Assassination as a political weapon
Matthew Cobb describes an ultra-loyal PCF squad that killed imagined 'traitors'
During the occupation, the mistrust and suspicion typical of many underground organisations was compounded by the bureaucratic menace that permeated the higher echelons of the PCF, centred on Jacques Duclos (denounced by Trotsky as an NKVD agent). As in Moscow, assassination sometimes became a political tool for settling internal disputes:
- Georges Guingouin had opposed the partys line faced with the occupation in 1940, and there was nothing more threatening for the leadership than someone who had been right when they had been wrong. First Guingouin was removed from his party positions and dismissed as the madman who lives in the woods. Then the PCF warned: If Guingouin continues his activities, we will be obliged to kill him. Shortly afterwards, Pierre Lerouge, a veteran of the International Brigades, was sent into the maquis to assassinate Guingouin. Even when he failed, the party did not give up. PCF leader Gabriel Faure told regional communist leaders: We have received an order from the party to liquidate Guingouin, because he was an enemy of the party and an agent of British intelligence. They never managed to carry out this threat.1
- In October 1942, the naked body of a woman was found in a forest, south of Paris. She had been shot through the head. Sixty-five years later, she was identified as Mathilde Dardant, who worked for Duclos. She was murdered by the détachement Valmy, a group of ultra-loyal PCF members who assassinated traitors. Some traitors were real - like André Clément, ex-PCF member who had joined Doriots collaborationist fascist party; some were imagined, like poor Mathilde Dardant.
In typically Stalinist terms, the détachements task was to find the traitors and then shoot them like dogs. Eventually, the members of the détachement rebelled against their awful role. In August 1942 they met as a soldiers soviet and demanded that they start fighting the Germans. Soon afterwards the détachement carried out a spate of bombings against Nazi soldiers.2
- In October 1943, 79 political prisoners were freed in a mass breakout. Most were PCF members, but there were also five Trotskyists, including Pietro Tresso, a founder of the Italian Communist Party. After a gruelling, two-day march into the hills to join a PCF maquis, the five Trotskyists were threatened. When one of them escaped, the remaining four men were imprisoned in an abandoned farmhouse. Then, after a few days, they were simply taken out and shot.
The order had come from the PCF leadership, via Léon Mauvais, who had also been involved in the attempt to eliminate Guingouin.3