Written: 1946 through 1949
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters and Phil from the French MIA team
Translation: Ted Crawford
Dating from December 1946 to June 1949 these eleven letters, (seven from David Korner [Barta] and four from Natalia Ivanovna Sedova) constitute the known correspondence between the leader of the Union Communiste (Trotskyist) (UC) and Trotsky’s widow which shows the preoccupations of the first and is evidence of the attention that his correspondent gave to him
Union Communiste (Trotskyste) to Natalia Sedova
Paris, 16th December 1946
Dear comrade Nathalie,
It is only now that we were able to get, by chance, your address. We are most eager to send you some of our material in the hope that you will find the time to read the articles which we have underlined to draw your attention. We would be happy to have your critical appreciation. If it is of interest to you we will send you the complete collection. We are prepared to make anything clear that you want on the subject of our organisation.
Hoping to hear from you, receive dear comrade our fraternal salutation.
UNION COMMUNISTE (Trotskyste)
Address : Jacques RAMBOZ 7, Impasse du Rouet PARIS 14ème
Thank you for your letter of the 16th December. I am so late to replying to you because I have been ill. I have also got all the material that you sent to me for which I thank you. I will read with great interest all the articles that you have underlined. I have not been able to so sooner for the reason I have mentioned. I would be very obliged to you if you would continue to send me Lutte de Classes. After I have read the articles I will contact you. In conclusion I would be very pleased of you could give me some general information about your organisation.
Receive dear comrade my fraternal salutation.
Paris, 20th February 1947
Dear comrade Sedova,
We were pleased to get your letter of 28.1.47; since then we have continued and will continue to send you Lutte de Classes regularly.
We continue as follows the general information about our activities and our development: The comrades who founded our organisation were active in the POI for several years and in 1938 were part of the fraction that entered the PSOP. In 1939 when Trotskyist cadres and groups disintegrated, we did our first independent work, above all for organisational reasons, and put out, with the help of several young comrades, a duplicated paper, L’Ouvrier dealing with the struggle against Daladierism, the war and the role of social democracy in the destruction of the trade unions. In 1939 we started from nothing and, after the military events of 1940, we had to restart from the same position. In November 1940 we published our pamphlet La Lutte contre la 2e Guerre imperialiste mondiale (The Struggle Against the Second Imperialist World War) to defend what we thought were Trotskyist politics against the nationalist and petty bourgeois positions taken up by the organisation which came out of a regroupment of some former members of the POI. It was in 1942, after we had been able to educate and instruct a few young comrades who had come out of the PCF or who had no political past, that we put out our paper La Lutte de Classes. That choice of title was made because of our wish to oppose, with revolutionary and internationalist propaganda, the pro-Gaullist current of national unity which was justified by the struggle against the occupying power. The aim of our practical activity was to make contact with workers and to give to some proletarian elements the possibility of a training in the spirit and with methods of creating professional revolutionaries.
It was after this work and without having grown to be an appreciable number that we were able, in October 1945, to add a bulletin for trade union work, La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers Voice), to our paper. In practical terms the bulletin was the result of experience that we had gained in the preceding months through the publication of local factory leaflets in the name of a “group of workers” by which means we were able to have some links with some conscious factory workers. We had developed our trade union position (which was defended by La Voix) on the basis on our own trade union work without knowing about the last writings of Trotsky on this issue.
At the same time because of the changing general political situation we had intensified our agitational work and, from October 1945 to June 1946 had distributed 100,000 leaflets at factories in the Paris region which put forward the politics of our paper. At the same time we had tried to enforce the sale of our papers at the factory gates, to do that we had to undertake a physical struggle against the Stalinists, (who opposed the sale) taking up a broad position of political agitation over the rights of workers democracy. In this sense we had been the first to agitate and to call for unity with the PCI. We were also able to say that, because of the political inadequacy of the PCI, in the Paris region we had been for several periods of time, the only group openly defending Trotskyist politics in the working class. In No.60 of La Lutte (30 April 1946) we explained the reasons for the disappearance of La Voix des Travailleurs. But we continued the work of finding the best way to raise the level of consciousness among workers with the same methods and the same aim. We are a numerically a small group but the majority are workers.
If in fact we have had no relationship with the PCI it is because their leaders have shown themselves absolutely incapable of respecting the most elementary rules of honesty and working class behaviour (while they were politically flat on their faces before the Social Democrats and Stalinists). Although we were apparently in agreement on everything we found we were in agreement on nothing each time we examined any particular precise matter. The PCI opposed our open criticism with silence and to tell the truth, a “unity” which, in the way they posed it, would have only hidden the difficulties and not deepened the revolutionary movement.
You can follow our differences with the PCI from the material that you have already got. Given the special importance that we attach to your opinion we would be grateful if you gave us your assessment as soon as possible.
While awaiting this we send you dear comrade, our fraternal greetings.
PS.1. We attach a copy of a letter explaining our split with the groups forming the PCI which got no answer.
PS.2. Could you send your letters to the following address Jacques Ramboz 3 Boulevard Victor Paris 15ème.
Paris, 2nd April 1947
Dear comrade Sedova,
Following your letter of the 28th Jan we wrote a letter to you containing some general information about our organisation on the 20th February. We have also continued to send you Lutte de Classes regularly.
We would be grateful to know if you got these and we hope that it will be possible to tell us.
While awaiting these, we send you, dear comrade Sedova, our fraternal greetings.
Union Communiste (Trotskyste)
Paris, 5th June 1947
Dear comrade Sedova,
We have been worried not to have got any reply to our letters of the 20th February and the 5th April; we wonder if the post is not getting through or if your work or your health prevent you replying to us; but whatever it is we hope that you are in good health and in case you have already written we would much appreciate it if you resent the letter to the address of Michel Bucholz, 2 rue Claude Matrat at Issy-les-Moulineaux (Seine).
We are happy to have crowned our theoretical, political and organisational work with a mass struggle of the greatest importance for the working class and ourselves. We have sent you the documents about these events and we hope that older material that you will have got, will give you exact information on the organised character of this movement, the fruit of a long and patient work. And it will certainly be of the greatest satisfaction to you to receive confirmation that is essentially the thought of Trotsky and the example of all those who have entirely devoted themselves to the emancipation of the working class which have helped us through the ordeals from 1939 until now. We will carry on the struggle to the end, for the crimes of the ruling class and the Stalinist bureaucracy can only include the one real revenge, the proletarian revolution.
We send you, dear comrade Sedova our fraternal greetings.
for the Union Communiste (Trotskyste)
Mexico, 12 July 1947
to La Lutte de Classes
J’ai reçu vos lettres et votre matériel. C’est-à-dire l’essentiel de votre matériel. A propos de vos divergences avec l’organisation française pendant la guerre et à l’égard des mouvements de résistance, je dois vous informer que nous avons demandé que le prochain Congrès mondial traite en premier lieu la politique des principaux partis par rapport à ce problème. Il me semble que vous devez être tout à fait d’accord là-dessus. Mais votre groupe participera-t-il au Congrès et à la discussion préalable? A-t-il été invité par le SI ? A-t-il demandé à prendre part à la discussion et au Congrès ?
I have got your letters and your material. That is to say the essential material. About your differences with the French organisation during the war in regard to the resistance movements I must tell you that we have asked the next World Congress as a matter of priority to deal with the politics of the main bodies involved in this question. It seems to me that you would be wholly in agreement with that. But will your group participate in the Congress and the pre-Congress discussion? Has it been invited by the IS? Has it asked to take part in both the discussion and the Congress? I have seen that you criticise the conduct of our party on the question of the French strikes. Here it seems to me that you are wrong. It seems to me that the PCI has conducted itself well in the strikes and has appealed to the Stalinist workers. I would like to have your accounts of that.
For me the most important thing is to know what obstacles prevented you from joining the PCI. I believe that I remember that the leadership of the Party offered you entry with full factional rights. I have read your document addressed to the Unification Committee and written in 1944. Do you still have the same position?
For the past two months I have not received La Lutte de Classes.
I would like to know your position with regard to the defence of Russia, the call for a PS-PC-CGT government and the united from with Stalinism, all the questions that are now being debated in our organisation.
Coyoacan, 22 October 1947
I have just got your letter of the 25th September by which I understand that you did not get my letter of the 12th July. It was a good idea to write to me once again. For I was very worried by your silence. I have included a copy of my letter.
For five months I have no longer received La Lutte de Classes but I do get La Voix des Travailleurs regularly. The paper is well produced, the tone is combative and the position taken correct. Can I ask if the La Voix des Travailleurs is the successor to La Lutte de Classes. I seem to have read somewhere that you are going back to the name La Lutte de Classes.
I await your news impatiently.
Recevez my fraternal salutation
Paris, 6th November 1947
Dear comrade Sedova,
Your letter of the 22nd of October filled us with joy. We will try to reply as completely as possible to your questions.
As far as the La Voix des Travailleurs is concerned in effect it continues La Lutte de Classes.
La Lutte de Classes will appear again in the form of a theoretical bulletin as soon as we have the necessary resources.
The Renault strike last May, which was started and led by our comrades in the factory, (without the help of any other organisation) has given us the possibility of reestablishing the old La Voix des Travailleurs on a new basis. A weekly will be largely sold in the Renault factory; above all among the 1,200 workers in departments 6 and 18. One worker in three is a reader. We want the help of a paper to educate and influence any workers who are looking for a new road ahead. The strategic position which at present we hold at Renault allows us to hope for a growth, which if not quick, will at least be solid.
On the subject of the PCI, after repeated rebuffs, we have been forced to take note of the impossibility of any collaboration. We do not speak the same language and we have opinions and methods that are totally different as far as working class activity is concerned. The difficulties do not, in general, come from political differences but from the social composition of the PCI. On this matter our position in 1944 is still valid today. Then we hoped that a part, if not the majority of the PCI, would find themselves on the same revolutionary road with us. Today it appears to us that the leaders of the PCI, not only do not know their job, but have the morals of true bourgeois politicians. In our struggle we have had blows not only from the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists but also from the leaders of the PCI.
As far as this goes we have justified our position vis-a-vis the working class in No.75 of La Lutte de Classes (“Reasons for a bankruptcy”) and we have talked about it in No.17 of La Voix (“The Steel refinds its voice”) and in No.23 (on the subject of the elections). We do not very well see what the criticism of the PCI is to which you refer in your letter on the subject of appeals to Stalinist workers. As you can see from La Voix we constantly appeal to these workers (as we do to Socialist party workers etc.) and not only on paper but we fight alongside them in the factory.
In reality we criticise the PCI for its essentially opportunist attitude with respect to the Stalinist leaders, which goes as far as covering up their crimes as for example in the assassination of our comrade Mathieu . We have got used to the idea that, given the present decadence of the workers’ movement, no-one is found to protest against such a crime but we did not expect that the first to keep silent and to fail to work for the discovery and denunciation of the murderers, might be precisely the leaders of the party that is the official representative of the 4th International.[*]
On the subject of the call for a PS-PC-CGT government we have sent to you no.54 of La Lutte de Classes which has an article on this.
We are unaware of the discussions within the International on the subject of the United Front with the Stalinists and the defence of the USSR.
On the question of the United Front with Stalinism we think that you have our concrete position in La Voix (we will undertake in future to send you our factory leaflets.) Similarly we cannot deal with the defence of the USSR in the abstract; you have in our material as well the successive position taken by our organisation both during and after the war.
As far as the nature of the USSR is concerned we are sufficiently “unfashionable” to think that only Trotsky’s analysis offers a scientific way of understanding “soviet” society and thus a political orientation.
One element in the question of the defence of the USSR that appears to us as decisive is that this defence depends on our forces and that if we are incapable of defending the working class we are not capable of defending the USSR either; the error then is to argue, not on the basis of organisational growth but in abstract terms.
In our practical politics you have seen that, above all, we attack American imperialism for provoking war and we denounce the crimes of Stalin and his methods. But we do not denounce the USSR as a provoker of war or as imperialist. It seems to us that the errors of those, who through their opportunism are grist to the revisionist mill, are due not to a wish to defend the USSR but to their powerlessness in the workers movement.
As far as the International is concerned we would be delighted to participate in the meeting of the International Congress. Bur after we were denied entry to the PCI we have had neither invitations nor preparatory documents. Since 1939 we have been completely ignored by the International organisation and the only relationships we have had have been admonitions to enter the PCI and to stop playing at being little boys etc...
Today the situation in France is favourable for the Revolutionary Party. The situation which has allowed us, a mere handful, to do the work that we have at Renault, exists in the majority of the working class. Only where we are not, there are reformists or others who have the upper hand, who group around them workers who are disgusted while the leaders of the PCI appeal in their paper for a correction in the CGT and a united front with these Stalinist gentlemen. In consequence their influence in the working class is zero and you have been able to see this after the result of the elections where the PCI in 5 constituencies has had a little more than 1,000 votes.
At any rate, however painful this conclusion may be, we for our part have now the moral certitude that in so far as the objective situation allows us to, we will carry on our work to a good end and have decided to go on no matter what happens.
We will try to keep you as up-to-date as possible about everything going on here and let us wish that your health allows you to follow it while waiting for the better days that we are certain will come.
Please accept dear comrade Sedova our affectionate greeting.
PS. Excuse this rambling letter but we have no time and we did not want to delay it.
[*] This refers to Mathieu Bucholz, who joined the group led by Barta when 19 years old in 1941. He was kidnapped and murdered, after being tortured, on the 11th September 1944 on the orders of leading Stalinists. (see Lutte de Classes, No.67, 18th September 1946.)
Coyoacan, 17 March 1948
Dear comrade Mathieu,
Yes I got your letter of the 6th November 1947. So it was not necessary to send me another copy. My long silence is due in part to the fact that I wished to wait for the projected publication of your theoretical journal La Lutte de Classes.
I get La Voix des Travailleurs regularly. Thank you very much. It gives me great pleasure to get it so quickly - it arrives in three or four days. La Voix des Travailleurs is very interesting in its revolutionary tone which is generally lacking in our publications. But I ask myself if its atmosphere is not too limited to trade union issues. I can understand the reason, you see it as part of an group of journals completed by Lutte de Classes You had the intention of publishing that but unfortunately, it seems to me, you have not succeeded in doing so. And that is why theoretical questions and general politics are lacking.
I remember one of your letters, written it seems to me, to comrade M.[**] You analyse his pamphlet Les Révolutionnaires devant la Russie (Revolutionaries In Face Of Russia). I have the impression of having seen this analysis in a number of Lutte de Classes. You share many of the points put forward by the author of that pamphlet.
Did you know that comrade M. was at present in Paris? I would like you to get know him. I think it would be easy for you to be in agreement with him. You told me in your letter about the impossibility of any understanding with Verité. But you have not explained to me all your points of differences. Instead of that you complain of the lack of all revolutionary character in their every action. This is quite true. For their lack of revolutionary understanding dictates all their actions, both theoretical and practical. In comrade M. you will find an enthusiastic ally. I recommend that you and, if you permit me, I insist that you meet comrade M. as soon as possible. You can write to him at this address, Sophie Gallienne, 3 rue Lecourbe, Paris XV.
Elena Villalobos Avenue Viena 19 - Coyoacan Mexico, D.F.
[**] Fernandez Grandizo, alias Munis (1912-1989). His pamphlet Les Révolutionnaires devant la Russie et le stalinisme mondial was published in 1946 by Editorial Revolucion, Mexico.
Paris 18th June 1948
First of all here is our situation in a few words. We have been forced to suspend publication of our journal because it has been impossible on the same basis. It had been conceived, above all, as a means of struggle and education for the working-class vanguard at Renault. We hoped, to start from there, on the basis of a growing working class movement to move other layers of workers. But our experience from January until the last number (No.47) has proved to us that the check of the November-December strike has put an end to such a perspective.
We came to the conclusion that we had to change the formula and we have decided to put out a bi-monthly journal, in a larger format and also to sell it in kiosks. It is the only way to reach new layers and not only working-class ones. Of course the content must change as well and will be much closer to the old La Lutte de Classes; but we must wait until after the holidays for we have a great need to take a little rest before taking on this new task; on the other hand we are at battle stations at Renault’s to get the union recognised. You know from La Voix that the Juge de Paix has declared that we should be allowed to stand but the management is taking no notice of the judgment and we have to fight on that ground. The elections of delegates are taking place on the 30th June and since we are not being allowed to put forward our candidates we have decided to act as if nothing had happened, to publish our list of candidates, carry out our publicity and ask workers to vote for us. Meanwhile the Juge de Paix has fixed the 23rd June for a judgment on the electoral contest decided by the management and other trade union bodies without our agreement. It is probable that we will win our case.
In any case the essential thing is that we fight on every front, that our comrades learn to fight with every means, that our links with the workers are strengthened and that our cadres increases much in numbers as quality.
What are our relationships with the minority groups in the PCI? We have made contact with the Gallienne faction and the result is more than deceptive. I think there is a misunderstanding in their desire to split with the PCI. These comrades see nothing to reproach the PCI as regards its “revolutionary direction” their only thought is that the “discussion” on the USSR should be totally decided. Although very small and without any working class base their first thought was not to acquire such a base. When we explained to them that we did not have enough resources to carry out trade union work, publish our paper and at the same time argue with the “vanguard”, (that is the fragments of little groups, the inglorious debris from this period of discussion circles,) they retorted that “after all they took account of the experience at Renault” but this work was less crucial, the most urgent being to “finish” with the little groups, to build a great party etc. But if that is their job why start by splitting from the PCI. But all evidence of a revolutionary sense is totally lacking when they propose to withdraw from working class activity at Renault where our comrades are waging an extremely hard struggle which is not only about the future of the movement but their own lives. We will do everything in our power to enlighten these comrades and try to work with them as much as possible; but we have no great hopes.
Dear comrade would it be possible for you to eventually contribute to a bi-monthly Voix with or without your signature. That would be a decisive help for us.
We would ask you to write to us about all these matters without restraint.
Accept dear comrade the warmest greetings from our organisation.
Paris, 29th June 1949
Dear comrade Sedova,
I have been meaning to write to you for a long time. But I was waiting for an official result to give weight to our claims.
Now it has happened. Through our mass work, propaganda and agitation in Renault, we have succeeded in getting recognition of our “representativeness” and our participation in the delegates (stewards) elections. We obtained an average of 1,300 votes and 7 delegates out of 132; this leaflet will tell you about it. What I would like to underline to you is that this does not represent a “What is left” of our influence from the May 1947 strike, but a new conquest, a penetration within the factory outside departments 16 and 18 (where we got about 325 votes.) To appreciate this result you must understand that it has been obtained in period marked by working class defeats, which, as always, even if they show how right revolutionary politics were, only benefit the bureaucrats.
We have now also got a base at Citroen.
To carry out this task we must not only conquer difficulties within the factory but also overcome the discouragement because of the growing decay of the “revolutionary” milieux. On this subject we must tell you that we thought comrade M. was like someone from another planet and that, not only have we not been able to work with him, but his stay here has not done anything to improve the situation.
As for our perspectives for the future, they would be brilliant if there could be a rapid qualitative growth of cadres. Given that we can only count on our own forces (it has not even been possible to meet comrade Rosmer a second time since the May strike, who, however, nonetheless seemed to approve of our work) we need time and, given the world situation, time presses. However, compared with the past, great progress is going to be made thanks to new situation in the trade union.
As far as Lutte de Classes is concerned it has not been possible for us to put out many issues. In reality we are only two writers who write with difficulty, and there are so many things that need to be done to keep an organisation going which is involved in daily struggle.
I would be glad to have your opinion on the article “Who will unify Europe” (the part about the USSR.) We never neglect theory because that has enabled us to go forward on a Trotskyist base (a revolutionary one). But to develop it there must be practical revolutionary action—and that is only possible on the basis of the “classical” theories—which brings new conclusions to a head, if not one inevitably falls into the dullest of revisionisms. We think that Trotsky’s analysis of the USSR (in particular the Revolution Betrayed) is a work where one can only find the equivalent by going back to Marx and Engels. An analysis of the USSR since 1940 is only possible on that foundation. We consider the USSR an “degenerated Workers state” whose negative traits outweigh their positive traits, something which the effects of Russian occupation of central Europe and the Balkans render concrete. Only a world revolutionary upsurge will be able to settle the question of the defence of the USSR in a definitive fashion.
Dear comrade on this occasion will you let us renew an expression of our lively recognition for all that your generation has done for the socialist revolution and you can be certain that your example will inspire us to hold on, cost what it may, until the very end.
Please accept dear comrade Sedova our fraternal salutations.