Georges Clemenceau

Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau

Georges Clemenceau was one of the most famous political figures in the Third French Republic and a major contributor to the Allied victory in World War I. He was born in 1841 in the small village of Mouilleron-enPareds in the Vendée, a region on the western coast of France. Trained as a doctor, he gave up the practice of medicine for a life in politics.

He began his career as mayor of Montmartre and in 1876 was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, where he identified with leftist causes and became a powerful figure in the Radical Party. A brilliant orator and a fiery critic of republicans in the Center and on the Right, he was instrumental in overthrowing many ministries, earning in the process the nickname "The Tiger." Implicated in the Panama Canal scandal, he lost his seat in the elections of 1893 and for the following nine years earned his living as a journalist.

Clemenceau was elected to the senate in 1902 and in 1906 served as interior minister in the Jean Sarrien cabinet. When Sarrien resigned in October 1906, Clemenceau formed his own cabinet, which endured until 1909.

While in office he strengthened ties with Britain and Russia to counter Germany's growing challenge to France. At home he continued his predecessors' anticlerical policies and adopted a hard-line stance toward striking workers, alienating large sections of the political left.

A sudden no-confidence vote after a violent debate brought down the government in the summer of 1909. Clemenceau returned to the senate and spent the years prior to 1914 urging the buildup of France's armed forces. In 1913 he founded a newspaper so he could warn the country about the need to rearm.

When World War I broke out in August 1914 Clemenceau was disappointed that he was not recalled to the helm. After the stalemate set in on the western front he assailed the French High Command for its fruitless offensives and for failing to make adequate preparations at Verdun, the target of a German onslaught in 1916.

As 1917 wore on, the war was going badly for the Allies with the impending loss of Russia, a disastrous Italian defeat at Caporetto, and defeatism threatening both the military and civilian strength of France. In this particularly dark moment the president, Raymond Poincaré, called on the 76-year-old Clemenceau to form a government after the last one had fallen in November.

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919. Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson
Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919

On taking office Clemenceau's single purpose was to win the war, subordinating all other considerations. He ended internecine fighting in the cabinet by selecting minor figures on whose loyalty he could depend. With the acquiescence of parliament he established a virtual dictatorship in order to prosecute the war more effectively. He cracked down on pacifists, defeatists, and traitors, anyone he considered uncommitted to total victory.

He secured greater control over the military; made frequent visits to the front, where he spoke not only to generals but to ordinary soldiers; and helped bring about a unified command. His unflinching style of waging war revived popular morale and was instrumental in helping the nation withstand the series of German hammer blows in the spring of 1918.

Clemenceau presided over the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where he sought to punish and disarm Germany. It soon became apparent that Clemenceau's demands for France's security clashed with the postwar aims of Britain and the United States.

Clemenceau fought hard to create a buffer state in the Rhineland under permanent French control but reluctantly gave up the idea on receiving an Anglo-American pledge of assistance in case Germany again attacked France.

What Clemenceau did not foresee was that the treaties would be repudiated by the U.S. Senate and Britain's parliament. Although the Versailles Treaty imposed harsh terms on Germany, Clemenceau was criticized by a sizable section of the French citizenry who considered it too lenient.

Clemenceau hoped to be elected president, a largely ceremonial post, when Poincaré's term expired in February 1920. Of all the candidates he seemed the most deserving in view of his wartime services. As it happened, the chamber and the senate rejected him in favor of the undistinguished Paul Deschanel. He resigned as premier the day after his defeat and left the senate as well. He died in 1929 and according to his wish was buried near his father at Colombier in his native Vendée.


Comintern logo
Comintern logo
During its existence (1919–43) the Third International, or Communist International (Comintern), was an umbrella organization of the world's Communist Parties. Its stated mission was to coordinate all Communist activities independent of the Soviet Union.

In time, however, the Comintern was made to serve the objectives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and, thus, the goals of the Soviet Union. Placing its headquarters in Moscow reinforced this process.

The Comintern came into being in March 1919 in response to what Lenin perceived as a critical need. The socialists who had gathered under the framework of what was known as the Second International were undisciplined.

Several of the socialist parties in the various nations had supported their nations' entry into World War I and continued to support that effort. These socialist parties were thus seen as supporting bourgeois institutions rather than advancing the socialist cause.

Having just completed the first stages of seizing the Russian government and beginning a civil war that would last for another four years, Lenin and the Russian Communists believed that socialists must be devoted to worldwide revolution with their actions according to a prescribed party line. That line was defined by what were known as the 21 Points. Any Communist Party had to obey all of these directives in order to become part of the Third International.

The 21 Points included the requirements for member organizations to take the name Communist Party while removing members who did not accept the points, to subscribe to the philosophy of liberating colonies, to use the combination of both illegal and legal methods (as required), to change its internal rules to conform to Comintern policy, and to obey all Comintern directives. These points were drafted by Lenin in combination with the Comintern's first head, Gregory Zinoviev.

The Second Congress of the Comintern was held in 1920, with subsequent congresses in 1921, 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1935. Membership included the Communist Parties of Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Czechsolovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, the United States, Yugoslavia, and the parties of Japan and various Asian and South American Nations.

The official language of the organization at the beginning was German. Significantly, by the 1930s Russian became the official language. The Comintern was organized into several departments: Cadres (which maintained files on all members and worked very closely with NKVD, the secret police), Propaganda and Mass Organization, Administration of Affairs, Translation, Archives, and Communications. While not stated, one of the most important functions of the Comintern was to gather information that was then sent to Soviet intelligence organizations.

Comintern poster
Comintern poster

The leaders of the Comintern's national sections were the individuals leading various national parties in the interwar period. Those who survived the purges of the 1930s and World War II became the leaders of the Eastern European states that became Communist in the aftermath of the war.

These included George Dimitrov, head of the Comintern from 1935 to 1943 and leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party; László Rajk and Mátyás Rákosi of Hungary; Klement Gottwald of Czechoslovakia; and many in the mid to higher levels of the new Communist governments.

This international staff were regarded by the Soviets with great suspicion. In the period of the purges (the second half of the 1930s), many Comintern staff disappeared. The most prominent of those arrested was Béla Kun, who had led the Hungarian Soviet in 1919, but many others perished as well.

The height of this purge of foreigners was in the years 1937 to 1938, after which it eased significantly. Maintenance of party discipline was extremely important, and directives concerning activities, organization, and other changes were conveyed from this headquarters to all of the Communist Parties.

Even when Communist Parties were banned and had to go underground (as happened in Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Yugoslavia), they still had to report to Moscow. Comintern activities also included funding the parties.

Up until 1935 and the Seventh Comintern Congress the Comintern was opposed to cooperation with other socialist parties. Then the policy shifted with fascism being defined as the enemy. In addition to the Comintern's support of the popular fronts, its most significant effort was creating an army to fight for the republic in the Spanish civil war.

The Comintern recruited, transported, and organized (politically as well as militarily) the volunteers who would form the International Brigades. Over 30,000 volunteers would be sent to Spain in this effort.

In 1939 the Soviet Union and Germany signed a nonaggression pact. From the beginning of World War II in September 1939 until the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, the war was referred to as an imperialist conflict, and members of the Comintern were told not to oppose the fascists.

During the interwar period the Comintern (as well as communism and the Soviet Union in general) was feared by nearly all nations. The Comintern was regarded as the international arm of the Soviet Union. It was for this reason that to please his Western allies it was disbanded in 1943 on Stalin's orders. It revived in another form in 1947 as the Communist Bureau of Information (Cominform). Cominform's function was the same as the Comintern: to extend control over all international Communist Parties; it was abolished in 1956.

U.S. Communist Party

The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) is the most prominent communist political party in American history, though its influence has been minimal since the early days of the cold war. In 1919 Vladimir Lenin himself invited the communist faction of the Socialist Party to join the Comintern.

Many of the Socialist Party members who broke away and formed CPUSA in response to Lenin's invitation belonged to groups of European immigrants in the United States, bound by a common language and a commitment to socialism. A number of delegates expelled from the Socialist Party convention formed a separate communist party, the Communist Labor Party, but by 1921—at the order of the Comintern— these two parties merged.

After the Russian Revolution and other socialist victories around the world, the United States was coming under the grips of the Red Scare. Many communist groups were explicit about their aims to overthrow existing institutions at the expense of those benefitting from or protected by those institutions.

Racial and nationalist issues sometimes played into this anticommunist paranoia; many American communists were part of the waves of eastern European immigration that ended the 19th century—and a significant number of them were Jewish. CPUSA was predominantly eastern European and Jewish and found itself the target of anticommunist and antiSemitic literature.

The late 1920s saw conflicts with Joseph Stalin, who regarded the success of CPUSA as entirely dependent on its followers' belief that the party was a link to the Comintern and who considered the party dangerously out of step with Soviet communism.

Communist America's poster
Communist America's poster

CPUSA's goals in the period following this shift were focused principally on labor issues and civil rights, especially after the Great Depression increased the ranks of the working poor and made union issues even more critical. Though antifascist, CPUSA opposed military action against Hitler's Germany until the invasion of the Soviet Union.

In the aftermath of World War II, CPUSA became even more suspect than it had been during the Red Scare, with membership or attendance at one of its meetings grounds for suspicion, firing, and blacklisting.

The party continued to support the Civil Rights movements and allied itself with many leftist and liberal political movements throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many of which distanced themselves in response. Over the decades since World War II, this reluctance on the part of liberal interests to ally themselves with the Communist Party has led to a decrease in the party's influence.

Various revelations in the aftermath of the cold war have confirmed that at various periods the Soviet Union supported CPUSA financially, hoping that its survival would weaken the United States from within.

In the early days of the cold war, there were several cases of American communists passing secrets to the Soviets, including details related to the design of the atomic bomb. But despite the fears of the McCarthyists and the hopes of the Soviets, CPUSA appears to have had little impact on the American infrastructure.

Communist Party of Indochina

Communist Party of Indochina
Communist Party of Indochina

The Communist Party of Vietnam was formally founded on February 3, 1930, in Hong Kong by a group of Vietnamese exiles. Its first members included Nguyen Ai Quoc (later better known as Ho Chi Minh). At the urging of the Comintern, the group changed the name to the Communist Party of Indochina (CPI). Despite its name, all of the initial members were Vietnamese.

There was political controversy over the name Communist Party of Indochina. The choice of Indochina, which recognized a French-imposed political unit, was anathema to many Vietnamese nationalists. This led many Cambodian nationalists to see it as an attempt by the Vietnamese to try to dominate Cambodia and preserve the French political unit of Indochina after independence. It was not until the late 1940s that any Cambodians or Laotians would join.

With the start of the worldwide Great Depression there was a precipitous decline in the demand for rubber, and French plantations, largely located in southern and central Vietnam, responded by lowering wages or laying off workers.

This led to disputes and riots on these plantations, followed by strikes in factories throughout Cochin China (southern Vietnam). The newly formed Communist Party of Indochina saw an opportunity to agitate against French rule and encouraged the peasants, who in the summer and the fall of 1930 started taking over their villages and establishing "soviets," in which the villagers took over property from unpopular landlords and reduced rents and taxes, cutting off links with provincial governments.

This rebellion became known as the NgheTinh Soviet revolt because of the location of the main protests. The revolt was ruthlessly crushed by the French in the spring of 1931, and the CPI regional network was destroyed. Indeed, the headquarters of the Standing Committee of the party in Saigon was raided during a meeting in April 1931.

Although the revolt was disastrous in the short term, it did bring the Communist leadership the realization that they needed to be better organized for the eventual confrontation with the French. A Second Plenum had been held just before the April 1931 arrests, and soon afterward the party had been admitted into the Communist International (Comintern). Ho Chi Minh and the surviving leadership, all in exile, realized that any attempt to eject the French could no longer rely solely on a peasant revolt.

Ho Chi Minh addresses the Third National Party Congress (September 1960)
Ho Chi Minh addresses the Third National Party Congress (September 1960)

In 1936 the Popular Front government was formed in France, and from then until 1938 the CPI was able to organize again. One of the first actions of the new socialist government in France was to order the release of political prisoners in Indochina, among whom were many CPI members. The party also used this period to gain extra members and became the major political group for those opposed to French rule.

The signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 and France's subsequent declaration of war on the Germans gave French authorities in Indochina an extra reason to crack down on the CPI and isolate it from the people. The Sixth Plenum of the CPI, held in November 1939, called for an armed uprising.

France's surrender to the Germans in 1940 destroyed the belief in the invincibility of the French army among Vietnamese. Soon afterward the Japanese were able to move their soldiers into Vietnam. This again caused the CPI to debate its approach to ending French rule. Some wanted to use the Japanese presence to agitate against the French.

However, Ho Chi Minh urged caution. In 1941 the central committee of the CPI held a meeting at Pac Bo and declared the formation of the League for the Independence of Vietnam, a grouping that became known as the Vietminh Front.

With the outbreak of the Pacific war in December 1941, Ho Chi Minh sought to establish a friendly relationship with the United States, going as far as meeting General Claire Lee Chennault in March 1945. In that month the Japanese took control of Indochina, rounding up the French and throwing them in jail. On August 13–15, 1945, the CPI finally decided that the time for a national insurrection had come.

Japan's surrender on August 14 sealed the matter, and a general uprising in Hanoi took place on August 19, followed by a takeover of the imperial capital, Hue, four days later, and a seizing of much of Saigon two days after that. Although with British help the French were able to regain control of Saigon and later Hanoi, much of the countryside was in the hands of the CPI.

However, Ho Chi Minh realized that in the forthcoming conflict the CPI would be a liability, as the United States was becoming more anticommunist. As a result, on November 11, 1945, the CPI announced that it was dissolving itself and being replaced with the Indochinese Marxist Study Society.

This was an attempt to portray the Vietminh as more nationalist than communist, and the communist movement became the Vietnamese Workers' Party. This had the effect of allowing the eventual formation of separate Cambodian and Laotian Communist Parties.

Cristero Revolt

Cristero Revolt
Cristero Revolt

Between 1926 and 1929 a localized uprising exploded in Mexico's western states in reaction to the anti-Catholic policies of Mexican president Plutarco Calles, which attacked the privileged position of the Catholic Church.

Many Mexican revolutionaries viewed the church as the enemy and worked toward stripping it of its political power and landholdings. The writers of the constitution of 1917 sought to tip the balance of power by weakening the church and subordinating it to a strong Mexican state through a variety of provisions. The constitution prohibited the church from owning property and barred clergy members from voting, holding political office, or assembling for political purposes.

Calles enforced these constitutional provisions with anticlerical legislation that forbade the wearing of religious clothing in public, placed all primary education under state control, required the registration of clergy, allowed state governors to reduce the number of practicing ecclesiastics, and called for the deportation of foreign-born clerics. In reaction Mexican priests suspended their religious duties in July 1926, refusing to hold Mass, hear confessions, or administer the sacraments.

The attack on the Catholic Church enshrined in the constitution of 1917 had aroused considerable interest and action from many Mexicans. A few priests and several lay leaders encouraged direct action. One group to heed that call was the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty (LNDLR), a civic organization that formed in May 1925.

Responding to the religious strike by the clergy, the LNDLR called on Mexican Catholics to rise up in arms against the Calles government in the name of Christ and as defenders of the faith. The rebels, dubbed Cristeros due to their battle cry, "Vivo Cristo Rey," or "Long Live Christ the King," targeted schools in particular, the new symbol of the revolutionary regime in rural Mexico. They burned several to the ground and murdered teachers.

Calles's administration listed national education as a priority and viewed the building of 2,000 rural schools as a success; rural residents resented the schools, which placed financial and land burdens on poor communities and challenged traditional Catholic norms.

Full-blown rebellion exploded when Catholic insurgents bombed a government troop train. Sporadic unorganized guerrilla warfare characterized most of the violence, with local leaders recruiting a dozen to a hundred horsemen as a mounted fighting force, supported by groups of peasants serving as the infantry.

Few of the leaders had military experience. The LNDLR attempted to direct the rebellion and create national cohesion among the Cristeros, but its members lacked knowledge of military tactics and command.

The group named a journalist living in the United States, René Capistrán Garza, as the head of the Catholic revolution. Garza never assumed military command of the rebellion and worked unsuccessfully toward gaining the support of U.S. Catholics against the anticlericalism of the Mexican government.

Conversely, many of the rebel leaders in the field simply ignored the leadership of the LNDLR or were disenchanted with the organization's inabilities to send supplies or reinforcements. Although many Cristeros fought courageously and mounted a significant challenge to the federal army, in the end they did little to threaten the stability of the Calles government.

The diplomatic work of U.S. ambassador Dwight Morrow brought the Cristero rebellion to an end. Morrow worked diligently to convince Calles to create peace in Mexico with the Catholic Church, and in 1929 negotiations between the government and the church resulted in a truce.

The church agreed to operate within the law and resumed services, but it would never again command the prominent place in Mexican social and political life it had enjoyed for over two centuries. Although a minority of Catholics participated in the rebellion and it was centered in the western states of Jalisco, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Zacatecas, and Colima, by the end of the violence over 50,000 Mexicans had died, and many others had fled the country.