened his speech with these words: "People of
France, a wind of distress is blowing over our beautiful country."6
He then proceeded "in the customary style of campaign oratory"7

16 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

to analyze the causes and effects of the present "wind of distress"
and the corrective action that the Communists would take in order
to revitalize France politically, economically, and culturally. At the
end of his speech, Thorez made an impassioned plea for the recon-
ciliation of the French nation.

We stretch out our hand to you,8 Catholic, worker, employee,
tradesman, peasant; we who are laic9 stretch out our hand to
you because you are our brother, and you, like us, are burdened
with the same cares....
We are the great Communist Party, made up of poor, dedi-
cated militants whose names have never been involved in any
scandal and whom corruption has never tainted. We are
proponents of the purest and noblest ideal which men can set
before themselves.
We Communists, who have reconciled the Tricolor of our
fathers with the red flag of our hopes, call all of you, workers,
peasants and individuals, young and old, men and women, to
join our struggle and declare yourselves on April 26:

For welfare, against poverty;
For freedom, against slavery;
For peace, against war.
We call you to vote Communist with confidence.
To vote for a free, strong and happy France,
which the Communists want and will produce.10

Thorez had obviously delivered "a great appeal for the unifi-
cation of the French people," as he had been instructed. The secre-
tary-general later termed his speech "a sincere and simple message
of unity and sympathy."" His manner of delivery had been "grave
and solemn," with "such sincerity that the idea of a simple electoral
trick designed to increase the strength of the Communist Party
would seem petty and should be rejected," according to Walter.12
However, later criticism would reveal that some people doubted
the sincerity of the speech.
The immediate reaction to Thorez's speech paid little attention
to the outstretched hand. In L'Humaniti the following day, there
was no special notice given to this portion of the speech, which
appeared unemphasized within the text.13 On April 19, in a special
feature in L'Humaniti entitled "On Hearing the Great Voice of

The Policy Proclaimed

the Party," a broad sample of audience reaction was quoted. The
editorial comment of L'Humaniti, summing up early response to the
Thorez speech, concluded:

It is evident that the little people, Socialists, Communists,
small businessmen and sometime opponents are deeply and
favorably impressed by the frank, simple, strong address of
Maurice Thorez. The capitalists are frightened. The complete
statement of the financial measures proposed by our Party to
make the rich pay obviously cannot please them.14

In the same issue, segments of editorials from several news-
papers were reprinted. All commented upon Thorez's speech; none
alluded to the outstretched hand. Like L'Humanite, they empha-
sized rather the social and economic aspects of the address.15 The
conclusion, therefore, seems warranted that for the Communists
themselves and for a broad spectrum of personal and editorial
respondents the "outstretched hand" was not the most immediately
striking proposal in the speech.
That very evening, however, Jacques Duclos16 spoke over na-
tional radio from Strasbourg. Duclos reiterated and developed the
theme that Thorez had enunciated at the close of his address. The
policy of the outstretched hand, Duclos acknowledged, had been
criticized on the grounds of insincerity and excess. The former
criticism was dismissed as the product of ill will. The latter was
discussed at some length:

Some say that we are going too far when we stretch out our
hand to the Catholic worker to organize, with him and his
friends, projects of human solidarity in behalf of the jobless. In
fact, it is going even further to condemn such acts of union. We
are proud of our record, because we prefer to see believing
workers united with nonbelievers, rather than see them fall to-
gether under the mocking eye of the great capitalists who
burden both.17

Duclos was alluding to criticism from the non-Communist
Left, which resented the willingness of the party to collaborate with
Catholics, while steadfastly refusing to accept ministerial responsi-
bility with Socialists and Radicals in the Popular Front government.
Duclos's defense of this policy was based on the fresh mem-


18 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

ory of the dire consequences of Socialist collaboration with bour-
geois regimes in Germany and Austria.18 Duclos then explained the
party's motivation in its appeal to Catholics:

Whereas the financial oligarchs would split the country into
two camps, the Communists wish to unite the popular masses
without distinction of outlook against the small minority of
parasites who are the cause of the distress of France. That is why
we stretch out our hand to the Catholic workers. That is why we
wish to work with them, even on the most modest scale, for the
welfare of the people.19

On April 24, Marcel Cachin20 delivered the final national
broadcast for the PCF from Paris. Cachin made the fullest statement
thus far concerning la main tendue, and the first public statement
from the party as to the reception of this initiative.

Yes, the Communists do stretch out their hand to the Catholic
worker, the Christian, the believer, the young worker out of the
service. The Communists ask nothing in return from all these
men, victims likewise of the 200 families. We ask them neither to
vote for us, nor to abandon their religion, nor to compromise
their principles. But we do want to build up with them and all
their friends a trusting brotherhood for the defense of their com-
mon interests. Why? Because all are threatened by the same for-
midable dangers from within and without. This policy of union
goes right to the hearts of all French workers. We have received
thousands of touching testimonials of this since the recent radio
broadcast of our comrade, Maurice Thorez.
As had to be expected, this policy of union has found a com-
pletely different reception among the defenders of the feudal
enemies of the people. They have insinuated that this attitude on
our part is insincere and purely electoral.21

Then, after repudiating both the claims and the activities of
the Right, Cachin concluded in a rousing peroration:

The Communists affirm on this solemn occasion that they and
they alone want to be and are the great party of the people. All
for the people and by the people. For us, the popular will is the
supreme law.22

The Policy Proclaimed

From the radio addresses by Thorez, Duclos, and Cachin, the
skeleton of the Communist position on the nature of the desired
union with Catholics emerged. First and foremost, the outstretched
hand was being offered to Catholic workers. This appeal was, in
accordance with Communist practice, aimed at "unity from below."
Second, this policy was based upon a twofold rationale. The
destiny of all workers was seen as inseparably intertwined, while
the grievances and injustices of the present situation were
identically shared. Third, the Communist initiative was being made
for noble, humanitarian reasons, with full respect for the religious
convictions of Catholic workers. Finally, the goal of this effort was
the defense of common social, economic, and political interests on
even the most modest level.
During the next ten days, L'Humaniti was concerned with the
immediate campaign propaganda for the national elections on
April 26 and May 3. During this hectic period, the only references
to Catholics appeared in fairly obscure articles in L'Humanit.23
The stunning victories of the Popular Front, in general, and
the Communist candidates, in particular, dominated the news in
the days immediately following the first round of voting on April
26.24 However, on April 30 the PCF's diplomatic specialist, Gabriel
Peri,25 wrote in L'Humaniti that "the Vatican and Mussolini are di-
rectly intervening in Poland. They are intervening in behalf of the
colonels, that is to say, in behalf of Hitlerism."26 In Pri's opinion,
Italy's foreign policy in Eastern Europe was based on the supposi-
tion that Italy would not block Hitler's expansion there to the
measure that Italian desires in Africa were satisfied. The Vatican
was seen as a willing accomplice in this policy. The significance of
this apparently unrelated article lies in the fact that even at the
outset the PCF seems to have been asserting its freedom to criticize
the institutional church outside France. This freedom would prove
to be both necessary and problematic in the months ahead,
particularly in reference to Spain.
The celebration of May Day and victory in the second round of
elections on May 3 emphasized the strength of a united working
class. This theme, with explicit reference to Catholics, was de-
veloped in a statement published in L'Humaniti on May 5, and
signed by the Communist party.

We laics have stretched out our hand to you, the Catholic
worker. Nothing will turn you against us, whom the most noble


20 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

ideal of human brotherhood inspires. You will not reject the
hand which we offer to you.

The victory statement concluded:

By your union, you will prepare the future of a free, strong and
happy France, which the Communists desire and will make with

This policy of friendship with Catholics was reiterated and
further developed in a formal statement entitled "The Position of
the Communist Party after the Victory of the Popular Front," pub-
lished on May 10. It proclaimed, in words reminiscent of Thorez's

We laics have stretched out our hand to Catholics, workers,
peasants, tradesmen, and employees, burdened by the same
cares as their Communist and Socialist brothers, and we know
that our appeal has had repercussions and that, little by little,
collaboration useful to the interests of our people is being
We want only one thing: to struggle for the future greatness of
the people of France and the brotherhood of man. We know
only one watchword: UNITE: Unite to make the rich pay; unite
for the defense of our liberty and our bread; unite for France to
be free, strong and happy. This was our program. This is what a
million and a half workers have approved in France; this is what
the Communists, in the Chamber and in the country, intend to
try to accomplish in total, sincere and loyal collaboration with
the groups of the Popular Front.28

On that same day, the masthead of L'Humanitg announced in
bold letters:

No, Joan of Arc does not belong to the Royalists and Fascist
friends of Hitler. The peasant girl of Lorraine who rose up
against the allied forces from abroad and who was betrayed by
her king belongs to the people of France.29

A companion article, "Our Joan of Arc: The Third Daughter of a
Laborer," appeared in the same issue. This identification with Joan
of Arc served two positive functions. First, since Joan of Arc was a

The Policy Proclaimed 21

national heroine, the PCF showed itself to be full heir of French
patriotic tradition. Second, because Joan of Arc was a recently can-
onized Catholic saint, any favorable allusion to her would be pre-
sumed welcome in Catholic circles and would demonstrate the
goodwill of the party toward Catholics.
On May 11, the centenary of Emile Combes, the great defender
of laicism, was commemorated in Paris. In a milieu amenable to
criticism of Catholicism, Georges Cogniot,3 the official represen-
tative of the PCF, spoke in terms far from offensive to believers.
The theme of his talk was that the working class had always shown
itself to be "ready to uphold the sincere defenders of liberty, prog-
ress, and culture."31 However, that very day, when the Communist
initiative of the outstretched hand seemed to be advancing auspi-
ciously in France, the first serious voice of opposition was being
raised in Rome. The Communist appeal had been delineated. Now
the more difficult task of locating and delimiting the grounds of
desired collaboration had to be faced.

The Policy Rebuffed in Rome

During April and May 1936, Maurice Thorez was "at the height of
his popularity."' He had successfully led his party out of isolation
and into the mainstream of French political life. His initiative of the
outstretched hand to Catholics had been dramatically launched in
France. However, the first official Catholic reaction to his new
policy was just taking shape in Rome.
On May 11, Pius XI received in audience a large group of
Hungarian pilgrims led by Cardinal Justinian Seredi, archbishop of
Budapest and primate of Hungary. In his formal remarks to the
pope, Cardinal Seredi noted that for three centuries the interna-
tional situation in Europe and the political condition of Hungary
had been "truly deplorable," because "nations and parties, instead
of uniting in fraternal charity and opposing common dangers
which threatened Christianity, remained indifferent."2
In his address to the Hungarian pilgrims, Pius XI, after stating
his affection for Hungary and her people, developed the theme of
unity against a common danger and applied it to communism:

It is unfortunately true that even today there exists a common
enemy threatening everything all over the world, even the
sanctuary of the family, the state, and society. That enemy is
communism, which is trying to penetrate everywhere and, alas,
has already penetrated so many places by violence, by plot, or
by deceit, by going so far as to clothe its appearances with the
best intentions. Many, sad to say, let themselves be deceived to
the point of not seeing, or appearing not to see, the common

That strong condemnation of communism had immediate relevance
in France.
The next day, the pope spoke again, in a similar vein, at the
ceremony opening the International Exposition of the Catholic
Press. Several French Catholic journalists were in the audience.4

The Policy Rebuffed in Rome

After his opening greetings, the pope turned his attention to com-
munism. His treatment of communism had three main parts. First,
he rejected communism in theory and in practice, "in all its forms
and in all its degrees." According to Pius XI, communism threat-
ened "the dignity of the individual, the sacredness of the family,
the order and safety of the state, and above all, religion."5 Beyond
the rejection of communism's open denial of God, and more espe-
cially of the Catholic religion, the pope lamented the Communist
programs, applied or attempted, in Russia, Mexico, Spain, Brazil,
and Uruguay.6 The second point made by the pope was that com-
munism is even more menacing when, "as has been the case most
recently, it adopts less violent attitudes and less profane appear-
ances."7 In conclusion, the pope added personal reflections, which
constituted the third and most important part of his address.

My dearest sons, you will relate that you have seen the common
Father of all the faithful, the Vicar of Christ, profoundly preoc-
cupied and afflicted by this immense peril ... and unyielding in
signaling the danger which many, far too many, seem to ignore,
or whose enormity and imminence they do not want to

Such was the first official Catholic reaction to the Communist
initiative of la main tendue in France. Although the pope spoke in
universal terms, the immediate implications of his broad condem-
nation of communism, both in theory and in practice, had obvious
application to France. The French Communist Party did not fail to
draw this inference. In a speech made on the evening of May 14,
Maurice Thorez alluded to the pope's condemnation of commu-
nism.9 Thorez prefaced his remarks by stating simply that the offer
of the outstretched hand had been made to Catholics and that
judging by the mail received, the appeal had been heard. He then

But now the Pope wants to prevent this union of goodwill.
We regret these words of division. But we will continue. We
have not asked Catholics to stop believing in God. They cannot
dream of asking us to renounce our Communist convictions, the
noblest and purest ideal which man can set before himself. We
want to understand each other in order to help the unfortunate.
We will continue, so long as there is an infant's tear to dry, a
jobless worker to aid, a good action to accomplish.10


24 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

The ground on which Thorez had chosen to discuss the question of
collaboration was humanitarian. For him, Communism and Christi-
anity were both aiming to improve the human condition.
The very next day, this position was solidly reinforced by an
article entitled "Faith and Revolution," by the Catholic journalist
Robert Honnert, in the review Europe. Honnert prefaced his article
with a direct quotation of Thorez's offer of the outstretched hand.
He then addressed himself to the fundamental implications of the
proposal. "Whether we like it or not, the question of the voluntary
collaboration of believers and nonbelievers for the purpose of
building a new world has been posed.""
At the outset, Honnert acknowledged that many Catholics had
rallied to the Popular Front without fear of being labeled Commu-
nists. However, thus far this collaboration had been merely per-
sonal. The crucial question in Honnert's mind was: "Can a broader,
more intimate collaboration be envisaged, or will this reconciliation
cease with the passage of the historical circumstances in which it
Although Honnert realized that the most profound question
was the future course of collaboration, he further realized that the
most immediate question must first be faced. In his own terms, that
question was: "Can a Catholic extend his hand to a revolutionary
without ceasing to be a Catholic? Can a revolutionary admit the
faith of a Catholic without ceasing to be a revolutionary?"13
Honnert openly spoke as a Catholic who had extended his
hand to the revolutionary. However, he qualified his position in
two ways. First, he was simply a Frenchman, like millions of
others, who had been baptized, believed in the Gospels and left the
rest in the hands of God-who, he ironically hoped, was "anticleri-
cal." Second, he had consulted no one and was acting completely
on his own as an individual, simply stating what he felt.14
According to Honnert, the Gospels contain a fundamental
twofold lesson that made the revolutionary position understand-
able. This twofold lesson was "respect for the human person and
the necessity for the human person to take his place in the human
community."15 In this regard, honesty demanded the frank admis-
sion that society, as constituted down through the ages, was a cari-
cature in which the person was not actually respected. In the
framework of a capitalist society, a genuine human community was
an impossibility. When viewed from the perspective of the
nonbelieving revolutionary, therefore, the church, and particularly
the church in France, was seen as an obstacle to human progress

The Policy Rebuffed in Rome

and as an ally of the wealthy. It was for this reason that Honnert
concluded: "The Church is her own worst enemy."16
Honnert defined revolution as "the violent transition from a
decaying life to a fresh life, from a feeble order to a new order."17 In
this context, the nonbelieving revolutionary has no other reason to
attack or tolerate the church than its opposition or support of his
human action. However, at almost every critical juncture in human
history, a crystallization occurred among believers whereby they
rallied their forces to the decaying regimes. Seen in this light, sub-
sequent religious persecution in times of revolution was "only a
terrible balancing of accounts among men."18 Having defined his
concept of revolution and having frankly acknowledged the
frequently hesitant or reactionary role of the church in history,
Honnert then addressed himself to what he considered the pivotal
question: the different postrevolutionary solutions proposed by
Christianity and Marxism. Herein lay a very deep opposition. "The
Communist does not subordinate the full flowering of man to
anyone but himself. The Christian subordinates it to God."19
Honnert, however, did not consider these two perspectives ir-
reconcilable. While openly acknowledging that he was a believer
and that he anticipated the unlimited happiness of the next life, he
still held that the best preparation for the next life is to develop the
welfare of man in this life. The formula of reconciliation that he
proposed was that of St. Clement of Alexandria: "Man is a god in
blossom."20 In conclusion, Honnert agreed with Marx that there is a
religion that is "the opium of the people." However, in Honnert's
opinion, that type of religion is a deformation of the true gospel
message of Christ. Then, in words reminiscent of Thorez himself,
Honnert asked: "If we are in agreement in desiring all that the old
world refuses us ... then what can prevent the hand which is
offered with prudence today from being offered with enthusiasm
Robert Honnert had grasped the hand extended by Maurice
Thorez. His response was positive and optimistic. His article was
destined to become a landmark in all subsequent discussions con-
cerning the proposal of collaboration between Marxists and Chris-
tians. However, as Honnert himself acknowledged, he was simply
one Catholic layman-a fact that opponents of collaboration never
forgot. For the opponent, Honnert's words were not authoritative.
For the proponent, those same words were authentically Christian,
even if not magisterial.22
In the next few weeks, a pattern became evident in the manner


26 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

in which the Communist party dealt with the question of collabora-
tion with Catholics. While manifestly seeking "unity from below,"
the Communist party maintained its freedom to challenge the insti-
tutional church, especially the hierarchy.
On May 17, L'Humanite showed the tremendous potentialities
of this approach. While the headline of that issue proclaimed:
"Archbishop of Rouen Deposed by Pope: Refused to Comply with
the Decision of Rome," the bottom of the page carried a cartoon
headed "Condamnation Papale" lampooning the papal condemna-
tion of communism. The cartoon was clearly a response to the
speeches of Pius XI to the Hungarian pilgrims on May 11 and to the
International Exposition of the Catholic Press on May 12.
The cartoon contains six sketches, each with an accompanying
caption. The first and last deal directly with the pope. The four
intervening sketches deal with the social and political conditions in
Ethiopia, France, Germany, and Italy, wherein positive action by
the Communists was contrasted with words by the pope. The first
sketch, showing the pope seated on his throne with a tiara on his
head and his arms outstretched, bears the caption: "The Holy


Le Saint-Pire vient de combler le commu, a Le communisme no rospecto pas le sanc- a Le commune m* met on p6ril 'ordre dam
mime doe so trio chrittennes maldidcttion tuairo de la familne s. Sa Sainttet so'n est I'ltat a. L" paper a do fair catte consta-
sans doute opeque a court do Ia guerre tatioo on Franc It 6 fivrier

A. The Holy Father has just showered his very Christian curses
upon communism.
B. "Communism does not respect the sanctuary of the family." His
Holiness noted this in the course of the war in Ethiopia.
C. "Communism endangers order in the state." The pope should
have made this argument in France on February 6.

The Policy Rebuffed in Rome

Father has just showered his very Christian curses upon commu-
nism." In contrast, the last frame shows the pope again in full dress,
with tiara on his head, kissing the feet of Mussolini. The accompa-
nying caption, satirizing the papal critique that communism attacks
individual dignity, concludes: "Happily for him, the pope has thus
far been able to keep his own dignity absolutely intact." 2Signifi-
cantly, however, while satirizing the pope personally and the lack
of Catholic social involvement generally, the cartoon does not di-
rectly attack the beliefs or practices of the typical French Catholic.
Thus it is not surprising that in the same issue there was a repro-
duction of a poster, to be displayed in even the smallest villages of
France, proclaiming:

The Communist Party Replies to the Pope A NEW
unite in the struggle for bread, the Pope comes and tries to
divide us. Our aim is unity.24


A Le communisme menace la sicuriti de Il a Le communism est un danger pour l a Le communisme attaque la dignity indi-
collectiviti s. Les fameux bolchevike cause du bien, il a pour programme la viduelle *. Heureuisement pour lui, le paper
Hitler *t Mussolini on sent un example ruins social 9. Les 200 families sent a pu, jusqu'i present, conserve la silnes
6difiant ab*Ilument de cet avis abiolument intact*

D. "Communism threatens collective security." The noted Bolshe-
viks Hitler and Mussolini are inspiring examples of this point.
E. "Communism is a danger to the cause of righteousness; its pro-
gram is social ruin." The "200 Families" certainly hold this opinion.
F. "Communism attacks the dignity of the individual." Happily for
him, the pope has thus far been able to keep his own dignity absolutely


28 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

The front-page headline that day referred to the deposition of
Archbishop Andre de la Villerabel of Rouen. In no other French
journal did the "Affaire Villerabel" receive the degree of publicity
that it received in L'Humaniti. On May 16, Archbishop Villerabel
had been deposed. Bishop Jean Chollet, archbishop of Cambrai, had
been appointed temporary administrator of the diocese. The
ground on which the entire controversy was waged was fertile for
the revival of anticlericalism and Gallicanism in France. Recon-
structing the story from the pages of L'Humaniti, it would seem that
the position of Archbishop Villerabel had been challenged by a
younger priest named Bertin. Bertin had intervened with the papal
nuncio in Paris to have himself made coadjutor in Rouen, due to the
old age and ill health of Archbishop Villerabel. When Villerabel
heard about the intrigues of Phre Bertin, he was "more disturbed by
this than by the previous dissolute activity of his assistant."25
According to L'Humaniti's special correspondent, Bertin's financial
dealings were "illegal under both Church and civil law."26 Among
other things, he had built a mansion for his parents, the declared
value of which was 700,000 francs.27 Given the fact that Bertin's
family was of modest background and his father was not working,
the implications were obvious.
At this point, Villerabel felt forced to take action against his
vicar general and to report the matter to the Minister of the Interior.
In the words of the archbishop, it was "time for the good citizen to
act."28 The Holy See quickly judged against Villerabel, because he
had made public a matter solely under the jurisdiction of the
church. The pope refused to admit that civil law could apply even
in criminal matters involving the high clergy. "For this reason,"
L'Humanite continued, "Rome has just ruled in favor of Mgr.
Bertin."29 Commenting further, L'Humanite noted:

The political intrigues which are at the base of this affair shock
even us, and they will not remove the thought that the man in
whose favor the Holy See has just decided considers the church
as a personal stepping stone, to the detriment of sincere Catho-
lics. A simple citation from L'Echo de Paris will suffice to justify
what we have just written:
"Mgr. Bertin naturally has his partisans, too, whose zeal is
ardent despite their lack of numbers. Appropriately, he counts
among them a very intelligent, active man-Andre Marie, Dep-
uty from the First District of Rouen and former Undersecretary
of State of the Sixth of February, 1934. However, Marie had so

The Policy Rebuffed in Rome

benefited from Bertin's rapid rise to power, it is said, that he
compiled the dossier supporting his friend's episcopal candi-

The "Affaire Villerabel" was rich with implications that L'Hu-
manite developed over the next twelve days. On May 21, a lengthy
article was published under the caption: "Will the Disapproval of
French Catholics Oblige the Pope to Reverse His Decision?"31
Posing the question "What is the pope going to do now?," the ar-
ticle went on to suggest that this matter should be openly raised in
Catholic journals. Furthermore, the pope should reverse his posi-
tion, because "French Catholics are more and more indignant at the
involvement of the pope in affairs which relate uniquely to French
justice." Then, by way of contrast, the article cited excerpts from the
official Italian journal Lavoro Fascista, which stated that "Mgr. Bertin
has succeeded in proving the regularity of his administration," and
that "in Vatican circles, it is felt that Archbishop Villerabel is not in
possession of all his faculties."32
Following immediately, without any break, there was a new
headline: "The French Bishop of Harran Has Been Expelled by
Italian Authorities."33 In an accompanying photograph, the elderly
Bishop Andre Jarousseau was depicted sitting with his few belong-
ings on the side of the road. According to L'Humanite, "No official
reason has been forthcoming to explain this decision which has
been severely criticized in French Catholic circles, wherein the
submission of the pope to the Italian government has been very
badly received." The juxtaposition of the saintly old Bishop Jarous-
seau and the scheming young ecclesiastic Bertin left the pope in the
seemingly uncomplimentary position of simultaneously neglecting
the elderly bishop while favoring the conniving vicar general, and
ignoring French law while capitulating to Italian authority.
On May 22, the Affaire Villerabel returned to page one of
L'Humanite. In an article entitled "Where Is the Foreign Involve-
ment?"m the point was made that in the past the French Commu-
nists had frequently been criticized as being agents of Moscow.
L'Humaniti noted:

French workers have long since rejected such claims. However,
the sordid events in Rouen have obliged the general public to
reflect on the involvement (this time real) of the papacy in the
judicial affairs of our country.35


30 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

This article bore particular significance, due to the fact that it was
signed by Marcel Cachin, the editor of L'Humaniti. Cachin, who
was also senator from the Seine district, further indicated that
"when the debate begins in Parliament on the scandal at Rouen, our
party will have its word to say on the permanent involvement of a
foreign government-for the Vatican is, after all, a government-in
the affairs of France."'3
On the opposite page, accompanied by a photograph of Pope
Pius XI, was an article entitled "The Fascist Dictatorship," which
concerned the expulsion of Bishop Jarousseau of Harran. Bishop
Jarousseau, as had been reported the day before in L'Humaniti, had
been driven out of Ethiopia after fifty-four years as a missionary in
that country. The action had been taken by the Italian Viceroy
Badoglio with the presumed consent of the pope. The photograph
showed Pope Pius XI sitting on the papal throne, and the caption
read: "Pope Pius XI, who is calling for a crusade against commu-
nism, has had the French missionaries driven from Ethiopia and
blesses the atrocities of Mussolini."37
In the feature "Read in the Press" of the same issue, L'Huma-
nite cited an article from the Catholic newspaper L'Aube concerning
the high rate of infant mortality and stillbirths in many French
families. The article suggested that this would be an urgent and
appropriate ground on which all could unite their efforts. L'Huma-
niti, while conceding the goodwill of this proposal, averred that
this alone was not enough. It was necessary for groups not only to
talk together but to act together. The article concluded with the
suggestive question: "What, then, are we to think of those who
criticize the mutual aid committees for the unemployed and for
children, in which Catholics and Communists meet for precise and
useful purposes?"38
The following day, events in Rouen continued to dominate the
first page of L'Humanite. In an article entitled "When Rome Tries to
Dictate Its Laws to the Republic," L'Humanitg's special correspon-
dent used Bertin's activities as a point of departure for a financial
and political analysis of the facts of life in Rouen, which he charac-
terized as a "city of scandals" and a "city of millionaires."39 On May
24, under an identical headline, the special correspondent reported
on the banking activities of Bertin. This article, like the one the day
before, was based largely on popular comment and undocumented
interpretation of events in Rouen.40 Neither contained any
significant new information. However, both served to keep Ville-

The Policy Rebuffed in Rome

rabel before the minds of the readers of L'Humaniti, as did a front-
page cartoon on May 24.41
From May 26 to 28, the Affaire Villerabel continued to receive
prominent coverage in L'Humaniti. The main themes emphasized
were the involvement of the papacy in the internal affairs of
France,42 the disillusionment of French Catholics in the light of
events in Rouen,3a and the personal vilification of Bertin.4 No sub-
stantively significant disclosures were forthcoming. The focus of
news interest was shifting, and the Affaire Villerabel seemed to
have burnt itself out.
In retrospect, the Affaire Villerabel served many useful pur-
poses for the French Communist Party. First of all, the party pre-
sented itself as allied with the French Catholic worker in resenting
the machinations of the upper-level clergy. Second, the French
Communist Party showed itself as truly French in resisting the in-
volvement of a foreign power, the Vatican, in French domestic
affairs. Finally, and most importantly, the coverage of the Affaire
Villerabel revealed that the French Communist Party, while seek-
ing the cooperation of the French Catholic workers, was by no
means desirous of an institutional rapprochement with the hierar-
chical church, whose integrity was presented as suspect by virtue of
its association with the Fascist regime of Mussolini.


The Social Explosion

On May 25, Thorez addressed the central committee of the Commu-
nist Party in a speech entitled "Everything for the Popular Front."'
While noting the broad general support that the political program
of the Communist party was receiving, Thorez singled out for
particular attention the response of Catholics to the initiative of la
main tendue.

We have received letters from Catholic circles, workers,
women, engineers, middle-class citizens, and peasants. The col-
laboration began, especially in the area of Paris-Sud, in works of
solidarity and brotherhood, like the mutual aid committees in
behalf of the unemployed. These works continued despite the
criticisms of some of our Socialist comrades and of the
Freemasons. The pastor at Ivry wrote me to ask for an interview.
His letter read as follows: "You have launched an appeal to
Catholics which poses problems whose solution escapes me. We
need some further explanation." We suggested to the Bureau
Politique that it should accept the request for an interview on
the part of the pastor at Ivry. The interview took place in the
presence of Comrade Deceaux, the regional secretary. He said to
us: "What do you really desire?" We replied to him: "The
welfare of the people;" and to obtain it, we are seeking the col-
laboration of all men of goodwill, without ourselves renouncing
our own materialist conceptions, but without demanding of
Catholics that they abandon their beliefs either.2

Unlike his speech on May 14, which sharply and directly
criticized Pope Pius XI, Thorez's address of May 25 seemed to
presuppose a greater acceptance of the Communist initiative on the
part of the French Catholics. In both speeches, the enthusiastic
Catholic response to la main tendue was cited. However, the only
specific respondent now cited was the pastor at Ivry.
The very next day, a distinguished French Catholic layman

The Social Explosion

and celebrated novelist, Francois Mauriac, replied to the initiative
of the French Communist Party in the pages of the Parisian daily Le
Figaro. Mauriac first described the gravity of the question raised by
the Communists as "the most serious, perhaps, of all those now
clamoring for our answer."3 The question raised was this, in the
words of Mauriac:

Have we the right to cooperate (though it should be only in the
sphere of social work) in procuring the domination of an
antagonist necessarily bound to destroy man's likeness to God,
to recreate him after another image and likeness? ...
This is the dilemma confronting the Catholic conscience at the
present day. Must we reject the outstretched hands of Comrade
Thorez? Or must we shut our eyes and clasp them? In quan-
daries of this kind, our passions, covetous desires and aversions
have all too often already determined our choice, when we
thought ourselves still free to choose. Some obey the behests of
the old bourgeois blood flowing prudently in their veins; others,
affected by a medley of reasons not very clear to themselves,
yield to the attraction of foolhardy alliances.4

It was in this last category that Francois Mauriac placed Robert
Honnert, whom he described as "a young Catholic with Commu-
nist leanings,"5 whose controversial article "Faith and Revolution"
had been published two weeks before.6 Mauriac did not give any
definitive answer to the question he raised. The very terms in
which he defined the question differed sharply from those used by
Honnert.7 Both men realized the serious implications of the Com-
munist proposal. Honnert's response was one of enthusiastic accep-
tance; Mauriac's response was one of sincere uncertainty. His atti-
tude fostered not outright rejection, but vigilant waiting.
That theme of vigilance was developed in a stronger, sterner
style by Pope Pius XI five days later. In his address to the interna-
tional representatives of Catholic Action, gathered at the Vatican on
Pentecost Sunday, the pope delivered his harshest criticism of com-
munism since the proposal of la main tendue. His remarks bore
special significance for the situation in France because of an implicit
reference to a French journal.

Watch and pray, for oftentimes error sneaks in subtly, fraudu-
lently, and treacherously, as a very recent example illustrates.
We can say with assurance that everyone knows that what we


34 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

said a few days ago on the subject of the dangers which threaten
all civil society-we intentionally said all civil society-refers to
communism, which everywhere threatens, everywhere plots,
everywhere is on the march. However, we have a journal which
claims for itself the distinction of being a Catholic journal. It re-
ports our thought in such a way as to give the impression that
we have not made a judgment or that we have forgotten, or that
we have not considered the very grave dangers which commu-
nism poses for religion. It is as if there could exist, or as if it were
possible that there did exist, some accommodation between the
truth of our religion and that negation of all human and divine
rights found in communism.8

The journal to which the pope was referring was the Parisian
daily L'Aube,9 under the editorship of Georges Bidault and the
sponsorship of "the democrats of Christian inspiration."10 Although
the circulation of L'Aube was small (estimates ranged from 12,000 to
20,000),1 the prestige of this paper was immense. Alexander Werth
went so far as to call it "the organ of liberal Catholicism," and
stated that "its views closely reflect those of Cardinal Jean Verdier,
the Archbishop of Paris."12 It is therefore understandable that the
pope would wish to correct any false impressions that L'Aube might
have created. L'Aube promptly retracted "what gave rise to misin-
terpretation in its treatment of the earlier statements on commu-
nism."13 This incident is especially significant since the audience
was composed of members of Catholic Action, the umbrella organi-
zation for the diverse Catholic groups devoted to the promotion of
Christian values in secular life. The Vatican, therefore, was eager to
leave no ambiguity concerning the papal position on Catholic-Com-
munist relations in France.
The first week of June 1936 was one of the most tumultuous in
modern French history. A seemingly spontaneous wave of sit-down
strikes, which both resulted from and aggravated French economic
distress, produced a "social explosion" that swept the country.14
Against this background, Cardinal Verdier issued a pastoral letter
on June 5, which was read in all the churches of the Archdiocese of
Paris on Sunday, June 7. Cardinal Verdier began his letter by
noting the sad circumstances that rendered it necessary. According
to the cardinal, many present woes might have been avoided if
more attention had been paid to the social doctrines outlined by
Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. After acknowledging the collective re-

The Social Explosion

sponsibility of all, including the church, for the present state of the
social order, Archbishop Verdier then concluded:

It is indeed true that this problem has technical aspects and po-
litical and other implications which surpass the competence of a
great number of citizens. But all of us, rising above partisan
solution, have the duty of creating an atmosphere of peace and
brotherhood in which competent men will be able to study this
thorny problem with unruffled courage; the duty of sacrificing
our resentments, our political and social preferences and, in a
certain measure, our interests themselves for the sake of social
peace; the duty of stating faithfully what our conscience dictates
to us is the best solution for the problem, and then allowing our
normal institutions the responsibility for taking effective, just action.
Away from this route lie error, danger, and catastrophe! The
outside dangers that threaten us, the horror of fratricidal
struggles which are the outgrowth of the root of excessive indi-
vidualism, the loss of those incomparable riches and of the order
which our country now possesses and which all acknowledge
other nations cannot guarantee, and finally, the eternal mission
of France as the messenger of true progress-all these demand
that the sincere Christian, the Frenchman worthy of the name,
the man who truly loves his brother, restore peace, harmony,
and true fraternity among us and devote himself immediately
and courageously to the establishment of that new order which
all men seek.15

On that very Sunday, L'Humanite published almost the entire
text of Cardinal Verdier's letter. However, the passage dealing with
the resolution of the problem through the "normal institutions" was
significantly omitted.16 Following the lengthy citations from Cardi-
nal Verdier's pastoral letter, L'Humanite limited its commentary to
two brief paragraphs:

These statements constitute a formal condemnation of the
egoism and greed of certain owners. Moreover, we think that
these words will have a fortunate effect in bringing to a conclu-
sion the actual conflict by a just judgment of the claim of which
the Archbishop of Paris himself has recognized the legitimacy.
Furthermore, we think that this appeal is not so far removed
from that which our party had made in extending its hand to


36 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

Catholic workers and to all those who toil and suffer. That ap-
peal was heard by the Catholic workers. They have entered into
the struggle for their rights, hand in hand with Communists,
Socialists, syndicalists, and other workers.17

L'Humaniti's sparse treatment of Cardinal Verdier's pastoral
letter is difficult to interpret. The Affaire Villerabel had dominated
page one of L'Humaniti for several days, yet only two paragraphs
on page two were devoted to coverage of Cardinal Verdier's letter.
The positive content of the letter was neither analyzed nor de-
veloped. The similarity between Cardinal Verdier's proposal and
that of la main tendue was simply stated, not discussed. The under-
standing of the Communist initiative on the part of Catholic
workers was presumed. The duty of Catholic workers, according to
L'Humanitg, was to toil hand in hand with their non-Catholic con-
freres for the success of the program of the Popular Front.'8 It was
in this framework, as "another stamp of approval and another
weighty endorsement of the program of the Popular Front" that
Paul Vaillant-Couturier, editor-in-chief of L'Humaniti, viewed the
pastoral letter in the same issue.
During the remainder of the month, there were only two short
references to la main tendue in the pages of L'Humaniti. In a brief
notice on June 8, the following question was posed: "Catholics, we
ask you, why does L'Echo'9 publish the thought of the steel mag-
nates rather than that of the Cardinal?"20 Readers were reminded
that L'Echo had on the previous day carried a front-page story about
the steel producers, while relegating the remarks of Cardinal
Verdier to page five.
Then, on June 14, in the feature "Read in the Press," L'Huma-
nit6 commented upon an article that had appeared two days earlier
in the Catholic weekly Sept. In that article, the Communists were
praised for "taking the initiative of a methodical action for the
safeguarding of liberty in society."21 However, in the final analysis,
Christianity, not communism, was seen by Sept as the true
safeguard of the liberty of man. In a brief conclusion, L'Humanite
preempted the position of Sept stating: "It is to render liberty to
men and to save them from slavery that our Communist party
struggles, and it is to realize this noble task above all others that
Communists stretch out a loyal hand to all Catholics of goodwill."22
Two months had now passed since Maurice Thorez first
dramatically proposed la main tendue. Thus far, the Communist ini-
tiative had been presented as a broad plea for national reconcilia-

The Social Explosion

tion. While the Communist proposal was formulated in terms of
practical collaboration, Catholic reluctance was based on doctrinal
incompatibility. The more difficult problem of reconciling Commu-
nist theory and PCF practice in France now had to be faced.
At the Eighth Congress of the French Communist Party in Jan-
uary 1936, Maurice Thorez had reminded the party members that
"our doctrine is not a revealed dogma which denies the past and
establishes an eternal truth."23 In January the theoretical problem
posed had been that of collaboration with other parties in a bour-
geois government. In June, it was the far more subtle question of
collaboration with Catholics.
The appropriate forum for this type of discussion was the
Cahiers du Bolchevisme, the twice-monthly review of the French
Communist Party. In the June 15, 1936, issue, Florimond Bonte,
editor of the Cahiers, addressed himself to this question. Officially,
Bonte was the party's propaganda organizer; unofficially, he
exercised the "role of liaison between Catholics and Commu-
nists."24 In a lengthy article entitled "Communists, Croix de Feu
and Catholics,"2s Bonte developed in detail two fundamental
The first half of that article was devoted to the orthodoxy and
sincerity of the proposal of la main tendue. Bonte took as his point of
departure an excerpt from an article by Marc Scherer in the Catho-
lic weekly Sept of June 12,1936:

Unity, yes, unity of the entire people, not only the Radicals, the
Socialists and the Communists, but all "sons of the people,"
without distinction of philosophical opinion or religious belief:
that is what we mean by our slogan, "reconciliation franpaise."27

In witness to Catholic acceptance of the Communist position,
Bonte cited an excerpt from L'Express du Midi of June 5. Therein
Georges Hoog, director of La Jeune R6publique, had written:

La Jeune R6publique gave its backing to the Popular Front on
the condition that its moral and spiritual values would be re-
spected; the program itself of the Popular Front attests that
satisfaction has been obtained ... our convictions were re-
spected; we had a duty to participate.28

Bonte consistently equated acceptance of the Popular Front
with acceptance of the Communist party. Although the equation


38 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

was logically inaccurate, it was popularly invoked by both the
Communists and conservative Catholics. The reverse of the equa-
tion-that acceptance of Catholics was equivalent to acceptance of
Catholicism-was implicit in criticism of the Communist party by
its associates in the Popular Front, as described by Bonte. "Our reli-
gious toleration seems to them like a crime against socialism and a
derogation of the laws of orthodox Marxism."29
The systematic statement of the Communist position on reli-
gion was the thrust of the remainder of Bonte's article. His exposi-
tion had to skirt the Scylla of the irreligious Left and the Charybdis
of the Catholic Right. Bonte first treated the theoretical question of
the nature of religion; then he turned to the practical question of the
party's relationship to believers.
As to the nature of religion, Bonte took (but did not quote or
cite) Lenin's familiar exegesis of Marx's celebrated dictum that reli-
gion "is the opium of the people."30 In a naturalistic comparison,
Bonte continued:

We think that belief in a better life in the hereafter is born as
inevitably from the powerlessness of the exploited classes in
their struggle against their exploiters, as belief in divinities, the
devil, and miracles is born from the powerlessness of the savage
in his struggle against nature.31

Buttressing his position with interpretative references to both
Engels and Lenin, Bonte then developed the party's position on
freedom of religion.

Our opinion as Communists is that the state should not be
involved with religions, and religious societies should not be
connected with the state. Each person should be free to profess
any religion whatsoever or to recognize no religion, that is, be an
atheist. No variation of civil rights based on religious beliefs
should be tolerated among citizens.32

The application of these theoretical principles to the concrete politi-
cal realities of France in the Popular Front period posed certain
problems. The foremost difficulty faced by Bonte was to convey to
his Communist comrades and political allies the orthodoxy of the
party's policy of la main tendue. This he had done in a popularly
persuasive, if not profound, presentation of the compatibility of this

The Social Explosion

policy with certain passages from Engels and Lenin. The second
problem was to reassure Catholics of the sincerity of the Commu-
nist initiative. This he accomplished by equating participation in
the Popular Front with acceptance of the outstretched hand, by
citing Georges Hoog and other, anonymous, Catholic authors, by
recalling the fruitful collaboration of Catholics and Communists on
the mutual aid committees, and finally by direct appeal:

This collaboration has always been achieved with absolute
respect for persons and their convictions, because we-laic as
we are-have never asked a Catholic to espouse our convictions
or drop his own, as a condition of our loyal collaboration.33

The third and most challenging task for Bonte was to convey
to Catholics the compatibility of Catholic teaching and collaboration
with Communists, especially in light of Pius XI's harsh condemna-
tions during the previous month. In a series of quotations ranging
from the Books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs in the Old Testament to
the "social" encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI, and from Cardinal
Verdier and Frangois Mauriac to La Vie Intellectuelle and Etudes,M
Bonte skillfully argued the necessity as well as the desirability of
collaboration between Catholics and Communists. Nevertheless,
the strictures leveled against communism by Pius XI demanded
special attention.
Bonte singled out for attack the address made by Pius XI to the
International Exposition of the Catholic Press on May 12. In the
particular passage cited, the pope decried "the incredible conniv-
ance" that the Communists were able to effect by their most recent
"less violent attitudes and less profane appearances."35 On the basis
of this text, Bonte accused the pope of uttering "words of division at
an hour in which all men of goodwill should be uniting," and of be-
ing "preoccupied with the advance of the Popular Front in France."
For the pope, universal communism, not "the paganism of Hitler,"
was the greatest danger of the day.36 The conclusion that Bonte then
drew was direct and terse: "The pope is seeking to divert the
faithful from their duty as Frenchmen."37
In retrospect, the argumentation of Bonte's article is clearer.
After demonstrating the orthodoxy of la main tendue from the Com-
munist side, he sought to establish its orthodoxy from the Catholic
side. Therefore, it was necessary to cite several Catholic sources in
at least verbal agreement with his reasoning and then to neutralize
or even discredit the condemnation of Pius XI by an appeal to na-


40 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

tional unity and patriotic defense against Hitler. In the process,
Bonte raised the Communist appeal to Catholics to a new level of
With the approach of summer, the pace of events in France
slowed down. However, on July 2, the first of two conferences be-
tween Catholic and Communist intellectuals was held to discuss
the subject of "Faith and Revolution," raised by Honnert in his
celebrated article in Europe. This meeting, and a second held on
November 7, were described by Walter as "scarcely passing beyond
the level of friendly oratorical contests very much in vogue among
Parisian intellectuals at that time."3 Honnert's more positive judg-
ment of the conferences39 undoubtedly reflected the difference of
emphasis, which was doctrinal on the part of Catholics, but practi-
cal on the part of Communists.
In a separate development on June 13, the central committee of
the PCF unanimously resolved on the expulsion from the party of
Andre Ferrat, "a young party leader in charge of the Politburo's
section on colonial affairs."40 On July 4, 1936, that resolution, along
with Ferrat's letter to the party secretary, Marcel Gitton, was pub-
lished in L'Humanitj.41 What would normally have been only an
internal disciplinary decision of the party relative to a member who
had developed "a conception hostile to the line of the party,"42 was
indirectly linked to the question of union with Catholics. Marcel
Gitton made the connection in this way: "When in reply to an ar-
ticle by General de Castelnau [the president of the National Catho-
lic Federation] in L'Echo de Paris, we wrote an article in L'Humaniti
in which we stretched out our hand to the Catholic worker or the
worker from Croix de Feu, Ferrat condemned this article."43
This same type of appeal, indicating sensitivity to the interests
of Catholics, was implicit in a brief article datelined Rouen, July 6,
and published in L'Humanitg on July 8 under the headline, "Jesuits
Succeed in Expelling Archbishop de la Villerabel."

Archbishop de la Villerabel of Rouen today received a letter in
which Cardinal Pacelli, secretary of state, informed him that the
pope had accepted the resignation which the primate of
Normandy had offered on June 28.44

This terse postscript, without any editorial comment, was the last
mention until November of the Affaire Villerabel, which had domi-
nated the headlines of L'Humaniti just six weeks before.

The Social Explosion

In anticipation of the national conference of the Communist
party scheduled for July 10 and 11 in Paris, Maurice Thorez held a
press conference for both French and foreign correspondents on
July 8. In neither his prepared remarks nor in his replies to ques-
tions did Thorez dwell on la main tendue. However, in speaking of
national unity, he did note that the fraternal appeals to Catholic
workers had been well received:

We are happy at receiving numerous statements of sympathy
and support from Catholic circles in which the offer to collabo-
rate with us in works of solidarity and human brotherhood has
been freely accepted. Our party sees its influence and authority
constantly growing.45

The deep desire for national reconciliation, of which union
with Catholics was an integral element, was now the party's
dominant drive. At the close of the party conference, Thorez reiter-
ated this theme:

Yes, we have stretched out our hand to the Catholic
workers.... Yes, we wish to draw together all the vital forces
and all the energies of our people. Yes, we Communists,
champions of unity, wish the unity of the French nation.48

On this note, there ended not only the party conference, but
the first year of the Popular Front and a period of Communist
progress that events both at home and abroad were destined soon
to challenge.


The Spanish Civil War

Bastille Day was the patronal feast of the Popular Front. On July 14,
1935, in the memorable phrase of David Caut6, the Popular Front
had been "formally consecrated" at the Buffalo Stadium in Paris.1
On July 14,1936, its first anniversary was festively observed.

The celebrations of July 14, 1936, were the most joyful since
the Revolution itself. Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of
eastern Paris or marched twenty abreast-workers, clerks,
students, intellectuals, housewives, retired men, shopkeepers,
entire neighborhoods together-sang the Marseillaise and the
International, danced the Carmagnole, waved red flags and
tricolors, cheered the orators who told them that they were de-
mocracy's answer to fascism, depression, the privileged and the
war makers.2

The next day, L'Humaniti's headline proudly proclaimed that
"The Popular Front Is More Solidly United than Ever."3 That very
week, the promised reform of the Bank of France enkindled even
greater hope and support for the Popular Front. However, when
the forces of Franco opened their war against the Frente Popular Re-
public in Spain on July 18, 1936, an indirect but ultimately fatal
blow was dealt to the Front Populaire in France.
The Spanish Civil War divided and polarized French public
opinion. Spain, like France, had a Popular Front government. This
similarity of situation gave the French a passionate and personal-
ized sense of involvement in the events of the Spanish Civil War.
The initial and general reaction of French Catholics to the
Spanish uprising was strong support for Franco and his forces.
"The publicity given to the killing of priests, the burning of
churches and the profaning of cemeteries," as Remond states, "ret-
rospectively justified the insurrection and conferred on the conflict
a religious tone: a crusade for Christianity and civilization."4


The Spanish Civil War

Although subsequent brutality, especially the bombing of Guer-
nica, and the loyalty of the Basques, especially the Basque clergy,
led some Catholics to question Franco's pronouncement of a "holy
war," most Catholics joined with the Right in support of the insur-
While the Spanish Civil War tended to polarize Catholics on
the Right, "the Spanish situation, more than any other single factor,
sustained the unity of the French intellectual Left in the two or
three years that followed the foundations of the Rassemblement
populaire."6 However, despite the impassioned pleas and public
demonstrations of the Left, no French governmental aid was forth-
coming to the embattled Spanish Loyalists. Throughout the re-
mainder of the summer of 1936, the Spanish question dominated
French political life and thought.
From the very beginning, the French Communist Party sup-
ported the Spanish Republic energetically and unequivocally. The
cause of the Loyalists dominated the speeches, meetings, and press
of the PCF. The theme of the outstretched hand was still heard,
though now in a lower, minor key. On July 25, L'Humaniti quoted a
lengthy passage from an article by Marcel Delamare in L'Aube on
the necessity of intensified Catholic participation in uniting the
French nation. With obvious reference to the Communists, Dela-
mare wrote:

The antireligious offensive which was imprudently anticipated
has not materialized. Cutting words have been eliminated, by
official order, in popular songs. In one of the speeches made July
14, words of union were once again addressed to Catholics.
Would it not be a pity if Catholics saw only a clever maneuver in
this change of attitude? To know how to take men at their word,
even those men whom we have been tempted to see as our
inveterate foes, is undoubtedly the most skillful policy, and
certainly the most Christian.7

Almost a month passed before any additional reference to
Catholics appeared in the pages of L'Humaniti. On August 21,
"Read in the Press" cited without comment an article from the
Catholic daily La Croix, by its editor, Abbe Merklin. The passage
quoted called attention to the forthcoming Congress of Belgian
Catholics at Malines. Its sessions, as described by Merklin, would
focus upon the social teachings of the church and their application


44 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

to the new social realities of the day.8 The Communists pointedly
recalled what many Catholics tended to forget, the social implica-
tions of their Christian faith.
La Croix again caught the attention of L'Humaniti on August
28. On that day, the full text of a letter from Jacques Duclos, secre-
tary of the PCF, to Jean Guiraud, of the staff of La Croix, was pub-
lished on page four. In that letter, Duclos denied the Communist
origin of a document calling for "social revolution by force," which
Guiraud had attributed to the Communists in articles appearing in
La Croix on August 21 and 22. At the conclusion of his letter, Duclos
reaffirmed the party's policy toward Catholics in these words: "As
for us, we stretch out a fraternal hand to Catholics in the hope of
fulfilling together our noble mission: to work for the welfare of our
people, the safeguarding of our liberty and the dignity of our
That same page of L'Humaniti carried an article bearing the
heading: "After Having Enslaved American Movies, Will the
'Legion of Decency' Now Grant Freedom?"10 In the accompanying
text, the plea of the pope-that the movies be "champions of the
cause of justice and virtue and contribute to the evolution of a new
social order"-was applauded." Specific proposals for achieving
that goal were presented. The article concluded with an ironic
question: "Will the Legion of Decency, despite the opposition of
many of its directors, one day become an organization which con-
tributes to the evolution of new social order."12 The subject of the
Legion of Decency and the larger issue of church censorship could
easily have been treated less sympathetically.
These issues, however, were subordinated to the larger prob-
lem of the Spanish Civil War. Throughout the days following the
uprising of the Spanish rebels, the question of what role France
would play in events beyond the Pyrenees was hotly debated. For
the Communists, there was no hesitation. L'Humaniti covered the
events in Spain with graphic photos and bold headlines, as well as
lengthy and interpretative articles. When thirty thousand demon-
strators gathered in Paris on July 30 to express their solidarity with
the people of Spain, Marcel Cachin stated the Communist position
in brief, unmistakable terms: "The dominant matter at this time is
the civil war in Spain. The French workers must do everything in
their power to help their brothers in Spain in their bitter
While political tensions mounted within the country at large
as well as within the parties of the Popular Front, the Communists

The Spanish Civil War

remained steadfast in their support of the Spanish Republic. While
diplomatic efforts of every sort were being made by France to solve
the Spanish problem, the Communists continued their passionate
pleas for help to the Loyalists. At the meeting of the PCF of Paris on
August 6, as at the Peace Rally at St. Cloud, where four hundred
thousand people gathered on August 9, the cry was the same:
"Help Spain."
In his celebrated Luna Park Speech on September 6, Socialist
Premier Leon Blum reluctantly refused official French intervention
in the Spanish Civil War. The unity of the Left was broken. The
idealism of liberals was shattered. In the poignant words of Paul
Gagnon, "The bell that tolled over Madrid tolled also for the Popu-
lar Front in France."14 The Popular Front was not to fall until the
following year, but the lethal wound was inflicted in the summer of
The Communists had been the only political party and the
largest organized group publicly supporting the Spanish Republic,
while Mussolini and Hitler were known to be aiding the rebel in-
surgents. The Spanish policy of the PCF complicated relationships
within the Popular Front, to be sure. However, in the country at
large, the Communist party became the true heir to the republican
tradition, as David Caute and Charles Micaud testify. Caut6 makes
this judgment:

If liberty and even civilization itself were at stake, and if the
Communists, with Soviet support, proved themselves indis-
pensable to the defence of the Republic, then many found it hard
to resist the conclusion that the Communists were the stoutest
defenders of civilization.'5

Micaud goes even further:

The Popular Front and the Spanish Civil War oversimplified
the issues; for many, Communism appeared the indispensable
ally of democracy; for many others, it was the birth pangs of the
better democracy to come. Hatred of Fascism led many idealists
to identify democracy and social justice with the most bitter
enemy of Fascism: Communism.16

The polarizing issue of the Spanish Civil War and the height-
ened popularity of the PCF due to its unabashed support of the
Spanish Republic could easily have been transformed into an attack


46 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

on the church. The first indication that this would not be the case
came in late July 1936. On July 23, the periodical Terre Nouvelle:
organe des chritiens revolutionnaires was placed on the Index of
Forbidden Books by a decree of the Vatican's Holy Office. Terre
Nouvelle was a movement, as well as a journal, and its stated goal
was to "bring together Socialists and Christians of every persuasion
in order to break down the reactionary prejudice of the incompati-
bility of Christianity and socialism by proving that these two
realities are complementary."17 Maurice Laudrain, the editor of
Terre Nouvelle, had written just three months before the condemna-
tion that "to cooperate in the revolution is to make possible through
socialism the full flowering of the supernatural and Christian
Terre Nouvelle had received an official warning from the
Archdiocese of Paris in February 1936.19 Although the warning to
the directors of Terre Nouvelle "had no effect on their activities,"20 it
had a staggering effect on their journal's circulation, which
dropped from 10,000 readers to 2,000.21 While the decree by the
Holy Office placing Terre Nouvelle on the Index did not state the
exact reason for the condemnation, the paragraph immediately
following left no doubt-the espousal by Terre Nouvelle of a synthe-
sis between communism and Christianity.22
Terre Nouvelle was neither officially Catholic nor politically
potent. Still, it was significant that the Communist organs, espe-
cially L'Humanite, gave no coverage whatsoever to the condemna-
tion of Terre Nouvelle. Although a negative signal, this was the first
indication that the PCF was going to remain steadfast in its policy
of la main tendue, despite the Civil War in Spain.
While Terre Nouvelle represented a small group on the fringes
of the church, La Vie Intellectuelle and Christus represented a large
group of progressive and solidly Catholic thinkers.23 It was to these
latter two journals that Florimond Bonte turned for support of the
position he elaborated in an article entitled "Communists and Cath-
olics" in Cahiers du Bolchevisme on August 25, 1936. After reiterating
the celebrated appeal to Catholics by Maurice Thorez and after
alluding to his own article in the Cahiers two months earlier, which
further refined this policy of the party, Bonte expressed his
certainty that:

Christians living the true life of Christ's charity amid the
"unmerited suffering" of the modem world could not bluntly
refuse an outstretched hand when the one who has offered it is

The Spanish Civil War

concerned about justice and human brotherhood and has deter-
mined to give first place in his activity to everything that can
unite men for their growth and enrichment.
We spoke frankly and we tried to show that on the level of
concrete attitudes the antagonism of philosophical or religious
doctrines could not be an obstacle to the union of Communists
and Catholics, atheists and believers, for the welfare of the
people and the preservation of peace.24

In these two paragraphs, Bonte outlined his argument. First of
all, he was appealing to the Christ-like charity that should charac-
terize all Catholics and that would, in turn, demand involvement in
any undertaking dedicated to the pursuit of justice and brother-
hood. Then he minimized the problems of doctrinal incompati-
bility, which loomed so large in the thought of most Catholics.
In a letter to Bonte concerning his article of June 15, Abbe
Jolivet, editor of Christus, had acknowledged "the possibility, in
certain particular and well-defined situations, of a temporary and
limited collaboration between Catholics and Communists," but
denied the possibility of any continued collaboration "by reason of
the absolute contradiction between the atheistic materialism of
Communist ideology and Catholic doctrine."25 Bonte, in turn,
conceded the right of Catholics to proclaim the incompatibility of
communism and Catholicism, but emphasized that this right did
not exclude the duty of all French citizens to help unselfishly in the
immediate alleviation of human woes. Bonte then pursued his posi-
tion further:

The higher interests of our country demand the union of the
French people. And this union, if it is to be fruitful, should not
be temporary, but lasting, strong and indissoluble. There is no
Catholic worker who does not share this point of view with his
Communist brother. Unfortunately the editors of La Vie Intellec-
tuelle and Christus stop halfway and claim that continued collab-
oration is absolutely impossible, because Catholic principles are
in radical opposition to Communist ideology.26

Bonte cited excerpts from both La Vie Intellectuelle and Christus
to support his position. He confessed that he had "sought out pas-
sages favorable to collaboration, while avoiding any misrepresenta-
tion of the thought of the authors."27 Bonte thus aimed to establish
the moral responsibility of Catholics to join their compatriots in


48 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

promoting social justice and human betterment by citations from
Catholic sources. He then directly attacked the question of doctrinal
antagonism. He showed how Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI had cried
out against "the inhuman system which economic liberalism and
the unbridled pursuit of profit had introduced into the world,"
while "most Catholic industrialists and numerous Catholics
involved in the fields of politics and labor had remained indifferent
and oftentimes hostile to the trade union movement and legislation
in behalf of workers."28 He drew a pointed conclusion.

If the Communists cannot avail themselves of these incontest-
able facts as pretexts for refusing to enter into contact with Cath-
olic workers and intellectuals to establish common action on
behalf of the higher interests of France and all mankind, then the
hierarchy and Catholic leaders cannot justify their opposition to
continued collaboration for the welfare of the people on the
pretext of the incompatibility of Catholic principles and Com-
munist ideology.29

If Catholics themselves had long ignored the social principles
taught by the popes, how could they now logically appeal to doc-
trinal integrity to justify their position? Bonte had acknowledged
the efforts of sincere, socially conscious Catholics, but they
constituted a small minority of the French church. In essence, Bonte
was saying that the French Communists were willing to dismiss the
social sins of omission of the French Catholics. Therefore, French
Catholics should be willing to dismiss the theoretical differences
that could preclude continued collaboration with Communists.
The Bonte article revealed two significant facts. First of all, the
PCF was continuing its appeal to Catholics in even stronger terms,
despite the Spanish problem and the lack of official Catholic accep-
tance of the Communist initiative. Second, the difference of per-
spective was to remain, with the Communists emphasizing the
need for practical collaboration, while the Catholics stressed the
problem of doctrinal incompatibility.
On August 29, the first allusion to the role of the church in the
events in Spain appeared in L'Humanite. In that issue, the feature
"Read in the Press" carried a lengthy excerpt from Vendredi under
the headline "The Spanish Clergy." The editorial comment preced-
ing the quotation stated: "The Catholic journalist Louis Martin-
Chauffier has established the responsibility of the reactionary and

The Spanish Civil War

pro-Fascist Spanish clergy."30 This paragraph from Martin-
Chauffier's article followed without further comment:31

Religion in Spain has the taste of blood and the color of gold.
It follows its own flag-the flag now carried in the "Crusade
against Communism." The "Crusade" against the unbelieving
Moors was a war of political expansion. The apostolate toward
the Jews was financial undertaking. Conversion by the stake
was a police action. Behold the polluted sources of the "Crusade
against Communism."

The explicit conclusion drawn by Bonte in the article in the
Cahiers of August 25 is implicit in this passage in L'Humaniti. Cath-
olic sources themselves confess their social sins. The Communists
call attention to those sins and offer virtual forgiveness upon
expression of sorrow. The proper form of sorrow is adherence to
the Popular Front and collaboration with the Communists. Thus
even before the Luna Park speech of Leon Blum, the Communist
position vis-A-vis Catholics was clear. The Spanish Civil War was
not a religious war, but a domestic, Fascist attack on the Frente Pop-
ular government in Madrid, which every true French citizen, Catho-
lic or Communist, should aid in its hour of need through
enthusiastic support of the Popular Front and the programs of the
The Spanish Civil War, like all wars, sent many refugees
fleeing from their homeland. At Castel Gondolfo, on September 14,
1936, Pope Pius XI received approximately five hundred Spanish
refugees in a special audience. In his address, Pius XI went beyond
extolling the faith and sympathizing with the suffering of the
Spanish church. The pope viewed strife-torn Spain as "a school
from which very serious lessons for Europe and the whole world
could be learned."32 The first lesson was that "the very foundations
of order, culture, and civilization are totally menaced." The second
was that this menace was characterized by a "truly satanic hatred of
God, of mankind redeemed by His divine Son, of the Catholic reli-
gion and of the church." The pope then continued:

Our plea is far from useless; on the contrary, it is very oppor-
tune and necessary; indeed, it is our duty to put everyone on
guard against the snare with which the heralds of subversive
forces are seeking to create possibilities of closeness and collabo-
ration on the part of the Catholics by distinguishing between


50 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

theory and practice, between thought and action, between the
economic and moral orders. This treacherous snare has been
designed solely to deceive and debilitate Europe and the world
for the exclusive benefit of the unchanging programs of hate,
subversion, and destruction which now threaten.

The impact of the pope's words to the Spanish refugees was
immediate among French Catholics. The most dramatic Catholic re-
sponse came from Alsace, where sixty thousand Catholics gathered
the very next day in Strasbourg "to profess solemnly and publicly
their fidelity to the church and the pope by vowing to follow the
social teaching of the church and the directives of the Holy Father
concerning the threat of communism."3 This pledge was trans-
mitted to the pope in a telegram signed by Bishop Charles Ruch of
Except for the journals of the non-Catholic Left, the response
of the French press to the pope's address was overwhelmingly
favorable.4 The two themes developed by the press were the
pope's compassion for the suffering of the Spanish people and the
impossibility of collaboration between communism and Catholi-
cism. The official Communist reply was in sharp contrast. It came
in the form of an article by Gabriel Peri entitled "From Nuremberg
to Vatican City," which appeared in L'Humaniti the following day.
In scathing language, Peri denounced the address as an "unbeliev-
able diatribe," and the pope himself as "Goebbels' first and most
zealous collaborator."` The first theme of sympathy for the Spanish
war victims was dismissed by Peri as a rationalization for the papal
attack on communism; this was followed by a series of rhetorical
questions aimed at highlighting the church's role in the Spanish
Civil War. On the theme of the incompatibility of communism and
Catholicism, Peri was more explicit:

The words of the head of the church will leave an unfavorable
impression on all those who are struggling against fascism all
over the world. They will produce an especially painful impres-
sion on those Catholics-and they are many--who have allied
themselves with democrats, Communists and Socialists for the
defense of liberty in the struggle against fascism and for the
alleviation of human misery.6

In opposition to these fraternal efforts, the pope has placed
the Catholic world on guard. In these appeals, he finds an "am-

The Spanish Civil War

bush," "treacherous propaganda," and a "dangerous snare." As
a result, in countries where distress and unemployment are
raging, believers are forbidden to join with nonbelievers in joint
projects of human brotherhood.37

A third theme, of papal complicity with Nazism, was derived
by Peri from the failure of the pope to condemn National Socialism
in Germany.3 Referring to the review of the Brown Shirts on
September 13, 1936, at Nuremberg, and Hitler's speech on that
occasion, Peri asked: "But, what does the head of the church say
about the terrifying spectacle at Nuremberg two days ago?"39 "The
pope does not find one word of condemnation for the provocations
of Nazism. Rather, he falls into line with the anti-Bolshevist
In the conclusion of his article, however, P&ri carefully de-
emphasized the effect of the papal address on the status of relations
between Communists and Catholics:

Justice demands the acknowledgment that we have never
given in to narrow sectarianism. We have preached, and we will
continue to preach to our brothers, respect for the convictions of
their fellow workers who are believers. Only now we are more
at ease in criticizing allegiance to the sovereign pontiff in the
bloody crusade of Hitlerism.

Despite the harsh rhetoric, the position taken by Peri posed no
insurmountable obstacle to continued efforts by the PCF to win
over Catholic support. Peri was, after all, not Thorez or Cachin. The
choice of Peri, L'Humaniti's foreign affairs editor, to reply to the
papal address was prudent. The critique was thus placed outside
the realm of domestic policy. Furthermore, in this context, the pope
could be seen as a remote, foreign, political personage rather than
as the spiritual father of French Catholics.
Eight days later, Peri's article received a lengthy, direct
rebuttal in Osservatore Romano. The receptivity of French Catholics
to the pope's words as well as the positive social teaching of the
church in opposition to laissez-faire capitalism and the exploitation
of workers were contrasted therein with P&ri's prognosis of unfa-
vorable Catholic reaction to the address to the Spanish refugees and
to the charge of ecclesiastical indifference to the plight of the poor.41
The second part of the rebuttal consisted of a refutation of the
charge of papal complicity with Nazism by virtue of silence about


52 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

Germany. "Gabriel Peri forgets," the rebuttal continued, "that the
pope was dealing with Spain and not Germany, with Spanish not
German refugees, and with atrocities-unicuique suum-not com-
mitted someplace else." Then, in reference to the question of the
church's attitude toward Nazism, the article cited specific condem-
nations of National Socialism by Pius XI on March 2,1934, and May
6,1935. The rebuttal went on:

But the readers of L'Humanite will never know, just as the
readers of L'CEuvre will never know, that the pope did not de-
liver a political speech, but a religious address. In the same way,
the readers of Solidariedad Obrera [sic]42 will continue to think the
pope has spoken in defense of human interests and not of an
eternal cause.

The strong papal condemnation of collaboration with commu-
nism, which was voiced in the address to the Spanish refugees and
reinforced by Osservatore Romano, found authoritative echoes in
France. In his official letter to the Semaine religieuse de Nancy on
September 26,1936, Bishop Marcel Fleury discussed the question of
collaboration between Catholics and Communists at great length.
He took special note of the gravity of the matter. "In the face of
such a serious problem," the bishop of Nancy observed, "our Holy
Father alone had the right to reply. The pope considered the ques-
tion at length and expressed his thought clearly: no possible collab-
oration."43 In equally direct language, two days later, in an official
letter to be read in all churches of that diocese, Bishop Ruch of
Strasbourg condemned collaboration. "With so certain, so serious
and so baneful an evil," concluded the bishop, with clear reference
to communism, "it is impossible to come to agreement on any
The civil war in Spain strained but did not sever the delicate
threads of union between Catholics and Communists that the PCF
was trying to weave into a fabric of collaboration. However, while
the Communists were seeking to appeal to Catholics, they were
simultaneously seeking to reverse Blum's policy of nonintervention
in Spain. Thus the only convincing posture possible in response to
the pope's address to the Spanish refugees was a vague, unspeci-
fied defense of the Spanish Republic, coupled with a pointed, ex-
plicit equation of nonsupport of the Frente Popular in Spain with
active support of National Socialism in Germany. The official Cath-
olic position was clear and consistent-opposition to the persecu-

The Spanish Civil War 53

tion of the church in Spain was in no way tantamount to approval
of Hitlerism. The muted Communist response to the pope's address
was understandable. The strong Catholic reply to the Peri article
and the subsequent statements by Bishops Fleury and Ruch re-
ceived what was, under the circumstances, the most judicious
treatment possible by the PCF. They were ignored.45

The Policy of Collaboration

The dangers of fascism at home and abroad dominated the pro-
grams and publications of the French Communist Party throughout
the fall of 1936. The Spanish Civil War was still the great issue of
the day. However, the fraternal appeal of French Communists to
their Catholic compatriots continued unabated. In the pages of
L'Humaniti and the Cahiers du Bolchevisme, as well as in the speeches
of Maurice Thorez, the success of this appeal on the grassroots level
was presumed, and its criticism was discredited.
The main efforts of the PCF at this time were directed toward
persuading the nation of its sincerity of purpose and toward main-
taining its favor among Catholics who had already been touched by
the Communist initiative. There was no new sustained appeal to
Catholics, nor was there any serious effort to explore the substan-
tive differences in theory that constituted the main objection of
Catholics who refused to grasp the outstretched hand. The four re-
ports relating to Catholics that appeared in the journals of the PCF
in late September and early October 1936 well illustrate this
On September 23, L'HumanitW carried the first such report, ac-
companied by a picture of a convent in Venissieux, outside which a
scuffle had occurred the previous Sunday evening. According to
L'Humaniti, rumor had spread for some time in the town that the
convent had served as an arms depot for fascists. Dispatches said
that some stones had been hurled over the convent wall on Sunday
night. However, "with its customary good faith, L'Echo de Paris
stated last night that 'it is the Communists who caused this antireli-
gious demonstration and who wanted to burn the church and the
The response of L'Humaniti was brief and pointed: "It is by
treacherous insinuations such as these, contrary to the well-known
directives of our party, that L'Echo de Paris is trying to distort our
policy of unity in the eyes of Catholic workers." Significantly, the
thrust of this article was not directed at the actual occurrences in


The Policy of Collaboration

Venissieux but at L'Echo de Paris and its editorial interpretation of
the events.
During the next two days, L'Humaniti gave extremely sympa-
thetic coverage to a train collision outside Lourdes, in which many
pilgrims were injured. The first day, there was a front-page picture,
explained thus in the accompanying report: "Bishop Gerlier, bishop
of Tarbes and Lourdes, assisted by Monsignor Mericq, came imme-
diately and visited the victims at the clinics to which they had been
transported."2 The following day, the same type of coverage de-
scribed the anointing of the victims. The reverence and sensitivity
of this type of report, especially in the treatment given a bishop,
was bound to impress the Catholic reader.
In the October 1 issue of the Cahiers under the heading "Con-
cerning the Outstretched Hand to Catholics," there appeared a
lengthy and important statement of Communist policy toward
Catholics, occasioned by the overtly antireligious demonstrations
following the "Fete de L'Humanite" at Garches on August 30. The
statement read:

The secretariat of the Communist party disapproved the anti-
religious demonstration which took place at Garches, contrary
to the party policy of unity....
We make the very simple observation that the workers of the
Nord, formed in the tradition of the old POF under the great
Jules Guesde, can only approve of the attitude of our Commu-
nist party in reference to Catholics.
They know that the POF called upon all workers to be united
on the ground of their economic interests while avoiding all reli-
gious or philosophical differences-which by their very nature
are divisive-and forbidding any offense to the workers' inner
They know that in 1892 Henri Canette, the Guesdist Mayor of
Roubaix, recently won over to socialism, established a meatless
meal in school lunchrooms on Fridays.
They know the motion adopted at the Congress of Issoudun4
which especially condemned "the anticlericalism which our
government displays," while affirming that "religious and su-
pernatural philosophies will disappear only in a society in which
every exploiting class has disappeared and in which humanity,
the master of its means of production, will have become its own


56 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

The secretariat of the PCF had publicly and officially reaf-
firmed the will of the party and placed its appeal to Catholics in a
historical perspective, recalling that even when anticlericalism was
the official policy of the French government, it was repudiated by
the grandfather of the PCF, Jules Guesde.
A concrete implementation of the party's policy of unity, espe-
cially unity with Catholic workers, took place at the vast Renault
plant in Boulogne. Maurice Thorez spoke to the thirty-six hundred
Communist workers there on September 2.6 The title of his speech
was "For Bread, Liberty, and Peace," the well-known slogan of the
Popular Front. The theme of the speech was: "How are we doing in
carrying out this program?"7 In treating the third point, peace,
Thorez dwelt at great length on the question of unity, emphasizing
the necessity of working with and winning over the majority of
workers who were not Communist. He spoke specifically of Catho-
lic workers:
Do you want us, who have struggled for unity between
Socialists and Communists and for union with Radicals, Repub-
licans, and Democrats, to say: "This is the end of the road to
union"? No, and it is not the end of our policy of the out-
stretched hand to the Catholic worker and the believer. His faith
is his business, and we simply ask him to struggle with his
unfortunate brothers in the pursuit of bread, liberty, and peace
for himself and his family.8
The workers at Renault responded positively to Thorez's
speech. In a resolution published in L'Humaniti on October 2, they
explicitly embraced the policy of unity with Catholic workers.
We Communists at Renault express our complete agreement
with the speech delivered by our leader Maurice Thorez on
September 2 at Boulogne. Like him, we think that it is necessary
to extend our hand to the Catholic worker for the protection of
our livelihood.
The workers then added, self-protectively: "This does not mean
making genuflections before princes of the church."9
The theme of unity continued to dominate the thought of
Maurice Thorez. The harmony that he envisioned was far greater
than the limited political coalition of the Popular Front. In his
speech to party regulars at the Parc des Princes on October 4, the
unity that he espoused was international, that is, "between all Com-

The Policy of Collaboration

munist and Socialist workers in France and every other country."
Second, its base was to be proletarian; that is, "union between all
the forces of the working class, grouped in a major political party
and one labor union." Finally, within France, the union was to em-
brace all French people "who do not want to let the country fall into
the ruin, the shame, and the infamy of fascism."10
A major emphasis of Thorez's appeals for unity was consis-
tently directed toward Catholics. His October 4 speech was typical
of his style:

Yes, more than ever, our party calls for the union of the
French people against the capitalist minority which exploits, op-
presses and divides them. Yes, more than ever, we stretch out
our hand to Catholic workers, tradesmen, wage-earners, and
peasants, because, in the words of Lenin: "Unity in the struggle
of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is
more important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on
paradise in heaven.""

This passage emphasizes the consistent pattern of the appeal
to Catholics. Doctrinal differences are minimized or completely
ignored. Comparatively vague, noble ideals of national unity, eco-
nomic betterment, or human liberty are proposed but rarely de-
fined. The opposition-be it Hitler or Franco, the Croix de Feu or
"The Two Hundred Families"-is attacked directly and bluntly.
The precise form that unity is to take and the course of future col-
laboration are left undefined. Repeatedly, the Communist party is
seen as the great opponent of fascism abroad and of poverty at
home, the great advocate of national reconciliation and the heir of
the French revolutionary tradition.
That same day, excerpts from two Catholic newspapers, La
Croix and L'Aube, appeared in "Read in the Press." In an article in
the former, occasioned by civil disturbances at Metz, Jean Guiraud
addressed himself to the people of Alsace-Lorraine.12 After a
lengthy critique of the Blum government and a bitter attack on
Communism, he concluded by saying:

There are others, saddened and deceived, who cannot help but
look across the Rhine and see communism muzzled and order
reigning; and this contrast gives rise to painful comparisons
which a national government would have spared them.


58 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

L'Humaniti's comments were brief and sarcastic:

How can a Catholic writer so distort our thoughts and actions
before his readers, the very Catholic workers to whom we are
stretching out our hand in order to secure bread, peace, and
liberty by mutual action! That is disgraceful. But that he should
lead them toward Hitler-that is beyond explanation.13

In sharp contrast, Georges Bidault, whose article L'Humanite
described as "more inspired," distinguished between true and false
patriotism. "True patriots," he wrote, "should be warned that
following Hitler's agents along the paths of anti-Semitism, or
following mobs along the road of violence, risks everything: the
public peace and the liberties which it is their task to preserve, not
to threaten, even at the risk of reprisals."14 According to Bidault, the
Catholic demonstrators at Metz had followed the lead of "Fascist
Whereas La Croix emphasized the negative threat of commu-
nism, L'Aube emphasized the positive French tradition of liberty.
This incident gives an excellent example of how L'Humaniti was
able to discredit attacks on Communism from the Catholic Right,
while defending its editorial position by citations from the Catholic
The following day, L'Humaniti published the text of a speech
given by Thorez at Strasbourg three days previously. The excite-
ment generated by his presence there was captured in an accompa-
nying photograph showing the enthusiastic workers of that city
parading to hear him. During the speech, Thorez delivered a
scathing condemnation of Hitler, quoting from Mein Kampf in
German, with the self-effacing request that his "faulty German
pronunciation be excused." He contrasted the Popular Front in
France with the fascist regime in Germany, concluding with an
impassioned plea for unity.15
In his peroration, Thorez made two extremely significant
statements. First, following a pledge of support for the legitimate
grievances of the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine, he said, "Our doctrine
is not a dogma, but a method of finding, in every situation, the road
that leads to the welfare of the working class and the unity of the
people." Herein, Thorez was advancing an almost revisionist Marx-
ism, which, while consistent with the present praxis of the PCF and
capable of justifying his defense of the religious grievances of the

The Policy of Collaboration

Catholics of Alsace-Lorraine, demanded further theoretical refine-
The second statement warranting special consideration was
his pledge that "we will continue to seek agreement with the Cath-
olic workers and peasants of the UPR."16 The importance of this
statement lies in its specificity. Not only is direct appeal made to
Catholic workers, but for the first time a direct appeal is made to a
Catholic political organization. Thus in two respects the Strasbourg
speech clarified and enlarged the policy of the outstretched hand.
On October 23, L'Humaniti published the full text, with ques-
tions and answers, of an interview given by Maurice Thorez to
Hubert Forestier, editor of the Catholic review Unitas, on the policy
of la main tendue. Forestier's questions were direct and unequivocal.
Thorez's answers, while not startling because of any new definition
of policy, were especially important because the questions imposed
limitations that a speech of his own did not. In response to the first
question concerning the success of this policy, Thorez predictably
described the results as "surpassing our hopes," and then he gave
several concrete examples from his correspondence and personal
experience to buttress his judgment.17
The second question was undoubtedly the most difficult.
"What do you think of the attitude of the pope and the bishops,
who reiterate their formal condemnation; is it not based upon and
legitimate by the incompatibility of the two ideologies?" Thorez
made this reply:

The attitude of the pope and certain bishops is contrary to the
interests of the needy, the unemployed, and the poor. For those
living in misery, collaboration between Communists and Catho-
lics-the union of all people of goodwill--can bring material
and moral strength. It is not a question of philosophy, but of life
and promoting life.... Is it necessary, because of the claimed
incompatibility between Marxism and Christianity, to perpetu-
ate the division of workers and thus condemn them to
powerlessness and poverty?18

Once again, Thorez had obviated the question of theoretical
differences by appealing to shared human needs on the practical
level. While this position was not new, it had never before been
stated so directly.
To questions concerning persecution of the church in Commu-


60 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

nist countries, Thorez replied by citing the freedom of religion that
he asserted Catholics legally enjoyed in Russia and that the Com-
munist party guaranteed upon coming to power elsewhere. When
asked what he conceived the scope of collaboration to be, Thorez
specified "economic matters" and "the defense of liberty against the
threats of fascism." He declined comment on the papal condemna-
tion of Terre Nouvelle because "it is not our role to pass judgment on
disagreements between Christians." The final two questions dealt
mainly with party matters but did give rise to an important state-
ment of position relative to religion. "The Communists remain
decidedly, but tolerantly, laic," concluded Thorez. "They continue
to attack all religions without falling into a narrow, sectarian anti-
clericalism today any more than yesterday."19
At first, these concluding remarks would seem to negate the
whole policy of la main tendue. However, the Marxist critique of re-
ligion and the Leninist doctrine of scientific struggle against reli-
gion would more than adequately justify such a position. The ideo-
logical incompatibility of Catholic doctrine and Communist theory
did not disappear merely because Thorez consistently discussed the
matter on the level of praxis.
The same edition of L'Humaniti that carried the Unitas inter-
view also contained excerpts from an article by Henri Daniel-Rops,
which had appeared in Sept. Daniel-Rops had written about the
exploitation experienced by young working girls in France. The
editor of the feature "Read in the Press" commented in response:
"Frankly, is not this the type of matter on which Catholic and Com-
munist or Socialist workers can unite to battle a condition which
affects their daughters equally?"20 This was precisely the kind of
collaboration that Thorez was urging in his interview that very day.
Until this time, the French hierarchy had been officially and
conspicuously silent concerning la main tendue. The threat of com-
munism had been soundly denounced by Pope Pius XI three times
in May, once with clear reference to the situation in France. The
social teaching of the church had been positively and poignantly
related to the social crisis in France by Cardinal Verdier at the time
of the sit-down strikes in June. The explicit condemnation of collab-
oration by Pius XI in his address to the Spanish refugees had been
loudly echoed, but not significantly developed by the French
church. Concerned Catholics, chiefly journalists, had argued for
and against la main tendue in the press and at public meetings.
However, the first serious, analytical treatment of collaboration be-
tween Catholics and Communists by a French bishop was made by

The Policy of Collaboration

Cardinal Achille Lienart, bishop of Lille, at the closing of the
Diocesan Congress of Lille on October 25.
In his introduction, Cardinal Lienart outlined his thoughts in
three sentences:

I see the danger which threatens us.
I believe the root cause derives from two errors.
I am convinced that the church brings the true remedies to the
causes of the problems.21

According to Cardinal Lienart, the danger that threatens "is
called communism, and has two faces: an appealing face, when pre-
sented to the people in countries where it is not in control, and a
repelling face where it is in control."22 The two errors from which
communism derives are "the error of atheistic materialism," which
it accepts, and "the error of economic liberalism," against which it
reacts.23 The true remedy for both these evils is presented by the

By her social teaching in opposition to economic liberalism,
she seeks to establish a just, equitable occupational structure to
bring peace to the working world. Through Catholic Action, in
opposition to communism, she brings true concepts of God and
man to every class, and she revives the moral forces in her
heritage for which every man feels a greater need each day.24

Cardinal Lienart spoke most bluntly with regard to the situa-
tion in France. "By documents and deeds, with unwavering
patience, we must enlighten the people of France concerning the
trap which communism is setting for them."25 The position he took
had been intimated the previous week in two episcopal state-
ments.26 However, the reputation of Cardinal Lienart, who was
regarded as the "social priest" even by the Communists,27 and the
reasoned, critical development of his address constituted the sharp-
est rebuff the PCF had thus far received since first proposing its
policy of the outstretched hand.
The response of the PCF to Cardinal Lienart's address was
immediate and massive. The very next day, the Regional Bureau of
the Nord voted to send him an open letter.28 On October 27, L'Hu-
manite headlined its account of the speech as a "Violent Attack by
Cardinal Lienart against the Communist party." The newspaper ex-


62 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

pressed editorial regret that "Cardinal Lienart thought that he
should try to accentuate the divisions among different groups of
French people by using arguments which are neither justified nor
exact, to say the least."29
On Friday, October 30, the open letter to Cardinal Lienart was
published in L'Enchafin du Nord, the Communist newspaper of
Lille. The two purposes of the letter were to refute the accusations
made by the cardinal and to renew the fraternal appeal to Catholic
workers. The tone of the letter was respectful but firm. After ex-
pressing surprise because "we thought that at the moment when
our party is making such efforts to unite Frenchmen ... you would
neither say nor do anything to prevent the Catholic worker from
grasping the hand which his Communist brother is offering him,"30
the regional bureau began its rebuttal.
"Communism is not two-faced, and Communists have never
concealed the goals which they pursue,"31 said the bureau. The
cardinal was then asked: "Do you not think it would have been
more useful to have reminded your audience of their duties as
Christians instead of attacking the Communists as you did?" The
point the bureau was seeking to establish was that the social peace
preached by the cardinal was blocked not by the Communists but
by the owners of industry. The majority of the industrialists in the
North were prominent Catholics, like Alfred Thiriez, who had been
at the cardinal's side during the address.32 Then, shifting to the in-
ternational scene, the bureau cited Catholic sources to indicate the
large responsibility that the church bore for the conditions that led
to the bloody civil war in Spain; it also denied the accuracy of the
description of life in Russia as portrayed by the cardinal.33
The letter concluded with a proposal that the bureau meet
with the cardinal, as well as with a reaffirmation of la main tendue
by the Communists of the Nord.

We offer our hand to all who are suffering. We offer our hand to
our Catholic brothers. We will be happy to meet you on our way
to accomplishing our mission of guaranteeing bread to the
worker and the free development of his humanity in peace.34

That very night, Maurice Thorez addressed the Communists
of Paris, reaffirming, despite hierarchical opposition, the policy of
the PCF. While Cardinal Lienart was not mentioned by name,
Thorez's reference was clear. "Despite the condemnation and
attacks of the pope and the cardinals, we will continue to offer the

The Policy of Collaboration

hand of friendship to Catholic workers, our brothers."35 Thorez was
at least partially correct in his statement that "we are being attacked
so violently because our appeal for unity has been heard and great
results have been obtained."M
A further indication of how seriously the Communist appeal
was being taken in Catholic circles was the promptness and gravity
with which Cardinal Lienart reaffirmed his pastoral purpose:

My mission is precisely this: to remind all men, be they em-
ployers or workers, of their duty as Christians. I have fulfilled
this duty over and over again. I did not fail in this regard in the
address with which we are concerned. I warned the workers
against the atheistic materialism which you profess, and I
warned the employers against economic liberalism which Com-
munists oppose. In so doing, I attacked neither group, but only
false doctrines and deadly errors.37

The cardinal said that he had denounced communism as a
peril because "it claims to be a remedy." As such, he had a right to
examine and evaluate the remedy. Moreover, since the remedy was
being offered to Catholic workers, he had a duty to do so, as their
spiritual father. In the cardinal's judgment, based on his interpreta-
tion of the Communist experience in Russia, communism sup-
presses private property, freedom, the right to work, the family,
and the forces of religion. Therefore, the cardinal denounced "the
Communist mirage as a remedy worse than the ailment."8
In conclusion, the cardinal invited the Communists to collabo-
rate with the Catholics "in justice and charity," requested that his
letter be published for the readers of L'Enchafin, and then closed the
discussion, as he had "no intention of engaging in polemics."39
However, the discussion did not end there.
Cardinal Lienart's reply was read with interest not only in the
Nord, but in Paris and Rome as well. The secretariat for the Nord
district replied once more. In an undated letter, which began with a
gracious acknowledgment of the cardinal's reply, the secretariat ac-
cepted and expanded his critique of "economic liberalism," but
denied vigorously his analysis of conditions in Russia. The princi-
pal objection which the letter raised against the cardinal's speech
was that "by your attacks against our teachings, you facilitated the
machinations of those who are unwilling to let workers win their
daily sustenance in a human way."40 The implication of collusion
was immediately spelled out:


64 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

At the time you spoke, your address appeared to be an
extension of a campaign directed against us since last July by
politically motivated disciples of capitalism, who are trying to
discredit us and isolate us from the masses of workers and
peasants in order to break the Popular Front.

Thus, once again, the question of union with Catholics was placed
in a pragmatic context. Opposition to communism in theory was
equated with opposition to the Popular Front in practice and in
turn equated with fascist sympathy. This same theme was de-
veloped in the editorial comment in L'HumanitW, which phrased the
question in less politically charged but equally emotional terms:

Do you want to fight against poverty and the sinister forces
which are preparing the way for civil war? In a word, do you
want to unite all the needy and work to alleviate their suffering?
If so, what is necessary is not to declare war on communism,
which is at the service of the people, but, on the contrary, to
invite Christian workers to join their efforts with their Commu-
nist and Socialist fellow-workers.41

The difference of perspective, with the Catholic emphasis on
theory and the Communist stress on practice, was evident in the
treatment given Cardinal Lienart's letter of reply by Osservatore
Romano on November 14. That letter, described by the Vatican daily
as "clear and eloquent,"42 was reprinted in its entirety after a sum-
mary of its background and opening paragraphs.
The absence of editorial comment was due to the fact that just
four days earlier Osservatore Romano had commented at length on
relations between Catholics and Communists in France. At that
time, after publishing the correspondence between Father Henri
Collin, the pastor at Montfort-l'Amaury, and Raymond Meunier,
secretary of the PCF in the Paris-Ouest district, the editor of Osser-
vatore Romano had concluded by contrasting the words of the Com-
munists to French Catholics with the actions of Communists toward
Spanish Catholics.

This then is "the outstretched hand," the olive branch offered
to Catholics in the hope of good works and socioeconomic
improvement, which could be a common goal, outside of the
sphere of religious opinion, respectable for all and respected by
all. On the contrary, however, neither communism itself nor any

The Policy of Collaboration 65

individual Communist will renounce the goal of their program,
which is based on atheism.43

Although the initiative of la main tendue met its first serious,
direct rebuff during the controversy in the Nord, the Catholic posi-
tion was still not definitively stated. The strong denunciation of the
Communist peril by a cardinal of such known concern for social
justice as Achille Lienart could not be dismissed in Catholic work-
ing-class circles. Thorez was concerned, with some justification,
that the attack by Cardinal Lienart resulted from the fact that the
Communist appeal to Catholic workers had been heard. The re-
sponse of the PCF to the cardinal's address-in L'Enchaine, L'Huma-
nite, and the Cahiers, as well as in his own speech-indicates that
Thorez realized that the words of the bishop of Lille would be
heard even more clearly than his own in these same Catholic work-
ing-class circles."

The Policy Pursued

During the final two months of 1936 and the first two months of
1937, the appeals to Catholics in the journals of the PCF and the
speeches of Maurice Thorez were routine. The domestic problems
facing the government of [Lon Blum and the continuing cleavage
over the Spanish Civil War were threatening not only the program
but the coalition itself of the Popular Front. As a result, in the
absence of any new authoritative opposition, the Communist initia-
tive toward Catholics underwent only slight development.
In the November issue of The Communist International, there
was an article by Maurice Thorez entitled "The People's Front and
the Tasks Facing the Communist Party of France."' According to
Gaston Fessard, the purpose of this article was that "Thorez might
explain to the Russian Communists the nature of the Popular Front
in France and especially the tactics being pursued by the party
Four pages of this article explored the question of the party
and the church in France. Buttressing the orthodoxy of his position
with a lengthy, well-known passage from Lenin, Thorez defined
the policy of the PCF toward Catholics in these terms:

Your mode of thinking, your convictions, are your business.
We do not believe in God; we are Communists, materialists, and
consequently nonbelievers; but we are not sectarians or bigots.
The party has done all that was necessary to unite the workers,
Communists and Catholics, in the battle for bread, for ourselves,
our wives and our children, for peace and freedom.3

The context of the passage from Lenin upon which Thorez
based his reasoning was subtly but significantly different in the
original work. In "The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion,"
Lenin was denouncing militant atheism on both pragmatic and
scientific grounds:


The Policy Pursued

A Marxist must place the success of the strike movement
above all else, must definitely oppose the division of the
workers in this struggle into atheists and Christians, must fight
resolutely against such a division. In such circumstances the
preaching of atheism may prove superfluous and harmful-not
from the narrow-minded consideration of not frightening the
backward elements, or of losing elections, etc., but from the
point in view [sic] of the actual progress of the class struggle,
which in the condition of modem capitalist society will convert
Christian workers to Social Democracy and to Atheism a hun-
dred times more effectively than any bald atheist sermons.4

In this passage Lenin espoused the objective that Thorez had
consistently denied-namely, the conversion of the Catholic
workers to scientific atheism. The philosophical problem could not
be disposed of so easily as Thorez had indicated. Six months later,
Gaston Fessard was to return to this precise passage to prove the
inconsistency of the proposal of la main tendue.5
The policy of the outstretched hand needed explanation not
only for Catholics, but for Communist militants as well. Sophisti-
cated periodicals and symposia conveyed the policy to well-
educated French people, whether Communist, Catholic, or neither.
But, in what form, beyond the popular press, did the explanation of
the new policy reach the workers? Most of this type of education
was, by its very nature, informal. The proceedings understandably
were not published. Our best informant on the subject is Helen
Iswolsky, a social Catholic and daughter of the Russian ambassador
to Paris in the days preceding World War I.6 Despite her admitted
partisanship, her testimony in this regard seems reliable.
One evening after work, curious to see how the question of
collaboration with Catholics was being treated in local, working-
class Communist circles, Miss Iswolsky attended a meeting at
Auteuil. The meeting, one of several held in the Paris region for the
same purpose, took place in a public lecture hall, before a large au-
dience "composed mostly of workmen and clerks, and sprinkled
with a few intellectuals." Because of its graphic detail, her descrip-
tion of the meeting is particularly valuable.

The first speech was delivered by Florimont [sic] Bonte, member
of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party....
For an hour and a half Florimont Bonte expounded the virtues
of Christianity. He summed up its ideals of brotherhood and


68 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

self-sacrifice. These he stressed were the very ideals expressed
in communism.
The audience applauded as he continued. He spoke of the
persecution of Catholics in Nazi Germany, and expressed his
indignation. He quoted the Papal encyclicals and showed that
social justice was sought by Catholics as well as by Communists;
and they both condemned national socialism. Therefore, it was
urgent to form a common front for the defense of democracy.
Florimont Bonte was an able speaker, and his words gripped
his audience. But the most enthusiastic applause went to
quotations from Cardinal Verdier's pastoral letters and to the
sermon of Bourdaloue, famous French preacher of the seven-
teenth century, whom the speaker also quoted. Bourdaloue had
reminded Louis XIV of the "unjust source of all riches." These
were the words which the listeners cheered.
So great was the enthusiasm that when a communist "old-
timer" rose to protest, saying that he still considered atheism a
necessary part of communism, a young girl called out to him:
"We have come here not to fight, but to make peace."7

This account is indicative of the seriousness with which the
PCF pursued its policy of collaboration. First of all, Florimond
Bonte was a member of the central committee, the director of the
Cahiers du Bolche'isme and a deputy from Paris, as well as organizer
of propaganda for the party.8 His presence in itself highlighted the
importance that the party placed on this facet of its propaganda.
Second, the argument that Bonte pursued was positive and unam-
biguous. He drew upon Catholic sources and experiences openly
and knowledgeably to demonstrate shared social aspirations, if not
ideological harmony, between Catholics and Communists. While
impossible to estimate the impact of such meetings, it would be
remiss to ignore their influence in creating an atmosphere of "unity
from below."
Meanwhile, there were only occasional, minor items relating
to Catholics in L'Humaniti. In a brief notice on November 14, the
acquittal of Monsignor Bertin of civil charges resulting from l'Af-
faire Villerabel in Rouen in the spring was noted without com-
ment.9 The following day, L'Humaniti acknowledged that the case
was now closed, but indicated that Monsignor Bertin might be
given a position in Rome, "because the Catholics of Rouen want
nothing more to do with the scheming hypocrite."10

The Policy Pursued

During the following month, there were only three brief ref-
erences of specific interest to Catholics in the pages of L'Humaniti.
On November 17, a notice was published, without comment, of the
death of Cardinal Louis Maurin, archbishop of Lyons. More sub-
stantively, in "Read in the Press" on November 30, the proposal
was advanced that the CGT and the CFTC, the Catholic trade union,
collaborate in promoting compulsory arbitration-a measure
advocated for the CFTC in L'Aube by Georges Bidault. The issue of
December 6 carried on its front page a photograph of Pius XI,
noting beneath the picture that the pope was seriously ill-a fact
that would later have significance for France.
These references, of and by themselves, may seem insignifi-
cant. However, this type of news was not reported in L'Humaniti
before this period. Its inclusion now would tend to indicate its ap-
peal to some segment of the readership, at least, and the conscious
approval of its insertion by the editors."
The treatment of Christmas in 1936 in the pages and programs
arranged by L'Humaniti merits consideration. In a front-page edito-
rial on December 24 entitled "Noel," Marcel Cachin presented a
secularized, Marxist interpretation of Christmas, which concluded:

In the age of capitalism, Christmas is no longer the adoration
of the Magi, bearing gifts to the son of the carpenter. The
workers are waiting together even now to close ranks in
solidarity and to organize their defense against their inveterate
and implacable foes.

On December 25, the first page of L'Humaniti carried a striking
cartoon, entitled "Christmas in Madrid," which depicted Christmas
bells ringing on the left and cannons firing on the right, with the
lifeless bodies of dead children strewn between and below. Beneath
the sketch was the caption drawn from an ancient French carol:
"The divine child is born ... / Let oboes sing, musettes re-
sound. ..."
On a more festive note, three great celebrations were planned
by L'Humaniti during the Christmas holidays. On Christmas Eve,
there was the Grand Festival of the Arts, followed by the Midnight
Ball with dancing throughout the night. On Christmas afternoon, a
Gala Artistic Matinee was scheduled. For the children, there was
the Christmas Tree Party, with free entertainment, refreshments,
and gifts, donated by the readers of L'Humaniti.


70 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939


II est ni, le divin enfant...
Chantez hautbois, resonnez musettes...

Christmas in Madrid: The divine child is born...
Let oboes sing, musettes resound ...

This treatment of Christmas by L'Humaniti is noteworthy in
two respects. First, the combination of serious reflection and
merriment drew on two of the most basic themes of the Christian
celebration of Christmas. Second, the festivities presented by L'Hu-
manite had an almost liturgical quality, which would have struck a
resonant chord in the heart of any person exposed to Catholic
upbringing. One could still celebrate Christmas as a Communist.
On December 26, lengthy excerpts from an article on the
church in Spain from the review Clarte were reprinted in the
columns of "Read in the Press." The author, Hans Muiller, was
described by L'Humaniti as "an eminent Catholic writer." In the ar-
ticle, Muiller carefully traced the process whereby the Spanish
church had become wedded to the party of Gil Robles, and eventu-
ally to fascism and civil war. At the same time, Muiller explained
why there were many Catholics, especially among the Basques,
who were committed to both the Republic and the church, although
this group was admittedly a minority. The case for Catholic
support for the Loyalists was very cogently argued by Dr. Miller.
The Christmas message of Pope Pius XI, which had been

The Policy Pursued

broadcast live over all of Europe, except Germany and Russia, re-
ceived special attention in a signed article entitled "To Our Catholic
Friends," by Paul Vaillant-Couturier on the front page of L'Huma-
niti on December 27. In his message, the pope had warned Catho-
lics anew against the menace of communism, which was now being
realized in Spain and was threatening Europe and the world.12
Vaillant-Couturier began his article in strong terms:

Once again, in his Christmas message, the pope has
thundered out against communism. Moreover, the way in which
he attacked the neo-paganism of Hitler, without naming it,
should not make us forget that according to Rome, communism
is and should be treated as the essential danger and the public
enemy number one.13

The pope's anti-Communist appeal had been spread all over
France, according to Vaillant-Couturier, "in an attack of extraordi-
nary violence by La Croix and the Bulletins Paroissiaux."'4 Vaillant-
Couturier realized the tremendous impact of the Bulletins that were
"widely distributed in families and imprinted by the very character
of their circulators with an aura of respectability which seemed to
guarantee the authenticity of the deliberately false facts which they
publish." The Bulletins upset Vaillant-Couturier more than the
Christmas message itself. "Let us not forget," he went on to say,
"that such poisonous weapons risk mortally injuring the budding
brotherhood to which we are patiently dedicating our energies."15
In conclusion, Vaillant-Couturier cited an excerpt from an ar-
ticle in the Jesuit journal Etudes, in which Gaston Fessard was
quoted as "encouraging the Catholic to accept 'without doctrinal
compromise' the hand offered by the Communist."16 The very next
day, Fessard wrote a lengthy letter to Vaillant-Couturier, seeking
rectification of the "radical misunderstanding" of the original ar-
ticle in Etudes, in which Fessard had been seeking "not to encour-
age the Catholic to offer his hand, but on the contrary, 'to justify his
attitude of refusal to avowed partisans of unity.' "7
Vaillant-Couturier replied to the letter in an article entitled
"Father Fessard Writes to Us," published in L'Humaniti on Decem-
ber 31. After apologizing for being unable to reproduce Fessard's
letter in its entirety because of its length, Vaillant-Couturier ex-
pressed his regret at "having interpreted the thought of Father Fes-
sard in too generous a sense." Then, having noted that the purpose
of the article, as defined by Fessard himself in his letter, was stated


72 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

not in the text itself but in the introductory remarks by the editors
of Etudes, Vaillant-Couturier concluded with a touch of irony:
"Next time, before citing a Jesuit, I will reread Pascal." Upon
reading this last article, Fessard decided to reproduce the entire
exchange and let the reader judge the sincerity of each writer rather
than further aggravate the situation. That is what he did.18
During the final days of 1936, there were two other reports in
L'Humaniti that warrant brief mention. On December 27 there was
an announcement of a new publication, with the suggestion that
"Catholic workers will be grateful to you if you have them read Ca-
tholicisme et rebellion by Louis Martin-Chauffier."19 The second ar-
ticle of note was the interpretation placed on a dispute in Catholic
circles, the substance of which was not explored, wherein General
de Castelnau of L'Echo de Paris bitterly attacked the Semaine
religieuse d'Arras. The author of "Read in the Press" was seeking not
to settle the dispute, but to draw from it a lesson about General de
Castelnau and his associates.
This quarrel shows sufficiently that extremists often put faith
at the service of their political passions, their cause of social
conservatism and their hatred. What a lesson for Catholic
workers that these same people want to stave off their union
with other workers.20

The combined message of these two reports was clear. When
properly informed, Catholic workers would see the wisdom of col-
Despite the deep fissures in France over the Spanish Civil
War, the state of the economy and the ambiguity of relationships
within the Popular Front, Francois Charles-Roux, the French
ambassador to the Vatican, saw cause for joy as the New Year
began. In his New Year's speech to French compatriots residing in
Rome, the ambassador happily announced:

Our relations with the Holy See are excellent and are gov-
erned by a spirit of complete goodwill. The church in France has
the respect of the nation and of the public authorities.21

On an official level, a rapprochement between the French
church and the government of Leon Blum was taking place. How-
ever, union between French Catholics and Communists, which the
PCF tended to identify with acceptance of the Popular Front, was
not taking place at the same pace.

The Policy Pursued

In the first two months of the new year, L'HumanitW dwelled
primarily and properly on the great issues of the day-the civil war
in Spain and the economic crisis at home. Still, there were frequent
allusions to events and persons of particular interest to Catholics in
its pages. On January 8 there was a small picture of Pius XI, with
the notice that his health was "slightly improved." In "Read in the
Press," on January 11, large excerpts from an article on the Spanish
Civil War were reprinted from Sept, which was applauded for seek-
ing "to disassociate the French church from Hitler's rebels in
Spain." Then, on January 16, under the title "A Moving Appeal
from Spanish Catholics," L'Humaniti published the entire text of an
open letter signed by nine distinguished Spanish Catholics, both
lay and clerical, calling for peace in that strife-torn country and
drawing attention to the "frightening moral responsibility that rests
on those who started the fratricidal war." The same theme of the
propriety of Catholic support for the Spanish Loyalists, was re-
peated in "Read in the Press" on January 22. On that day, lengthy
excerpts from Emile Bure, writing in L'Ordre, were cited, with the

Therefore, the reasons for the civil war in Spain are not as
simple as the bien-pensants and the supporters of Franco among
us generally believe, despite the help which the enemies of their
country, Hitler and Mussolini, are lending him. If they did not
put their national and class interests below their religious
interest, they would reserve their admiration for surer heroes.22

The deep antipathy of Catholics in general and French Catho-
lics in particular to the anticlericalism and religious persecution
attributed to the Spanish Republic, and the resulting general Catho-
lic support for Franco's forces were apparent to the PCF leader-
ship.23 In its commentary on the Bure article, L'Humaniti seemed to
be conceding that support of the Spanish Republic was opposed to
the religious interests of Catholics but demanded by their national
and class interests. Even then, French Catholic opinion remained
largely and adamantly sympathetic to Franco. This practical gap be-
tween Communists and Catholics was never bridged.
The preoccupation with Spain and the relationship between
the Spanish Civil War and la main tendue was clearly expressed by
Maurice Thorez himself in the major address to the national meet-
ing of the French Communist Party at Montreuil on January 22.
Thorez began his speech with a long litany of the accomplishments


74 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

of the Popular Front for all the categories of the disadvantaged in
French society. He then reaffirmed the commitment by the PCF to
peace, prosperity, and the Popular Front. The church-even the
hierarchy-was significantly missing from his list of reactionary
forces set on breaking the front.
At the end of his speech, Thorez spoke at length of the policy
of unity, with special emphasis on the efforts of the Communists in
promoting collaboration with Catholics. "We have addressed
ourselves to the Catholics, without hiding our Communist convic-
tions. ... What counts in our eyes," he continued, "is the union of
the poor of this world in obtaining happiness." From the experience
in Spain, Thorez then drew a lesson on the correct way of dealing
with matters of religion:

Bishops and priests there have preached civil war against the
Republic. But others have remained faithful to the cause of the
people. Some of them have even been shot by the Fascists, Mola
and Franco. The Catholic population of Biscay, along with its
clergy, has remained on the side of the Madrid government.

According to Thorez, true Marxists must adopt a flexible atti-
tude toward organized religion. Those who would see in the
party's attitude toward Catholics "some shameful and dangerous
compromise" are not genuine Marxists but rather, in a slight varia-
tion of Lenin's memorable term, "anarchist phrase-mongers."24
In retrospect, Thorez's remarks at Montreuil offered little
evaluation and no serious development of the Communist policy
toward Catholics. The most reasonable interpretation of this com-
paratively bland statement would be that, given the audience of
party militants, Thorez felt it prudent merely to defend the policy
before its critics. In this light, both his insistence on the orthodoxy
of the policy and the series of rhetorical questions with which he
prefaced his remarks on unity take on new meaning. The questions
were directed as much to the Socialists and Radicals as to the Com-
munists. The questions themselves make this clear. Thorez asked:
"Why could not Communist and Socialist workers band together
with Catholic workers for the joint defense of their wages against
the same employer, be he a believer or a free-thinker?" Broadening
the question still further, he continued: "Why should Communist
and Radical peasants reject an agreement with Catholic peasants for
the joint vindication of their claims and rights?"2 To Thorez, only
unity made sense.

The Policy Pursued

The authority to whom Thorez repeatedly turned to buttress
his policy of union with Catholics was Lenin. In a speech before the
militants of Paris on the night preceding the thirteenth anniversary
of the death of Lenin, and in the speech at Montreuil the following
night, he emphasized the same principle: "Leninism has given the
inspiration to our party's policy of unity."26
A major, unexpected, endorsement of the policy of unity with
Catholics came from Socialist Prime Minister Leon Blum, in an in-
terview by Maurice Jacques in the February 19, 1937, issue of the
influential Catholic weekly Sept.27 For several weeks, Sept had been
interviewing noted persons on the topic, "What do you think of the
social teaching of the church? What collaboration do you look for
from this source in the construction of the new order toward which
France is working?"28 Blum, when asked, "intentionally or uninten-
tionally"29 enlarged the scope of the question, and replied on the
possibilities of Catholic collaboration with these words:

I do not hesitate to reply: I believe that collaboration is pos-
sible. And, from the moment that it is possible, will not French
Catholics consider it desirable?30

Although the Sept interview received its widest dissemination
in the Catholic press, lengthy excerpts from the interview were
reproduced in "Read in the Press" that same day. L'Humaniti head-
lined the excerpts, "I Believe Collaboration Is Possible between
Catholics and the Popular Front-Leon Blum."31 There was no ac-
companying editorial comment. None was necessary.
Six days before the publication of the Sept interview, Blum
had declared a "pause" in the social reforms of the Popular Front.32
The night of February 27, the central committee of the PCF called a
special meeting to explain the party's renewed commitment to the
Popular Front, despite the problems that at that moment threatened
its continuance. In reference to national unity, Thorez called atten-
tion to two facts. First, the policy of unity with Catholics had
originated with the Communists. Now, almost one year later, after
response typified by two priests who, on different occasions in Nice
and Paris, came up publicly to grasp Thorez's hand, "Blum, in his
turn, is saying that the collaboration of Catholics with the Popular
Front is possible and desirable."33 The second fact was that the
proposal of the expansion of the Front populaire into a Front franqais,
embracing all French people, advanced by the PCF as early as July,
had been substantially adopted by Blum the previous day.3 Thorez


76 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

then concluded by asking: "Why should not we Communists be
happy, in light of the progress of our ideas and our policies?"35
Thorez's speech on February 27 occasioned a front-page edito-
rial in L'Echo de Paris, in which, among other things, Thorez was
charged with substituting dreams for reality, because "Catholics
form a solid block behind the pope and the bishops."36 On March 1,
in "Read in the Press," L'Humaniti excerpted from and commented
upon the editorial in L'Echo, insisting that the Communists had
asked Catholics not to renounce their beliefs but rather to collabo-
rate to improve the quality of social and economic life in France.
L'Humaniti ended its comments with a reaffirmation of its policy.

Regardless, the Communists will continue to stretch out their
hand to Catholics. Despite the efforts by fascists, they will real-
ize more each day that this collaboration serves the interest of
the people of our country.37

The optimism of both L'Humaniti and Thorez regarding coop-
eration with Catholicism was, however, soon to be dampened.

The Pope Speaks

On February 20, 1937, Florimond Bonte published an article in the
Cahiers du Bolchevisme aimed at analyzing and refuting Catholic
opposition to collaboration with Communists.' The general tone of
the article was conciliatory. The particular point Bonte dealt with
was the argument that "Communists and Catholics cannot collabo-
rate because their doctrines, their philosophies and their teachings
are mutually contradictory."2
Bonte's refutation was based on a comparison of the programs
of the League of Nations and the Popular Front. The comparison
was suggested by an article in the Nouvelle Revue de Hongrie by the
French Jesuit Yves de la Bribre, who stated that "it is the duty of
Catholics to collaborate as energetically and as loyally as possible
with the League of Nations."3 The implication for Catholics was
clear. Since Catholics were urged to support the League, logically
they should likewise support the Popular Front, whose goals paral-
leled those of the League. Bonte then concluded: "The refusal of all
anti-Fascists to collaborate benefits only the Fascists. Collaboration
by all anti-Fascists and non-Fascists will serve only liberty, democ-
racy, and peace."4
Meanwhile, the program of the Popular Front faced continued
challenge, even after the "pause," because of both the CGT's insis-
tent demands for complete implementation of the forty-hour work
week and the renewed rigidity of employers in view of the strains
evident within the front. The woes that faced the Blum government
were symbolized by the work, already far behind schedule, on the
International Exhibition of 1937, soon to be held in Paris and in-
tended to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the French Revolution
as well as France's revival. On March 16, 1937, bloody riots at
Clichy were added to existing problems. "Whether due to exasper-
ation of the working class with the lassitude of the government,
Communist or Rightist provocation, or simple blunder, the riots
dealt a sharp blow to Blum's withering self-confidence."5 These
riots dominated the pages of L'Humanitg in the following week.

78 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

At that same time, Pope Pius XI was immersed in the issuance
of two extremely important encyclical letters. The first, "Divini Re-
demptoris," published on March 19, developed the church's teach-
ing on communism. Accordingly, it was entitled in English "Encyc-
lical on Atheistic Communism." The second letter, "Mit brennender
Sorge," written in German, sharply criticized the Nazi regime. The
"Encyclical on the Church in Germany," as it was known in En-
glish, had to be smuggled into Germany. It was not officially pub-
lished until after its successful promulgation in Germany, where it
was read at all Masses on Palm Sunday, March 21. In different but
crucial ways both encyclicals soon became involved in the politics
of la main tendue.
The "Encyclical on Atheistic Communism"6 was the most re-
cent and most refined papal condemnation of communism in the
long line of such teachings dating back to 1846.7 After enumerating
notable past papal condemnations of communism, Pius XI ex-
plained that the continued spread of communism and the "sorry
confirmation" of previous warnings had prompted the new docu-
ment (1-7). Beneath a "pseudo ideal of justice, of equality and
fraternity," the pope insisted, modem communism is "still, in
substance, based on the principles of dialectical and historical mate-
rialism previously advocated by Marx." The spread of communism
was explained by the pope in this way.

By pretending to desire only the betterment of the condition
of the working classes, by urging the removal of their very real
abuses chargeable to the liberalistic economic order, and by de-
manding a more equitable distribution of this world's goods
(objectives entirely and undoubtedly legitimate), the Commu-
nist takes advantage of the present worldwide economic crisis
to draw into the sphere of his influence even those sections of
the populace which on principle reject all forms of materialism
and terrorism. ( 15)

Having discussed the theory and practice of communism
(8-24), the pope devoted his attention to an exposition of the
contrasting doctrine of the church (25-38). "Although the Church
has never proposed a definite technical system, since this is not her
field," the pope noted, "she has nevertheless clearly outlined the
guiding principles which, while susceptible of varied concrete
applications according to the diversified conditions of times and

The Pope Speaks

places and peoples, indicate the safe way of securing the happy
progress of society" (34).
The letter's most controversial part dealt with the defensive
and constructive program advanced by the pope (39-59). After
reminding Catholic employers of their serious moral responsibili-
ties, often scandalously neglected (50), and after analyzing the
requirements of social justice, particularly the just wage (51-52),
the pope spoke at length of the tactics of communism and the prob-
lem of collaboration.

In the beginning Communism showed itself for what it was in
all its perversity, but very soon it realized that it was thus
alienating the people. It has therefore changed its tactics, and
strives to entice the multitudes by trickery of various forms,
hiding its real designs behind ideas that in themselves are good
and attractive ....
Again, without receding an inch from their subversive
principles, they invite Catholics to collaborate with them in the
realm of so-called humanitarianism and charity; and at times
even make proposals that are in perfect harmony with the Chris-
tian spirit and the doctrine of the church. Elsewhere they carry
their hypocrisy so far as to encourage the belief that Commu-
nism, in countries where faith and culture are more strongly
entrenched, will assume another and much milder form. It will
respect liberty of conscience. There are some even who refer to
certain changes recently introduced into Soviet legislation as a
proof that Communism is about to abandon its program of war
against God.
See to it, Venerable Brethren, that the Faithful do not allow
themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong,
and no one who would save Christian civilization may collabo-
rate with it in any way whatsoever. (57-58)

The encyclical further specified the responsibilities to be borne
by different groups, such as priests, members of Catholic Action,
professional societies, workers, and even governments, in the
realization of the positive Catholic social teaching expounded by
the pope (60-80). The letter closed with words of inspiration and
blessing, emphasizing the necessity of constant charity toward all
Quite understandably, the encyclical evoked varied reactions.
As a document addressed to the whole world, its impact was


80 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

inevitably intertwined with the complex conditions existing within
and among the different countries. In France, certain passages of
the encyclical had evident relevance, although it is important to
heed Rene R6mond's admonition and avoid interpreting the docu-
ment in a manner too exclusively dominated by French considera-
The first Communist reaction to "Divini Redemptoris" came
from Thorez himself. In a speech made on March 18, 1937, on the
occasion of the sixty-sixth anniversary of the Paris Commune,
Thorez alluded briefly to the new papal condemnation in these

The pope has just hurled a new encyclical against commu-
nism. This, without a doubt, proves that our appeal has been
heard by Catholic workers and peasants and that many among
them agree with us.9

Within a week of the publication of "Divini Redemptoris,"
L'Humaniti carried five references to the encyclical, although none
of them was prominent, except for a front-page cartoon. On March
19, beneath a simple headline, "The Pope's Encyclical against Com-



Jetant, o son observatoire. i n coup d'acil sur Car, ainsi que chacun sait, c e Franco qui met
monde. k Pape. tout bien pesi. a decide de con- I'Espagne 1 feu et a sang a recu la benediction de
damnertle communism*. Sa SaWet a raison... Moscou.

A. As he glances at the world from his observatory, the pope is
heavily burdened and has decided to condemn communism. His Holiness
is right...
B. For, as everyone knows, Franco, who is bloodying Spain, has re-
ceived Moscow's blessing.

The Pope Speaks

munism," the outline of the Communist response became clearer.
The writer in L'Humaniti believed that the encyclical was prompted
by the pope's "implicit recognition that, by its sound policy, com-
munism had been able to win over great numbers of workers and
little people, Catholic and non-Catholic." While seeking to disprove
the papal critique of "the sad effects of communism already visible
in several countries, such as Mexico, Spain, and above all Russia,"
the unidentified author noted that there was not a single word, but
only a "suspicious silence," about Germany. Despite the pope's
"attack on human brotherhood," the article concluded, "Catholic
workers and all other workers will continue to struggle together for
freedom, with the firm conviction that their common enemy is
totalitarian fascism."10
During the next two days, further comment on the encyclical
was limited to discussion in "Read in the Press" of charges leveled
against the Communists. On March 20, the caustic comment from
L'Echo de Paris that "the hand of Moscow is the kiss of Judas" was
the point of departure for a comparison, upon which people of
open mind were asked to reflect, between the proven evils of the
Right and the alleged evils of communism.-
In a striking statement on March 21, L'Humaniti commented:

Ce Mussolini, qui apres avoir extermini let chritiens Cet Hitler qui nie le Christ, persecute le catholiques Et ce La Rocque qu'on trouve constamment en etat
ithiopiens, se pare de I'antichritienne 6pie de et les juifs, et veut se faire passer pour le Messie. d'alerte impte est visiblement un de ces marxistee
I'slsam est un communiste bien connu. est un des plus notoires bolcheviks. don't les theories constituent une menace pour leI

C. Mussolini, who has already exterminated the Ethiopian Christians
and is now flaunting the anti-Christian sword of Islam, is a well-known
D. Hitler, who denies Christ, persecutes Christians and Jews, and
wants to be hailed as the Messiah, is one of the most notorious Bolsheviks.
E. And La Rocque, who is constantly in a state of irreligious alarm, is
clearly one of those Marxists whose theories threaten all people.


82 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

"We are no longer aiming to refute the papal encyclical against
communism." This statement is especially surprising because in
reality the PCF had made only minor efforts at refutation, as noted.
The point of this article was to repudiate charges brought by the
Catholic press against L'Humaniti for its treatment of the encyclical.
The articles in L'Humaniti did not seem to warrant strong
criticism from the Catholic press. Both in quantity and quality,
L'Humaniti's response had been restrained, except for the cartoon
that spread across the bottom of the front page on March 21.
That cartoon bears the title "The Pope Is Right" and consists of
five sketches. The first shows the pope scanning the world with a
telescope. Into his view comes Franco dropping bombs in Spain,
Mussolini exterminating Christians in Ethiopia, Hitler persecuting
Catholics and Jews in Germany, and La Rocque fomenting civil war
in France. Each section bears its own caption, facetiously linking
the leaders involved with communism. The main lesson intended
by the cartoon was immediate and effective. Fascism, not commu-
nism, was the cause of the woes of this world.
The final reference to "Divini Redemptoris" in the pages of
L'Humaniti came on March 25. In a lengthy, signed, and probing ar-
ticle in "Read in the Press," P.-L. Darnar developed the theme, ad-
vanced by Georges Bidault in L'Aube, that there was "nothing new
and nothing changed" in "Divini Redemptoris," indicating the
"enduring firmness" of the social teaching of the Holy See.12
Whereas previous Communist commentary had emphasized that
fascism, not communism, was the main problem to which the pope
and Catholics should direct their attention, Darnar pursued his
critique of the encyclical in two fresh directions. First of all, given
the time, the suddenness, and the circumstances, the pope had
clearly performed "a political act with eventual political conse-
quences." This political interpretation of the encyclical was soon to
be developed at greater length by Florimond Bonte.
The second approach to the encyclical was more suggestive,
though subsequently neglected. It was drawn from two sources, far
removed from the present controversy. The first source was an ar-
ticle in the Dp&che de Toulouse on February 21, in which Edmond
Haraucourt treated the negative reaction of many French Catholics
to the publication of the "Syllabus" of Pius IX in 1864.13 The
controversial "Syllabus of Errors," as it is formally termed, con-
demned as contrary to Catholic teaching eighty propositions, in-
cluding socialism, communism, and separation of church and state.
From this first source, Darnar derived the possibility of remaining a

The Pope Speaks

good Catholic while rejecting a papal teaching. The second source
was an article by Jean Guiraud in La Croix, cited without date, in
which readers had been reminded not to forget that theirs was a
"human church," composed of very human persons like Alexander
VI, a notorious pope of the Italian Renaissance. Weaving these
themes together, Darnar concluded:

Let Catholics watch out for rigid ideas and blind assent. Let
them remember that "human liberty" makes men, and for the
Catholic that is something far different from waiting passively
for the effects of grace. Let them emphasize the realities, the
tasks, and the duties of existence. Let them stand up against the
formularies of an intolerant, categorical, absolute, totalitarian
mysticism-Yes, this deserves consideration and reflection.14

Thus, for Darnar, despite the pope's silence on the subject in "Di-
vini Redemptoris," the true problem was Nazism.
In the fullest analytical treatment given to "Divini Redemp-
toris" by a French Communist writer, that of Florimond Bonte,
neither the doctrinal authority of the encyclical nor the human
quality of its author was considered. Instead, Bonte chose to dwell
on the political character of the pope's teaching and the national re-
sponsibilities of French Catholics. Bonte accepted the pope's
gloomy judgment of the world situation, but he saw fascism, not
communism, as the real danger.15
One new charge that Bonte raised was that "the Holy See
favored a coalition of states against communism. But this is the
very same objective pursued by Hitler."16 For Bonte, there was
nothing startling in the pope's opposition to communism. What
was startling was that, when the whole world was polarizing into a
gigantic duel between the forces of fascism and the forces of free-
dom, the pope would condemn the Communists, who had consis-
tently been identified with the side of peace and justice.17 As a
result, "the denunciation of the Communist peril by the pope
cannot be considered as the simple denunciation in theory of a doc-
trinal error, but as a fully deliberate political act."18 According to
Bonte, it was on that level, and that level alone, that the question
should be discussed. When this was done, as Bonte was sure it
would be, then:

French Catholics will take their stand on the same ground as
other French citizens. That is why we do not think that Catholics


84 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

who want peace and oppose fascism will follow the advice of
Pius XI.19

Bonte brought his article to a close with an argument from au-
thority. The authority he chose, while less imposing than the pope,
was one of the best known and most highly respected contempo-
rary Catholic social thinkers, Don Luigi Sturzo. In an article in the
Italian weekly II Grido del Popolo, Sturzo had written: "I am for the
Popular Front, the struggle for the defeat of fascism, the struggle for
bread, for peace, and for liberty."20 Bonte's hope was that this
would "also be the conclusion of the Catholics of France."21
In retrospect, the PCFs response to "Divini Redemptoris" was
neither excessively hostile nor deliberately evasive. The encyclical
was met head on, but the object of attack was changed. Fascism, not
communism, was the real danger. Patriotism, not faith, was being
challenged. The Popular Front in Republican France, not the pope
in Fascist Italy, deserved support. The encyclical "Mit brennender
Sorge" gave the PCF the key with which to exploit this line of argu-
The "Encyclical on the Church in Germany" brought before
the eyes of the whole world, but especially before the eyes of all
Germans, the many grievances of the Church of Rome against the
Nazi regime.2 The violations of the 1933 Concordat, the suppres-
sion of freedom of conscience, the neopaganism of Nazi ideology,
the racist philosophy of the German government, and the
harassment of the Catholic educational system were all openly de-
nounced. As Guenter Lewy has pointed out, however, the encycli-
cal was not "a decisive repudiation of the National Socialist state
and Weltanschauung," which the Nazi government's violent reaction
could easily have implied; rather, as more judicious observers have
noted, "the encyclical was moderate in tone and merely intimated
that the condemned neopagan doctrines were favored by the
German authorities."23
Between March 23 and October 27, 1937, there were no fewer
than twenty-three articles in L'Humaniti pertaining to the strained
relationship between Catholicism and Nazism in Germany.24 Begin-
ning with the notice of the encyclical "Mit brennender Sorge" head-
lined "The Pope Takes His Stand against Hitlerism"25 and
following up with a report on Nazi reaction to the letter entitled
"Hitler Declares War on the Catholics,"26 L'Humaniti reported every
anti-Catholic act of the Third Reich and every anti-Catholic word of
the Nazi leadership. The purpose behind these articles was aptly

The Pope Speaks

summarized in "Read in the Press" on July 8. There, commenting
upon an article by Joseph Hours in L'Aube, it was stated:

The example of Germany should let us draw a lesson for our
country. In France, although Catholicism is powerful, it does not
have a political party. Moreover, although fascism has under-
gone many reverses, it remains a dangerous threat against
which the union of all democrats-Socialists, Radicals, Commu-
nists, and Catholics-is indispensable.

During the same period, a second major theme of the anti-
Catholic tendencies of fascism was developed with reference to the
civil war in Spain. More than any other single subject, the Spanish
Civil War dominated L'Humaniti's pages during the spring and
summer of 1937. This coverage included thirteen articles that
clearly emphasized the havoc that the forces of Franco were wreak-
ing on the church in Spain.27 In the main, these articles stressed the
wanton destruction inflicted on Catholics by the bombings, espe-
cially at Durango and Guernica, the testimonials of Catholics in
both Spain and France in support of the embattled Spanish Repub-
lic, and the steadfast Loyalism of the Basque church.
Speaking to the militants of Alsace on September 3, Jacques
Duclos spelled out the meaning of events in both Germany and
Spain, not only for Communists, but more importantly, for

We have shown the Catholics of the Basque country that for
Communists, human solidarity is not an empty word.... As our
secretary-general, Maurice Thorez, has publicly stated, we Com-
munists stretch out our hand to Catholics. Here in Alsace, it
remains even more necessary than elsewhere to realize the
union of all workers, be they Catholic or Protestant, Republican,
Socialist or Communist. What is happening not too far from
here, on the opposite bank of the Rhine, imposes on us the duty
of realizing this union for progress, for liberty, and for peace.28

While the exposition of the anti-Catholic activities of the Nazis
in Germany and the fascist forces in Spain was the dominant means
whereby the PCF sought to win favor among French Catholics, this
was not the only appeal made. On March 30, L'Humaniti carried a
quarter-page advertisement for Robert Honnert's book Catholicisme
et communism. Beneath the quotation "'No one can collaborate


86 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

with communism in any undertaking whatsoever'-the pope" was
another quotation: "'We stretch out our hand to you, Catho-
lic'-Thorez." The advertisement continued:

A work which will have a wide impact. This book marks an
occasion. It is the first work which sets out to explain in a
balanced way the relations between Catholicism and commu-
nism. No one is better qualified than the author of Madame
Mettraz to lead this inquiry to its end, that is, to its ultimate con-
sequences for a Catholic.29

L'Humaniti gave Honnert's work lavish praise, since his was the
strongest statement of support made by a Catholic respondent in
favor of la main tendue. Therefore, almost of necessity, its publica-
tion was judged to be an event.
On April 16, L'Humaniti carried another advertisement that
deserves attention: a large display by Samaritaine, the Paris depart-
ment store, for First Communion outfits as well as such accessories
as missals and rosaries. The apparent incongruity of such an
advertisement in a Communist newspaper could have a twofold
explanation. First, many militants still permitted their children to
observe the traditional French practice of First Solemn Communion,
which for nominal Catholics was more a ceremonial custom than a
spiritual experience. Second, such an advertisement would
undoubtedly have reached the eyes of many Catholic readers.
Although their number would be impossible to estimate, Samari-
taine must have assumed it large enough to justify placing the
On April 21, "Read in the Press" carried favorable and lengthy
quotations from an article in L'Aube by Jean Thevenot. L'Humanite
considered that article to be both a reminder of Cardinal Verdier's
words of the previous June, calling for "the unity of the French
people," and "an apparent echo of the campaign which our paper
has been leading in the cause of possible and fruitful collaboration
between Catholics and Communists." This explicit declaration of
intention by the editors of L'Humanite was the first direct statement
of a campaign in favor of la main tendue on the part of the paper.
On May 12, "Read in the Press" again took note of an article in
L'Aube. And again, it was pointed out that "for a long time, our
paper has been leading a campaign for the union of the people of
France and has declared the possibility of collaboration between
Communists and Catholics." The text, reproduced from L'Aube,

The Pope Speaks

contained excerpts from a debate held the previous Friday evening
between Florimond Bonte and Georges Bidault. The theme of
Bonte's lengthy, persuasive speech was that "collaboration with the
Communists is a duty of Catholics inasmuch as they are
Frenchmen, and it is in their interest inasmuch as they are Catho-
lic." In his reply, Bidault openly acknowledged the sensitivity of
the PCF to the plight of Catholics in Germany, and noted warmly
the references to the Bible and the social encyclicals by Bonte.
Bidault, however, made his central point with equal frankness.

The word "collaboration" is poor for several reasons. Catholics
are totally Catholic. It is good to cite the encyclicals, but it is
impossible to divide them into two parts. "Divini Redemptoris"
forbids collaboration. Therefore, it is impossible.

That same column also carried an excerpt from Clarte by Louis
Martin-Chauffier, who had reached the same frank conclusion:

Catholicism and communism are actually two coherent doc-
trines, two philosophies, two worldviews. Nothing else counts.
In essence, they are irreconcilable.

The only plausible reason for citing these two strong denials of
the possibility of collaboration was the fact that both Bidault and
Martin-Chauffier left the door open for "increased mutual under-
standing" and "shared effort on the practical level for a common,
limited purpose."31
May 8, 1937, was the 508th anniversary of the Battle of Orleans
and the traditional celebration of the feast of Joan of Arc. During
the first days of May, stories and photographs, articles and com-
mentaries on the "Maid of Orleans" were much more extensive
than the previous year. According to L'Humaniti, on May 9, after
the official observances in Paris, "the agents of foreign fascism tried
to spoil the peaceful homage being rendered to the popular heroine
out of national respect or religious faith."32 The following day,
L'Aube complimented L'Humaniti for being the only paper that had
opposed the attempt by the Right to exploit the feast of Joan of Arc.
Quite understandably, this citation was reprinted the following day
in "Read in the Press."33
In his report to the militants of the Paris region on June 9,
1937, Maurice Thorez reviewed the accomplishments of the first


88 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

year of the Popular Front. In his address, Thorez noted "a fact of the
highest importance, anticipated by the Communists, who as a result
know what to do." This fact was the "anti-Fascist evolution in Cath-
olic circles." Thorez developed this concept briefly:

No great social or political crisis leaves Catholics indifferent
and unaffected. At this moment, in different ways, Catholics,
workers and peasants, are showing their desire for accord with
their unfortunate brothers, a shared longing for liberty and
Catholics, like Communists, are persecuted in Hitler's Ger-
many. Our Communist party here in France, while stretching
out its hand to Catholic workers, has advantageously toiled for
the union of men of goodwill in order to bring about happiness
on earth.34

While it is true that there was a certain "anti-Fascist evolu-
tion" in some Catholic quarters, it would be naive to overestimate
its scope or to equate it with new sympathy for communism.
Mussolini's war in Ethiopia, Franco's bombings in Spain, and
Hitler's persecutions in Germany had detached many Catholics
from an uncritical acceptance of the Right. The Catholics of the Left,
however, still constituted a small, albeit significant, minority.35
July 11, 1937, was the date for the dedication and opening of
the Basilica of St. Therese at Lisieux. It was originally planned that
Pope Pius XI go personally to the dedication and be received for-
mally in Paris by Prime Minister Blum. 36Two intervening events,
however, altered the course of the projected visit. First, the pope
became seriously ill. Second, the Blum government, though not the
Popular Front, fell on June 21.37
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, was
chosen by Pius XI to serve as his personal representative for the
celebrations in France. The official reception in Paris accorded to
Cardinal Pacelli all the honors reserved for a chief of state. Presi-
dent and Madame Lebrun personally welcomed him to a formal
luncheon at the Elysee Palace on July 13. In evaluating the signifi-
cance of Cardinal Pacelli's visit for France, Ambassador Charles-
Roux stated:

No diplomatic act, no negotiation marked Cardinal Pacelli's
visit to France. None had been considered. But his visit never-
theless had confirmed and strengthened the rapprochement be-

The Pope Speaks

tween our country and the Holy See. It also created a type of
personal bond between Cardinal Pacelli and us.3

Between July 7 and July 14, that visit received wide and sym-
pathetic coverage in the pages of L'Humaniti. The most noteworthy
treatment of the topic was by Gabriel Peri on July 12. Peri singled
out that section of the cardinal's sermon at Lisieux that condemned,
with obvious reference to Nazism, "the idolatry of race."39 Like
Charles-Roux, Peri saw not only a "rapprochement" but also a
profound lesson for Catholics in the visit.

The visit to France had been decided upon during the Blum
ministry. The cardinal has explained to his intimates that the
pope would have made the visit himself, if his health had
permitted. No one can deny the international import of this
event-the Communists even less than others. It is a great
occurrence that the pope's legate has come to greet France and
her Popular Front government at the very hour when Hitler's
Germany is persecuting the Catholic world. The legate's visit is
a kind of warning to French Catholics; a warning which means,
"Save your country from the shame of fascism." ... Let us
remember at every turn the directives and words of Cardinal
Pacelli.... This visit is a good sign, which should reassure
peaceful governments in their strenuous efforts.40

Whereas the visit by Cardinal Pacelli could justifiably be
interpreted as a rapprochement between the Holy See and the Pop-
ular Front, the equation of the latter with the Communist party was
clearly unwarranted. Although there was no new statement about
communism during the cardinal's visit, the previous explicit con-
demnations still held. Official Communist representatives were
noticeably absent from the welcoming party when the cardinal
arrived at the Gare de Lyon on July 9 and from the guest list at the
formal luncheon given in his honor by President Lebrun on July 13.
A second major Catholic event in France the very next week
also drew Communist attention. The Tenth National Congress for
the JOC [Jeunesse Ouvribre Chretienne], the Young Christian
Workers, met in Paris from July 15 to July 18.41 For this occasion,
Raymond Guyot, president of the Communist Youth Federation of
France, wrote a letter of congratulation to the JOC, which was pub-
lished in L'Humaniti on July 19. In the letter, Guyot stated:


90 Communists and Catholics in France, 1936-1939

We think that even if we are separated by differences of doc-
trine, nothing should prevent our community of action from
coming to the aid of hapless young people, improving the condi-
tion of young workers, defending liberty of conscience, and
working for the cause of peace.

In the words of Yves Simon, the Tenth Congress of the Young
Christian Workers was "certainly the greatest collective demonstra-
tion of Catholic faith ever given by the proletarian class on the soil
of France."42 The resolutions adopted and the spirit that permeated
the forty thousand members present indicated that even among the
most socially conscious young Catholics, fidelity to the church's
teaching and reform of the economic order were compatible goals.
The congress also indicated, however, the basic frustration to which
the policy of la main tendue was prone. For the Catholic activist, so-
cial concern was rooted in deep religious commitment. While
sharing many specific, concrete, socioeconomic objectives with his
Communist brother, the Catholic worker was nonetheless ideologi-
cally at right angles to Marxist theory. Even a cursory reading of
the minutes of the JOC Congress reveals the decidedly different
philosophy and perspective underlying the Catholic and Commu-
nist approaches to the problems of the day.4
The ensuing sense of frustration on the part of the PCF found
wry expression in a cartoon entitled "La main tendue," which ap-
peared in L'Humanite on August 17. In the cartoon, one man is offer-


Vous ne voyez&I
pas que je vous
tends la main ?
Vous n'.tes
pas communist,
au moins ? ,o. '--

"Hey, don't you see me holding out my hand?"
"You're not a Communist, are you?"