Léon Blum 1920

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920

Source: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art;
Proofed: by Zdravko Saveski;
HTML Mark-up: by Zdravko Saveski, 2010.

I ask the indulgence of the Congress for the thankless task with which my comrades have entrusted me. Before an assembly whose decision has already been made, whose will to join [the Third International] is firm and unshakable, I must defend a motion which concludes in a pure and simple refusal to join. And I must present the reasons which have led my friends and me to take this stance. You know the position in which we were placed. The second International Congress held in Moscow last July had the visible appearance of a sort of constituent assembly. (Uproar) My voice is naturally very weak. I am, moreover, very tired, like all of you, and it would be physically impossible for me to surmount, by the strength of my lungs, this tumult and these violent interruptions. The second International Congress at Moscow had, then, to all appearances, the character of a sort of constituent assembly. In all areas, the doctrinal as well as the tactical, it formulated a set of complementary resolutions. The whole set forms a sort of architectural structure, entirely patterned after a single design, in which every part is related to every other. It is impossible to deny the power and even the majesty of it. You are in the presence of a totality, of a doctrinal ensemble. Thus, the following question is posed: Do you or do you not accept this body of doctrine formulated by the Congress of the Communist International? And to accept – I hope there will be no divergence of opinion on this point – to accept means to accept with mind, heart, and will and with the intention of strictly conforming, in thought and action, to the new doctrine. Any other kind of adherence would be a comedy, unworthy of the Communist International and unworthy of the French party. You are in the presence of a totality. “There is not even room to quibble over this or that detail. It is a question of looking at the unifying theme, the central idea. It doesn’t much matter if your acceptance entails this or that reservation about a detail. There is no trickery or deception in that. But if you contest the doctrine in its essentials, you really have no right to accept with second thoughts or mental reservations, to say “I agree, but I only pay lip-service, with the conviction that this is nothing but a joke, and that tomorrow the party will continue to live and to act as it did yesterday.” We are all agreed in rejecting such an interpretation. (Applause) The Congress may believe this of us. With an effort at intellectual impartiality and honesty that no one here will deny, we faced the problem squarely and said to ourselves: “Studying the texts of the Communist International, its theses, its statutes” – and I will not dwell on the difficulties and really excessive slowness with which we were given each of the materials under discussion – “can we or can we not accept them?” For us to accept would really mean to accept in the strongest possible sense of the word. We had the duty of making that textual examination. ... What is the result? It is twofold. First of all (and I believe there will be no disagreement about this), we are in the presence of something new. Some have tried to prove the contrary, and perhaps will try again. I remember the meeting of the Federation of the Seine when I was responding to Frossard, who had made the most ingenious and clever effort to combine the communist theses with the traditional principles of the Socialist Party. I tried to show him that those theses reflected a force, a will to construct something new, differing entirely from the essential tenets of the traditional socialism we had until then known and practiced. I remember that the most qualified delegates of the Third International supported me. “It’s true,” they said. “That is what we think; that is what we want. It is a new socialism that we want to create in our country and in the whole proletarian world.” That is what Lenin and Trotsky have said. It is what you yourselves said when returning from Russia. For example, Cachin, in the last letter that he sent from Moscow, spoke of a break with the past. Trotsky, in the most recent document that the Communist Bulletin has published, said that it was a new party.

A DELEGATE: New, because it is after the war!

BLUM: Do not try to dispute it. You have the right to think that, to a world situation that appears entirely novel to you, there ought to correspond an entirely new conception of socialism.

That idea of novelty does not frighten us. I can say that we have made efforts, sometimes ignored or misunderstood by the Party, to bring our socialist doctrine up to date. After the war we made a serious and fruitful effort at revision and readaptation, and we did it together in the April 1919 program. But here it is not only a question of revision and readaptation. I am going to try to prove to you – it is the core of my argument – that this is a socialism new in every essential point: its conceptions of organization, of the relations between political and economic structure, of revolution, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a new socialism. In our opinion, it is based on ideas erroneous in themselves, and contrary to the basic and invariable principles of Marxist socialism. Furthermore, it is based on a sort of vast error of fact, which consists of generalizing to all international socialism certain ideas drawn from a local and particular experience, that of the Russian Revolution. It gives as a necessary and universal rule of action, for all international socialism, the experience of those who carried out and kept alive the Russian Revolution. This is what we think: novelty on the one hand, and error on the other; error of fact, error of doctrine. I will go over the points I have indicated and, for each one, I will show you how the statements made in our motion against joining the communist Third International can be justified. First, party organization. That organization born of the unity pact of 1905 and of the practice and experience of a decade (I don’t count the war years) – you know the essential principles on which it is based. A constitution having, above all, a popular character, in which, following the excellent formula of our statutes, the direction of our Party belongs to the Party itself. It is in the base of the Party itself, in the mass of militants and duespayers, that the Party’s collective will and thought are formed. That will and thought are transmitted from one level to another, from the Section to the Federation, from the Federation to the National Council, from the Council to the Congress.

A DELEGATE: And the parliamentary deputies?

BLUM: We will speak of them in their turn. I am not avoiding that question. The C.A.P. and the parliamentary group are the two permanent organizations of the Party, its executive organs. During the intervals between National Councils and Congresses, they are responsible for applying decisions made by all of our active members, during the meetings of their section. Consequently there is everywhere the life of the people, everywhere liberty, everywhere a free atmosphere, everywhere popular supervision, everywhere responsibility. Some people speak of bosses. There were no bosses at all in the Socialist party. Supervision was exercised or can be exercised over those so-called bosses. It used to depend – and it still depends – on the members to invoke the relevant statutory regulations. A strong supervisory control is organized by them and depends only on their initiative. But in fact, in this Constitution, those so-called bosses are nothing but interpreters, representatives charged to give voice or practical form to the collective will and thought created at the base of the Party in the mass of its members. That is what the Constitution of the Party said. The Party was a party of the largest possible recruitment, and for a simple reason – that, as Marx and Engels said in The Communist Manifesto (when speaking of the true Communist party, the Communist party of former times), socialism is not a party opposed to other parties. It is the entire working class. Its object is to assemble, by their common class interest, the workers of all countries. When someone tells us, “Socialism had a period of recruitment, followed by another period in which recruitment is no longer pursued,” that person controverts the essential idea of international socialism. Your vocation is to gather together all the proletarians of all countries. There is no other limit to the size of the Socialist party than the number of workers and wage-earners. Our Party was therefore a party with as large a recruitment as possible. As such, it was a party of freedom of thought, for the two ideas are necessarily related. If you want to group all workers, all wage-earners, all the exploited in a single party, you can only unite them around simple and general slogans. You will say to them: “All those who want to work to change the economic system, all those who believe (for this is the foundation of Marxism) that there is an ineluctable connection between the development of capitalism on the one hand and that of socialism on the other – all of you are socialists. If you are with us in this task, your act of faith is completed. You are socialists.” Within this credo, this essential affirmation, all varieties and shades of opinion are tolerated. ... Thus, when the Party set down in its statutes that freedom of discussion was to be complete, that the press was to be free, that was no vague democratic idea introduced into our socialist constitution. That was a rule drawn from the very essence of what the Socialist party ought to be. ... And the action of the Party? What form did it take? Popular education and public propaganda. The Socialist party, whose ultimate aspiration was to gather all workers under its flag, addressed itself to those workers by means of public recruitment and propaganda. It founded groups and opened them to all comers. It held meetings, ran electoral campaigns, and tried to influence the voters. That is what the Socialist party still is today, for a few hours more. What is the new party that you want to create going to be like? Instead of a popular will formed at the base and rising by degrees, your regimen of centralization involves the subordination of each organ to the one which is hierarchically above it. It entails an executive committee at the top to which everyone is subordinated, a sort of military chain of command whose orders are formulated at the top and transmitted from one rank to another down to the mere members in their sections. The autonomy of groups and federations? That, the theses will tell you, is a heresy pure and simple and must be excluded from communist organization. ... Alongside public organization, underground organization. I want to return here to a charge that has been made against us. An error of translation in the documents, a sort of mirror-imaging of the words legal and clandestine, has made a certain number of comrades believe that we, the adversaries of the Third International, were, by the same token, also adversaries of illegal action. Sembat replied to you yesterday on this point; I will not go back over it. There is not a single socialist who will let himself be imprisoned in legality. I said so in my electoral campaign, I will say so from the tribune of the Chamber at the first opportunity, I will say it everywhere it needs to be said. But legality is a thing ...

PAUL FAURE: I didn’t speak of illegal action, I spoke ... (Noise, tumult)

A DELEGATE: I protest against the intervention of Paul Faure. (Commotion)

BLUM: I say that there is not the slightest relationship between illegal action, about which we are all, I repeat, in agreement, and secret organization, about which we are far from being in agreement. That these two ideas do not coincide, is proven by the fact that the French Party currently recognizes the justifiability of illegal action and still does not recognize secret organization. What I want to show here is the organizational structure the communist theses are going to impose on you, on the one hand, subordination at all levels with an executive committee on top, and on the other hand, secret organizations.

A DELEGATE: Not necessarily. (Commotion)

BLUM: I won’t cite chapter and verse here, but you will do me the justice of assuming that I wouldn’t say anything that I couldn’t support with texts. I say that you are required, by the theses and the statutes, to organize secret committees, and that the executive committee of the Third International even reserves the right to impose its own creation directly upon you if you show some weakness or slowness in complying with that requirement. There is yet another thing that the theses indicate, though needlessly. When a public and a secret organ exist side by side, to which does the real authority belong? By necessity, to the secret one. That is inevitable, and the theses recognize this necessity. Paul Faure has read you the texts. ... how will these organizations be formed? After this Congress is over, after you have named your public executive committee, are you going to proceed to name your secret committee? (Exclamations) Are you going to put the designation of its members to a vote? Your hidden executive committee cannot, then, be born of the public deliberations of your Congress; it must have another origin. Its constitution must be given to you from outside. This means that in the party you want to make of us, the central power will belong to a secret committee designated – there is no other possible hypothesis – under the supervision of the executive committee of the International itself. The most important decisions in the life of the Party, by whom will they be made? By men whom you do not know. I analyse texts, and I try to present them in their mutual relationships and as an ensemble.

A DELEGATE: Yes, with incomplete quotations.

BLUM: I simply say: Given the organization whose existence we cannot deny – it results from the letter and spirit of all the texts – it is really quite extraordinary that some people should speak to us of tyranny in the present Party: tyranny of bosses, tyranny of elected parliamentary deputies. I don’t know what means the deputies employ today to exercise their tyranny, but at least you know who they are, and you can take their means away from them. From whore will you take them tomorrow? From anonymities, from unknown persons, from masks. Party unity – we told you yesterday in terms that I hope you will not forget – was until today a synthesizing unity, a harmonic unity, a kind of resultant of all the forces and tendencies coming together to determine the common axis of action. It is no longer that kind of unity that you seek, but rather uniformity, absolute homogeneity. You want in your party men ready, not merely to act together, but to make the commitment to think together. Your doctrine is fixed once and for all! Ne varietur! Whoever does not accept it does not enter your party; whoever no longer accepts it must leave. It is not from the viewpoint of particular persons that I wish to examine the question of exclusions! It matters little to me whether the dividing line is drawn here or there, whether this or that individual is retained. The texts have another importance. The goal is to constitute an entirely homogeneous party. That is logical, and it is that logic that I want to show you. From the texts were inferred all the propensities that you are now familiar with. In the Moscow debates we foresaw – and one couldn’t help foreseeing – the complete and radical purge of everything that has, up to the present, been the Socialist party. That is why we said: whoever will not accept the theses in their letter and their spirit will not enter the Communist party and the Third International. Whoever votes against joining and does not make his complete submission during the allowed period of delay, will be driven out of the Third International. That is why we foresee periodic purges; that is why proportional representation has been eliminated, and you are certainly right to get rid of proportional representation since it is not a kind of politics designed to give control of part of the government to this or that minority; it is the guarantee of freedom of thought within the Party. You are right to say that proportional representation no longer has any reason for existence! You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make. The trade union question proceeds from the same spirit of discipline and homogeneity, even to the detriment of numbers. (Interruption: No!) Let me finish my thought. I don’t want to go back over the history of the relations between trade unionism and socialism in France, although that would be interesting, I think, for many members. But let us leave that aside. We had arrived painfully, and after many hesitations, at a conception which, all in all, had satisfied everyone in practice: autonomy for the two organizations; common goals, but with different means; and the possibility of common action for specific purposes. In your conception of military homogeneity, and given your preoccupation with mobilizing the forces of attack for the destruction of capitalist society as quickly as possible, it was indispensable that you subject every working-class unit, syndicalist or political, to the same discipline. That is undeniably the spirit of the Moscow theses. You have expressed one reservation in your motion. In order not to make the task too difficult for your friends of the revolutionary syndicalist minority, you have come out against the direct, hierarchical connection of labor organizations to political organizations. You have informed us that that concession was only provisional. If you accept for the moment, until your work is more advanced, the relative autonomy of labor movements won over by your propaganda, you still have as of now the duty of affiliating those groups with the Labor International of Moscow which, incontestably, is nothing but a subsidiary, a branch of the Communist International itself. None of you can dispute it. (Interruption: That’s it exactly.) Since you recognize it, that’s enough for me. I will show you the consequence of your dominant idea of substituting for as large a group of free organizations as possible a lesser number of homogeneous groups (for one sacrifices numbers to homogeneity), tightly linked together and, in the final analysis, under the control of both the national central committee, and the executive committee of the Third International, to whose decisions you have all committed yourselves. That executive committee ... will have, in each country, its own bureau, subordinate to it alone. It will reserve to itself the right of constituting that secret organization that has been thrust upon you. You see, it is a kind of secret society, a sort of vast Carbonarism, something which is manifestly conceived on the model of those secret societies which, I recognize, have made revolutions in France, and must not be libeled. ... (interruption: Well, then!) I do not insult them; I recognize and remember them. Now comrades, why this organization which deprives us of one of the elements which, until now, seemed the essential element of all revolutionary organizations: numbers? Which sacrifices everything for discipline, homogeneity, and the speed of mobilization? For a very simple reason. This conception of organization corresponds exactly to the conception of revolution at the very heart of communism. As wearisome as such a theoretical argument may be, I ask your permission to go on with it a moment longer. A system of socialism is judged above all by its conception of revolution. I do not want to repeat here a statement that my friends and I have made so many times. We have had to drum it into people’s ears. However, I must protest one last time against the polemical device which consists of proving that the adversaries of the Third International are counterrevolutionaries and holding that the debate for or against joining the Third International is in reality the debate between the revolutionary and the reformist conceptions. Nothing could be further from the truth. ... Let me tell you that reformism, or, to speak more exactly, revisionism – I prefer that word – has ceased to exist either in French or international socialism since the Amsterdam Congress and the unity pact. The doctrine of the Party is a revolutionary doctrine. If that point eludes anyone, it is up to the members, to the Federations, to the Congress, to apply the sanctions that the regulations provide. But, for my part, I know in France, up to the present time, only one socialism, that which is defined by the statutes, mentioned on our cards, and which is a revolutionary socialism. I add that, insofar as I am concerned, there are not two species of socialism, one revolutionary and the other not. I recognize only one socialism, revolutionary socialism, since socialism is a movement of ideas and actions that leads to tile total transformation of the organization of property, and the revolution, by definition, is that transformation itself. Where, then, is the point of disagreement, the point of conflict between you and us? I am going to try to specify it. Revolution means, for traditional French socialism, the transformation of an economic regime based on private property into one based on collective or common property. That transformation is itself the revolution, regardless of the means employed to reach that end. Revolution means something more. It means that the passage from an order based on property to an essentially different economic regime will not be the result of a series of incremental reforms, of imperceptible modifications of capitalist society. The advance of the revolution is parallel to the evolution of capitalist society. The transformation will therefore necessarily be prepared by imperceptible modifications of capitalist society. But the revolutionary idea means, in our and all opinions, I think, this: that despite this parallelism, the passage from the condition of property to another condition will not be made by gradual modifications and continual evolution, but that at a given moment, when you come down to the essential question, to the rule of property itself, whatever the changes and ameliorations previously obtained, a rupture of continuity will be necessary, an absolute, categorical change. We mean still another thing by the word revolution: the break in continuity which is the start of the revolution itself has, as a necessary but insufficient condition, the conquest of political power. That is the very root of our doctrine. We socialists think that the revolutionary transformation of property can be accomplished only when we have conquered political power. If a delegate to a socialist Congress, having the required five years of membership in the Party, contests statements like those I have just made, there is no further discussion possible.

A DELEGATE: You would get rid of all ambiguity by saying that, to your mind, it’s not a matter of electoral conquest.

BLUM: I am asked to eliminate a point of misunderstanding. I’m going to do so. The conquest of political power, what does that mean? It means: taking control of the central authority, which is presently called the State, by any means, without legal or illegal means being excluded. That is the socialist idea.

THE PRESIDENT: Let Citizen Blum finish. Our comrade is tired. And it is very difficult to speak in this atmosphere.

BLUM: Neither international nor French socialism has ever limited the means that can be used to conquer political power. Lenin himself has admitted that in England political power could be conquered perfectly well by the ballot box. But there is no socialist, however moderate he may be, who has ever condemned himself to expecting political power to come only through an electoral success. On that point, there is no possible discussion. Our common slogan is the slogan of Guesde, that Bracke repeated to me a little while ago: By every means, including legal means. But that said, where does the point of divergence appear? It appears in the revolutionary conception that I have just described for you, which Jaurès, Vaillant, and Guesde have always had to defend against two different deviations, and which has always made its way with difficulty between deviations to the right and left. The right-wing deviation is precisely the reformism of which I just spoke. The basis of the reformist thesis is that if not the whole social transformation, at least the most important advantages that it will provide for the working class can be obtained without the previous conquest of political power. That is the essence of reformism. But there is a second error, which is, I am strongly obliged to say, at bottom anarchist. It consists in thinking that the conquest of political power is itself the final end, when it is in fact nothing but a means, that it is the goal, when it is nothing but the precondition, that it is the play, when it is nothing but the prologue. ... For when you reason in that way, what is the only positive, certain result that you have in view? The destruction of the present governmental apparatus. When you fasten upon the seizure of power as your purpose, without being sure that it can result in social transformation, the sole positive goal of your effort is the destruction of what is called the bourgeois apparatus of government. An error that is anarchist in its origins and which, in my opinion, is at the root of communist doctrine. I am making this argument now, not in order to embarrass some people or to serve others, but in order to bring the greatest possible clarity to the discussion of this group of doctrines which, for my own part, I have been studying for weeks with a mixture of scrupulousness and anxiety. Open your Party card. What has the object of the Socialist party been up until now? The transformation of the economic system. Open the statutes of the Communist International. Read the article in which the International defines its goal. What is it? The armed struggle against bourgeois power. I am going to make an effort to explain your own doctrine, an effort for which you ought to be grateful to me. I want to show to what, in the ideas of Lenin and the authors of the theses, the new revolutionary idea corresponds. It comes from the idea, deeply anchored in the minds of the authors and constantly repeated, that it is impossible, before the conquest of political power, to carry out propaganda and worker’s education effectively. Which means that the conquest of political power is not only, as we have always said, the condition of social transformation, but that it is the condition of the first efforts at organization and propaganda which ought later to lead to that transformation. Lenin thinks that, inasmuch as the domination of the capitalist class over the working class will not be broken except by violence, all efforts to bring together, educate, and organize the working class will necessarily remain futile. Thus the imperative summons to seize power immediately, as quickly as possible, since it is on the conquest of power that, not only your final efforts, but your initial efforts depend. But that position – pardon me for repeating this to those who have already heard it – I understand it when one is facing a proletariat like the Russian one and a country like Russia, where we hadn’t made any generally effective propaganda efforts prior to the seizure of power. One can then imagine that, before everything, one must overthrow the bourgeois power in order that propaganda even become possible. But is the situation the same in our western countries? I refuse to concede that until the conquest of political power (which you will no doubt accomplish tomorrow) everything you do will be wasted effort, and there will not have been any socialist propaganda in that country. I refuse to tell myself that all the work of the past has been worthless, and that everything remains to be done. No, much has been done, and you have no right to deny it to yourselves and to disavow those efforts today. Without getting lost in oratory, I want to carry out to the end the comparison between the two revolutionary conceptions: the one which sees in the transformation the end and in the conquest of political power the means; and that which, on the contrary, sees in the conquest of political power the end. Do you think that this has only a casuistic importance? That it divides only socialist professors with their mortarboards on? No, it is crucial in the sense that it leads to two absolutely different conceptions of organization and propaganda. If you think that the revolution consists in transformation, then everything, even in the midst of bourgeois society, can prepare for that transformation and becomes revolutionary work. If that is the revolution, the daily effort of propaganda carried on by every Party member is the revolution advancing a little each day. ... And even reforms, of which Sembat spoke yesterday in terms which should have united the assembly, if they serve to increase and to consolidate the influence of the working class on capitalist society, if they give the working class more impetus and courage, if they sharpen its militant ardor, then reforms, construed in that sense, are revolutionary. And it is only in that sense that we have defended them and that we wish to continue to defend them. But if, on the contrary, the only object is the promptest possible seizure of political power, then all that activity becomes in effect useless. When we discussed the electoral program two years ago, Loriot was already telling us: “I do not contest the value for socialism of reforms, in theory. But today, in fact, the situation is such, the revolutionary crisis is so close, that reforms ...” (Interruptions and noise) The Congress will understand that I can hardly follow a train of thought in the midst of such interruptions. ... If the crisis is so close, and if that crisis is the revolution, then, in effect, the only things that have revolutionary value are those which prepare, as quickly as possible, for the conquest of political power. One then understands your whole concept of organization, for it was formed with that end in view, fashioned so that no occasion would be lost, so that the attacking troops would always be well under control, ready to obey at the first signal, each unit transmitting below the order it received from above. I beg the Assembly’s pardon, but you will recognize that there is a certain logical coherence to my remarks. They comprise a unity within my thought. I ask that you do not make my task still more awkward by interruptions which necessarily force me to stray from the line I have traced for myself. This idea of the conquest of political power, where is it going to lead you? You know well, since numbers matter little to you, that you won’t win political power with your communist vanguards alone. To the theory of organization that I have analyzed, you therefore add the tactic of relying on the masses, borrowing from the old remembered Blanquist doctrine, for the line of descent is clear. You think that, taking advantage of favorable circumstances, you’ll be able to pull along behind your vanguards the noncommunist popular masses, who won’t understand the exact goal of the movement, but who will be kept in a state of sufficiently intense passion by your propaganda. That’s really your idea. What has Blanquism ever accomplished with that? Not much. In recent years, it hasn’t even succeeded in taking a firehouse on the Boulevard do la Villette. ... But it is the idea itself, without attempting to decide whether or not it can be realized in practice, it is the theoretical conception that I want to consider. This tactic of relying on masses lacking in class consciousness, led, in ignorance of what they are about, by the vanguards, this tactic of conquering political power by a mighty surprise blow – we cannot accept it. We believe that it will lead the proletariat into the most tragic disillusionments. We believe that, in the present state of capitalist society, it would be madness to count on unorganized masses. We know, in France, what unorganized masses are, whom they march behind one day and whom the next. We know that the unorganized masses sided first with Boulanger and then with Clemenceau. ... We think that all movements for the seizure of power that base themselves on instinctive passion, on the sheeplike violence of vast unorganized masses, have a very fragile foundation indeed and would be exposed to many dangerous reversals. We do not know with whom those masses you have captivated today would be tomorrow. We think that they have an almost singular lack of revolutionary stoicism. We think that on the first day material difficulties arise, the day when the meat or the milk arrives a little late, you perhaps won’t find in them the sustained stoical will to sacrifice that the kind of movements you envisage require for success. And those who marched behind you the day before will, perhaps, on that day be the first to drive you to the wall. No, it is not by means of unorganized masses trailing behind your communist vanguards that you’ll have a chance to seize power. You have an opportunity to seize power in this country: do you know how? By vast workers’ movements of an organized character, which suppose an education and abilities pushed as far as possible. You will not make a revolution with those who jump onto every bandwagon. You will make it with millions of organized workers, who know what they want, and how to get it, and are ready to accept the necessary suffering and sacrifices. Your doctrine which despises recruitment from the outset, which fragments the unions, as if they were too powerful, your party has failed even before it has had its adventure. I will show you now – for in my mind it’s all connected – how it is that out of our disagreement about organization and the conception of revolution arises our disagreement about the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. ... We are partisans of the dictatorship of the proletariat. There, too, there’s no disagreement in principle. We so much support it that we’ve even put the idea and theory of it into an electoral program. Thus we have fear neither of the word, nor of the thing. I add that, for my part, I do not think that the dictatorship of the proletariat must retain a democratic form – even though Marx and, more recently, Morris Ifilquist said so. I think it impossible, first of all, to conceive in advance precisely what form such a dictatorship would take, for the essence of a dictatorship is the elimination of all previous forms and all constitutional prescriptions. Dictatorship is an arbitrary power given to one or several men to take whatever measures a given situation demands. As a result, it is impossible, and also completely contradictory, to determine in advance what form the dictatorship of the proletariat will take. Where then is the disagreement? Neither is it over the issue of whether the dictatorship of the proletariat may be exercised by a Party. In fact, in Russia the dictatorship is exercised not by the soviets, but by the Communist party itself. We’ve always thought in France that the future dictatorship of the proletariat would be exercised by the groups of the Socialist party itself becoming, by virtue of a fiction which we all accept, the representative of the whole proletariat. The difference comes, as I have told you, from our divergence in opinion over organization and the conception of revolution. Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. ... Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. ... But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement. Then we say to you that your dictatorship is no longer a temporary dictatorship which will permit you to put the finishing touches on your society. It is a stable system of government, almost normal to your way of thinking, under whose shelter you want to carry out the whole project. That’s the Moscow system. Moscow doesn’t think that the conditions for a total revolutionary transformation have in the slightest been realized in Russia. It counts on the dictatorship of the proletariat to bring about a sort of forced maturation, independently of the country’s previous state of economic development. I repeat to you, the dictatorship of the proletariat is then no longer a kind of necessary expedient to which all movements for the seizure of power have recourse the day after they succeed. It is, to your way of thinking, a system of government created once and for all. So true is this that, for the first time in socialist history, you conceive of terrorism not merely as a last-ditch effort, not merely as an extreme measure for the public safety imposed on you by bourgeois resistance, not merely as a vital necessity for the revolution, but as a means of government.

A DELEGATE: Can you give us a single citation in support of what you’re saying?

BLUM: Before arriving at my conclusion, I would like to present you with one last observation, even though it doesn’t seem essential from the doctrinal point of view. I would like to say a few words about a question which we have voluntarily addressed in our motion: the question of national defense.

A DELEGATE: The Marseillaise, then.

BLUM: The motion of the Third International, to my great regret, is silent on this point, and it’s not mentioned very explicitly in the texts. I want to say a few very brief words on the subject, very clear and, if necessary, very harsh. What do those who wrote and those who will vote for this motion have in mind? We don’t deny that the establishment of international socialism in the world is the sole means of preventing war. We also don’t deny – I said so to Vaillant-Couturier, when telling him how much Raymond Lefebvre’s speech at Strasbourg had moved me – we also don’t deny that international socialism, having been taught the bloodiest of lessons, must today consider as its paramount and its life-and-death task, the choice and the preparation of all means for stopping future wars. But that said, we affirm that even under a capitalist regime, international duty and national duty can coexist in a socialist conscience.

A DELEGATE: On the condition that everyone has one.

BLUM: Cachin expressed himself on this matter this morning in a way that was, in my opinion, completely ambiguous. That ambiguity is also found in the response that he made to Trotsky and which appears in the documents published by the Party. Trotsky had asked him if henceforth, in the event of war, the French Socialist party would vote for or against war credits. Cachin dodged the question. He responded: “In the present state of things, the danger of war could come only from an imperialist French policy and, under those conditions, we would certainly refuse the credits.” It’s not a question of the present state of things. One dodges the question by sheltering oneself thus in an isolated bit of time and space. The question remains. ... Cachin’s response does not trouble or embarrass us in any way. None of us has ever said that the duty of national defense was absolute and unconditional. But we said that the refusal, the abstention from national defense, was also not an absolute and unconditional duty for socialists. Nevertheless you must state your views on this point, because a question like that shouldn’t be eluded with tricks or omissions. We don’t want to practice deceit in anything. In our motion, we have voluntarily posed the problem. We have affirmed something, and we affirm it still: there are circumstances when, even under a capitalist regime, the duty of national defense exists for socialists. I do not want to go into the heart of the matter.

A DELEGATE: fie explicit.

BLUM: No. I don’t want to struggle with a thought which is at bottom Tolstoyan or neo-Christian rather than socialist.

A DELEGATE: Give some hypothetical situations.

BLUM: It’s very simple: the situation of a clear aggression, the attack of whatever nation ... (Many movements, noise, shouts: Down with war! The delegates sing the International. Tumult)

THE PRESIDENT: Pressemane has the floor with the permission of comrade Blum.


BLUM: I have stayed a few minutes too long at the tribune. I thank you for the attention you have given me. The last words that I spoke elicited from you sentiments which, I hope, you will express in your motion, for it is still silent on that point. (Applause, cries, tumult) That said, I will hasten to conclude and to get down from the rostrum. On the questions of organization, of revolutionary conception, of the relations between political and trade union organization, on the questions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of national defense, I could also say on the sentimental residue of communist doctrine – on all these points, there is formal opposition and contradiction between what socialism has been until now and what communism will be in the future. It is no longer, as has been inaccurately stated, a question of discipline. Each of us is faced with a question of conscience at once individual and collective. Confronted with an entirely new situation, such as you have desired, one must look it in the face and say: I can, or I cannot. This must be said without holding anything back, without second thoughts, without evasion, without mental reservations, without anything that would be unworthy of either side. I ask you a very simple question. Do you believe that, if it had been possible for me to join the Communist International after your vote, I would have waited until your vote to do so? If I could have made myself do it tomorrow, do you think that I would not have done it yesterday? Do you believe that I wouldn’t have wished to save my Party from these weeks and months of discussions and controversy? If I had had a few objections about details, I would have kept them silent, hidden within myself. I would have tried to have this act, whose Solemnity we all feel, accomplished insofar as possible with unanimity among us. If I had been able to make myself do this, I repeat, I would have done it the first day, the moment Frossard and Cachin returned from Russia, the moment Frossard personally asked me to. I could not do it. Do you believe that a majority vote is going to change my conscience? Because so many voices have pronounced for and so many against, do you believe that my state of mind and heart vis-a-vis a problem like this one could be transformed? Do you believe that numbers have that virtue? Surely not! None of you can think so. There is only one thing that could change our decision – that the Communist International itself change; that we be presented with something other than what is offered us at present, something which is not opposed to what we have preserved and wish to preserve. I know very well that certain among you who are with us at heart enter the Communist International with the hidden motive of changing it from within, of transforming it once they have penetrated it. But I think that is pure illusion. You are faced with something too powerful, too coherent, too stable for you even to dream of modifying it. I also believe that that is not a very noble attitude. One enters, or one does not enter. One joins because one wants to, or one does not join. One joins or does not join because one’s ideas are in adherence or are not. Nor do I, I can say to you with Sembat, nor do I want to make an emotional scene. I have only been involved with the public life of the Party on two occasions separated by fifteen years. I entered its public life in 1904-5 to work for unity, and I returned to it in 1917, at a moment when that unity seemed threatened. I have returned now only for that reason. When it is suggested that we are motivated by envy, pride, jealousy, attachment to tradition, when such feelings are attributed to us in the face of such a formidable event which could have such immeasurable consequences, we are wronged in a way that is gratuitous and very unwarranted. Throughout this debate people have spoken again and again of bosses whose usurped authority must be destroyed once and for all. I don’t know if I am a boss in the Socialist party; it doesn’t make any difference to me. I know that I occupy a post which carries with it a responsibility. I have often thought of the old joke: “I am their leader, I have to follow them.” In a party like the Socialist party, that joke contains a great deal of truth and, personally, I have never denied it. I know that in a party with a large membership, popular in essence like ours is, the leaders are only loud voices to speak in the name of the mass, they are nothing but hands to act more directly in the name of the crowd. All the same, they have a right; they have a duty. They are the servants of the collective will. But they have the right to try to recognize and to interpret that will. They have the right to ask themselves if what they see before them is only a random flux of eddies straying towards the banks, or if it is the true, underlying current, slow and majestic, that flows down the river. And then they retain, despite everything, an individual conscience. And there are moments when they have the right and the duty to say to themselves: “Can I follow, or can I not?” That is where we have arrived today. A majority vote, I repeat, will not alter a cry of conscience so strong within us that it drowns out the concern for unity that has always been our guide. We are convinced that at this moment, there is a more urgent question than whether socialism will remain united or not. It is the question of whether socialism will survive or not. We are convinced, to the very depth of our being, that while you go running after adventure, someone must remain to guard the old house. It is the very life of socialism that we are profoundly aware of preserving at this moment with all our strength. And, since it is perhaps the last occasion for me to say it to you, I would like to ask from you something which is of grave importance in my eyes. Can we truly, both sides, make a supreme commitment to this? Tomorrow, we will be divided, perhaps, as men who understand the interests and duties of socialism differently. Or will we be divided as enemies? Are we going to pass our time in front of the bourgeoisie treating one another as traitors and renegades, madmen and criminals? Will we not give one another credit for acting in good faith? I ask: Is there anyone here who believes that I am not a socialist? In this hour, which is, for all of us, an hour of tragic anxiety, let us not add that to our sorrows and fears. Let us know how to abstain from words which wound and lacerate, from hurtful acts, from everything that would be fratricidal struggle. I say this to you because it is without doubt the last time I will address many of you and because it must, however, be said. Let all of us, though we are separated, remain socialists. Despite everything, let us remain brothers, brothers separated by a quarrel which is cruel but which is, nonetheless, a family quarrel, and whom a common hearth may some day reunite.