Tony Cliff

Trotsky: The darker the night the brighter the star

10. The French Trotskyists

TROTSKY’S FIRST attempt to organise his followers in the West was concentrated on France, where he had had a more influential following than elsewhere in the mid-1920s. At that time there were a number of separate groups that claimed adherence to the Opposition, with a number of former prominent leaders of the PCF who had been expelled. The groups were far from being homogeneous.

The most important leading member of the PCF who identified himself with Trotsky was Alfred Rosmer. He was a friend and co-worker of Trotsky’s during the First World War when the latter lived in France. Together they belonged to the Zimmerwald movement. Rosmer was a founder member of the PCF and later representative of the French party on the ECCI. He sided with Trotsky from the beginning of the latter’s struggle against Stalin. Rosmer and his close collaborator in the trade union movement, Pierre Monatte, were expelled from the PCF in December 1924. They continued to collaborate around the syndicalist magazine, La Révolution Prolétarienne.

Another person belonging to the Opposition in the mid-1920s was Boris Souvarine, a founding member of the PCF and editor of L’Humanité. He participated at the Thirteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (May 1924) as representative of the Central Committee of the PCF, and was the only foreign delegate to defend Trotsky against Stalinist slanders at the Congress. He was expelled from the party for supporting Trotsky, and founded a group around the publication Bulletin Communiste.

Another group in France which Trotsky now tried to pull towards the International Left Opposition was that of Albert Treint. Treint was a Zinovievist who, as general secretary of the PCF in 1924-5, implemented the ‘Bolshevisation’ of the party, and the persecution and expulsion of the Trotskyists. In 1927 he was himself expelled as a supporter of Zinoviev. His opposition group, Comité de redressement communiste, was shortlived. He collaborated with several organisations, including the Trotskyists, before he joined a syndicalist tendency.

Yet another early oppositionist who declared himself in solidarity with Trotsky was Maurice Paz, who headed a group called Contre le Courant. The magazine of this name published many of Trotsky’s articles, but drifted towards Social Democracy and pure syndicalism. Maurice Paz visited Trotsky in Turkey in 1929, but a few months later broke with the Left Opposition.

Trotsky’s efforts to bring together the Trotskyists, semi-Trotskyists and Zinovievists, and the circle of Révolution Prolétarienne, failed completely. Already on 16 April 1929 Rosmer warned Trotsky that these groups of generals without soldiers were largely made up of burnt-out and demoralised people: ‘The great misfortune of all these groups is that they find themselves outside all action; and this fatally accentuates their sectarian character.’ [1]

The French nucleus of the International Left Opposition gathered at first around La Vérité, which appeared for the first time on 15 August 1929. In April 1930 they formed themselves into the Ligue Communiste. According to Yvan Craipeau, an historian of French Trotskyism, the total membership of the Ligue at its foundation was 100. [2]

Trotsky had no illusions but that the going would be tough, and great patience would he needed. In August 1929 he wrote:

In France the Communist left is divided into different groups. This is due to the fact ... that the French Opposition has spent too much time on the preparatory stage before beginning political action among the workers. We must clearly state that should this situation persist, the Opposition would be threatened with becoming a sect, or, more precisely, several sects. [3]

On 11 August 1929 Trotsky wrote to the French Trotskyists:

The French Opposition has not up to the present time engaged in political work in the true sense of the word. As a consequence it has virtually remained in an embryonic condition. But it is impossible to long remain in such a condition with impunity. Right and left wings have crystallized within it almost without any connection with the struggle of the French proletariat, and therefore, not infrequently, along accidental lines. The fact that the French Opposition remained too long on the first stage of development has led to a proliferation of groups, each primarily concerned with its self-preservation. [4]

Among the Oppositionists

there are not a few elements willing to bear the title of the most extreme revolutionists so long as this does not impose upon them any serious obligations, i.e., so long as they are not obliged to sacrifice their time and money, submit to discipline, endanger their habits and their comforts ... Needless to say, such elements are ballast, and very dangerous ballast at that. They are one hundred percent prepared to adopt the most revolutionary program, but rabidly resist when it is necessary to take the first step toward its realization. [5]

These words of Trotsky are practically the same as the ones he used about the German Trotskyists whose organisation suffered from a dreadful social composition, minuscule size and poor quality.

Yvan Craipeau described the sorry situation of the Ligue Communiste:

... the organization was very weak. There were at most a hundred comrades throughout the country at the time of its founding conference. The League possessed very few provincial connections ... In general, they consisted of a few communist workers who had enjoyed considerable authority but now felt isolated. [6]

The most important members were those of the Paris region, which effectively ran the League. But it was precisely here that the weaknesses of the League were most evident. The Paris region contained a high proportion of intellectuals, of former communists now cut off from their base. This predominance of intellectuals is not surprising: for a rank and file worker discussions about the Anglo-Russian Committee or the Kuomintang appeared completely abstract. Their concerns were elsewhere.

Intellectuals would come and raise endless debates, which either had no connections with the real problems affecting workers, or which they would approach abstractly. The weakness of its antennae in the working class and of its lack of real accountability in workers’ struggles deeply affected the League. [7]

This lack of accountability in the working class also determined the nature of the crises in the organisation. Tendencies appeared and became fixed. This is a normal phenomenon in a democratic organisation. But debate became poisonous for several reasons: the abstract nature of a number of arguments, the impossibility of settling them through concrete experience and the tiny size of the organisation, in which personal antipathies and sympathies mingled constantly with political debate.

These crises often became splits – with the different splinter groups disappearing after a few months or at most after vegetating for a few years. [8]

These internal crises in the League absorbed an enormous amount of activity. They exercised a demoralising influence on the militants. The atmosphere at meetings in Paris was often unbreathable for a worker. [9]

One gains an even grimmer picture from Jean van Heijenoort, at the time a member of the Communist League, and later Trotsky’s secretary: in 1932 ‘we were so few; hardly twenty or so were really active.’ [10]

From reading Trotsky’s correspondence in 1933 it seems that the state of the French section did not improve at all over the previous four years. Thus, in an article entitled, It Is Time To Stop, published on 18 September 1933, Trotsky writes:

... almost from the very beginning of the existence of the French League, its inner life represented a series of crises that never reached the level of principles but distinguished themselves by extreme bitterness and poisoned the atmosphere of the organization, repelling serious workers despite their sympathy for the ideas of the Opposition.

He complained about the French League:

Lifeless, sectarian elements of the French League ... The coming out on a wider arena frightens them, as their whole psychology is adapted to an atmosphere of closed circles. [11]

In contradiction to this description of the distressing state of the French Trotskyists, one finds in others of Trotsky’s letters an extremely rosy picture of the state of affairs. ‘Thus, for instance, on 23 March 1930, Trotsky wrote in a letter to Trotskyists in the USSR:

In the West we are meeting with real success, especially in France and Italy ... The French Opposition is taking part more and more effectively in the activities of the CP, making a record for itself in them and making a criticism of them, thus gradually breaking down the wall between itself and the party. The Opposition has found support in the trade-union movement. [12]

One can understand the wish to encourage the Trotskyists in the USSR who found themselves in extremely harsh conditions in the prisons and places of exile. But what a symptom of desperation!

The real state of affairs of French Trotskyism is clear from the fact that in February 1934, at the time of the beginning of the massive rise of the working class struggle, the total membership of the Ligue Communiste was 150! [13]

The rise of mass revolutionary struggle

FOR MONTHS, indeed years, the Communist League called for a united front of workers’ organisations against fascism. Now, in July 1934, when the PCF and SFIO signed a formal united front pact, things did not become easier for the Trotskyists – but quite the contrary. Craipeau writes:

The Communist League already felt that it was in an impasse. Paradoxically, it was increasingly denied a future in so far as its slogans for action were put into practice.

Up till June or July 1934 its ideas gained ground. Its militants felt their influence grow in the mass organisations. The conspiracy of silence had lasted a long time. The League participated in many united front demonstrations with the Socialist Party, the PUP, the CGT and even with the Communist Party – in Paris, Lille, Montpellier and many other towns ... the Young Leninists [the Trotskyist youth] created the anti-fascist alliance of youth – with Socialist Youth, members of the PUP, anarchists and Communist Youth. Indeed on 29 July, when the Communist and Socialist Parties organised a joint demonstration against war at the Pantheon, in commemoration of the assassination of Jaurés, the Communist League was allowed to speak from the platform.

But the situation had already changed. The most pressing of the League’s slogans – the united front – had been put into practice. As the Trotskyists had predicted, that had brought about a renewal of confidence of the working class masses in themselves. However, far from opening the road to the masses for the Trotskyists, this situation did the opposite and shut it off completely. Indeed, the masses turned with total confidence to the two workers’ parties that had brought about unity of action. The leading militants focused their attention entirely on the united front; the Trotskyists seemed to them to he mere ‘wise guys’, outside the real struggle of the masses.

The consequences soon made themselves felt, even at the financial level. Life for the journal became more and difficult ... On 10 August 1934, for the first time since its launch, the headline across the whole page was: ‘Are you going to let La Vérité go under? ...’

After the intense effort and excitement which had lasted since February, the activists found themselves overcome by deep fatigue. The fact was that the Communist League had hardly developed, despite the correctness of its slogans (underlined by the volte-face of the Communist Party) and despite the much greater publicity for its ideas than it had received a short time before. Only the Young Leninists had seen their numbers grow in a few months. The fruition of the united front had become an obstacle to independent development. [14]

Similarly, Pierre Frank, one of the leading members of the French Trotskyists, many years later described the impact of the united front of the Communist and Socialist parties on the Trotskyist organisation:

At the very moment that our campaign for an SP-CP united front was to a certain extent successful, paradoxically enough the consequences of this victory were unfavourable for our organisation. All the sympathetic response we had met with, partly in the CP and much more in the SFIO, which had recruited a substantial number of workers, often former CP members – all this sympathetic response was lost to us ... Our meetings were no longer attended; our organisation became very much isolated, as it had been before. Inevitably, a crisis developed. [15]

Facing the isolation of the French Trotskyists, Trotsky came to the conclusion that a radical new direction was necessary in the tactics of the Communist League. In July 1934, in an article entitled The League Faced with a Decisive Turn, Trotsky posed the question as to how the League could participate in the united front.

If the League remains on the outside and concentrates its efforts upon criticism from without, it risks the danger of creating anger among the workers instead of attention ... In the unity of the ranks, the masses now see their only means of salvation. Everyone who remains outside the common ranks, everyone who criticizes from the sidelines, the masses look upon as an obstacle. Not to take this mighty and, at bottom, healthy mood of the masses into consideration, to work against it, that would be death ...

The League must take an organic place in the ranks of the united front. It is too weak to claim an independent place. That is as much to say that it must immediately take a place in one of the two parties that have negotiated the agreement. For us there is no principled difference between the two parties, or almost none. Practically, however, only the entry into the Social Democratic party is possible. [16]

Trotsky took it as ABC that his followers would enter openly with banner flying as an organisation with its own press:

There is no question of dissolving ourselves. We enter as the Bolshevik-Leninist faction, our organizational ties remain the same, our press continues to exist ...

And he went on to say:

There are two things necessary for the success of this step, that can, within a short period of time, completely transform the whole political constellation in the labor movement: organizational cohesion (through the steadfastness of each member) and promptness of implementation. [17]

Trotsky was very optimistic about the results of entry into the SFIO. Thus he wrote on 12 July 1934 to Yvan Craipeau:

The course of events ... does not leave us very much time, perhaps only a few months more. The situation can be saved only through a sharp and vigorous reorientation of the proletarian vanguard. If that perspective is achieved, we will he borne aloft by the radicalization of the Socialist workers, and within a few months we will reap the fruit of the work of the previous years. If on the contrary the French proletariat is doomed to catastrophe (which I choose not to believe), the total decomposition of its two great parties is inevitable, but the most courageous nucleus of the SFIO will remain with us in illegality if we enter its ranks today. [18]

In an article entitled The Way Out, written for La Vérité of August 1934, Trotsky describes the prospects of entry into the SFIO in glowing terms. This step would greatly strengthen the left wing. The Trotskyists

will constitute a powerful center of attraction for the revolutionary elements in the ‘Communist’ Party and will thus immeasurably facilitate the emergence of the proletariat on the road of revolution. [19]

Trotsky’s suggestion of entry into the SFIO met with strong opposition in the Communist League, especially among its youth. But little by little Trotsky won a majority. At a congress of the League on 29 August 1934 the vote was 66 for entry, 44 against; a similar resolution was passed by the youth organisation, the Young Leninists. [20]

In September the Trotskyists joined the SFIO, where they immediately established the Bolshevik-Leninist Group (GLB) as a faction with La Vérité as its paper. Pierre Naville, one of the most prominent members of the League, voted against entry, refused to abide by the conference decisions, and tried for a short time to speak publicly in the name of the dissolved League’s Central Committee. For this the new Central Committee voted to expel him. The youth group also joined the SFIO’s Young Socialists (JS), the SFIO youth affiliate. [21]

However, even among those who supported entry there were sharp differences about the perspectives. Craipeau writes:

The majority of the Youth (Craipeau, Rigal, Rousset) reckoned that the presence of the Trotskyists in the Socialist Party would only last a short time, that their task was to convince the revolutionary wing and together with it build the Marxist party needed to tackle the revolutionary crisis. From that they concluded that it was necessary to enter ‘with flags flying’, straight away exploiting all the possibilities that the liberalism of social-democracy presented before it put itself on guard against the revolutionaries. The adult ‘entrists’ (Molinier, Frank), on the other hand, thought that entry into the Socialist Party should be done quietly, if need he on an individual basis, each into their respective rank and file section. Theirs was a long-term perspective ...

The Bolshevik-Leninists reacted on the whole according to their inclinations and to the difference between the youth and the party, without bothering to concretise their perspectives and adapt their tactics to it. For example, the supporters of ‘individual entry’ neither explained nor justified their long-term perspective. If it was a question of remaining several years in the SFIO, there would have to be greater adaptation to the milieu. Appearing as a kind of independent army bivouacking on socialist hunting grounds would have to be given up. So too maybe would the complicated name of ‘Bolshevik-Leninists’, overly strange to the ears of militant socialists (in fact, the ‘Trotskyists’ in the Party were referred to by their mysterious initials: the BLs). For all that, these very comrades who used to bury themselves in leadership discussions with the groups on the left behaved in other respects in the SFIO like elephants in a display of china. [22]

These differences would bring about a major crisis among the Trotskyists less than a year after they joined the SFIO.

Trotsky, however, was very optimistic about the result of the ‘French turn’. On 15 December 1934 he wrote to all sections:

... the French comrades have won the 6,000-member Federation of the Seine to our program of action and ... our youth are in the leadership of the Seine Alliance with its 1,450 members. We do not wish to exaggerate the revolutionary weight of this success. There is more to do than we have succeeded in doing in the three-and-a-half months that have passed since our entry. But really one would have to be deaf and blind to fail to grasp the radical change in the activity of our French section and the enormous possibilities that have opened before it. [23]

Then again on 28 February 1935 Trotsky wrote:

I maintain that none of our sections has as yet had the opportunity to formulate its ideas so sharply and to bring them so directly before the masses as our French section has done since it became a tendency in the Socialist Party. And if one is able to observe, then one must come to the conclusion that the entire life of the Socialist as well as the Communist parties is now determined or at least influenced, directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, by the ideas and slogans of our small French section. [24]

On 12 August Trotsky again wrote:

From a propaganda group with some two hundred members, youth included, it has transformed itself into a revolutionary factor directly and indirectly exercising an influence upon the working class movement of the country. The situation has changed not only quantitatively but qualitatively. [25]

Alas, experience was to show that winning a vote in conferences of a reformist mass party is very different to winning real adherents.

As a matter of fact, during the year that the Trotskyists were inside the SFIO the total number of new members they won was 150. This was minuscule compared with the growth of the PCF, which rose from 42,000 in 1934 to 87,000 in 1935. In the Young Socialists the Bolshevik-Leninists made bigger gains. They co-operated in the left wing Revolutionary Socialist Youth (JSR) which dominated the Seine region. The Seine region of the Young Socialists began publishing a paper, Révolution, which claimed sales of 80,000 copies a month in August 1935, as against 30,000 for the official Young Socialist paper. [26] These figures, however, also give a very exaggerated impression of the number of youth actively involved with the paper Révolution. A realistic estimate of the size of the Seine Socialist Youth was given by Pierre Frank in a letter to Trotsky of 28 November 1935. It was not in the thousands, rather: ‘400-500 members participate in the activities of the Entente [the SFIO youth], of whom 150-200 are active members.’ [27] He added: ‘When we were looking at whether Révolution could be made a mass paper, I found out that there were 80 regular sellers.’ [28]

Once the Stalin-Laval agreement of May 1935 was signed, it was obvious that the time the SFIO leaders would tolerate the presence of Trotskyists inside the party was hound to he short. On 9-12 June 1935 the congress of the SFIO took place in Mulhouse. All the tendencies present at the congress, with the exception of the Bolshevik-Leninists, supported the Popular Front. Even the tendency of La Bataille (a heterogeneous group of people, some under the influence of the crypto-Stalinist Jean Zyromsky, others under that of the centrist Marceau Pivert) called for a ‘combative’ Popular Front. On the other side the Bolshevik-Leninists called for a general strike, for the arming of the people, for a united front of workers’ parties. The aim was the seizure of power from reaction and the bourgeoisie, for the construction of a workers’ and peasants’ government supported by democratic assemblies to carry out the wishes of the popular masses. [29]

On the face of it the Trotskyists had significant weight inside the party. The vote on the main political resolution was: supporting the Popular Front – 2,025; supporting Bataille Socialiste – 777; supporting the GBL – 105. The GBL won one seat on the SFIO’s National Administrative Committee. The French Trotskyists, as well as Trotsky, drew from this an exaggerated estimate of the real strength of the Trotskyists in the SFIO. In retrospect Yvan Craipeau could correctly state: ‘The relative success [of the Trotskyists] achieved at the congress was only “parliamentary”. Their efforts to recruit workers in the local branches proved hardly successful. The only serious achievement was in the Seine region.’ [30]

Among the youth the Trotskyists were more successful. At the national congress of the Young Socialists held in Lille, 28-29 July 1935, the Left represented a quarter of all delegates. It was even stronger in the Seine federation of Young Socialists where it received three quarters of the votes. However, the Seine was isolated; only a very few federations were touched by Trotskyist propaganda. Even the delegates of the Left in the Lille congress were not ready to carry the struggle to the end. [31] In addition Yvan Craipeau, one of its leaders argues many of the Young Socialists were really paper members. Officially the Young Socialists had 11,000 members. Only a small minority of them were working class, except for certain regions such as Nord and Pas-de-Calais, which were by far the most right wing. [32]

The Lille congress decided to dissolve the GBL as a tendency and to expel 13 of the leaders of the Left (of whom eight were Bolshevik-Leninists); the vote was 3,667 for, 1,534 against and 331 abstentions. [33]

On 28 August 1935 the SFIO’s Permanent Administrative Commission (CAP) met and voted to outlaw La Vérité and ban party members from distributing this paper. It also asked the next National Council of the Party to take disciplinary measures against the publishers of the paper, who were guilty of ‘outrageous attacks on fine Party comrades’, and of associating themselves ‘with an attempt to create a Fourth International’. [34]

Witnessing the increasing collaboration between the SFIO and the PCF leaderships, Trotsky came to the conclusion, even prior to the Mulhouse congress, that the days of toleration of Trotskyists inside the SFIO were coming to an end. In an article entitled A New Turn is Necessary, written on 10 June 1935, he argued for a shift away from the SFIO towards the construction of a new revolutionary party. He was very optimistic regarding the prospects:

The correctness of our entry into the SFIO is now proved by objective facts. Our section, thanks to the entry, has changed from a propaganda group into a revolutionary factor of the first order ... We are obviously entering a new period. Two events determine it: the development of our section in France and the definite turn of the Comintern ... The decisive betrayal of Stalin and his Comintern crew opens to us great possibilities not only within the Comintern but also within all the working-class organizations, especially in the trade unions. Up to quite recently, every stage of the radicalisation of the masses implied inevitably a new flow towards the Stalinists. This was precisely the cause for our isolation and for our weakness. Going to the left meant going to Moscow, and we were looked upon as an obstacle on this road. Today, Moscow has taken on an aspect which means the obligation to support the imperialism of France, Czechoslovakia, etc. ...

The masses have not had the necessary time to assimilate the Stalinist betrayal, even in its most general aspect. Yesterday’s inertia is still in effect, but Stalinism today is corroding on all sides. It must fall to pieces. Tomorrow or the day after we will appear to the masses as the only revolutionary possibility. [35]

On 21 November 1935 Trotsky wrote a letter to the Political Bureau of the GBL entitled Take to the Open Sea.

To make concessions of principle to the reformist bureaucracy or to the narrow-minded Pivertists would only mean undermining our own future ...

Are there comrades among you who wish at all costs to remain cooped up in the SFIO? Doesn’t the example of the youth show that remaining tied to the SFIO constitutes more of an obstacle than a springboard? If someone among you says, ‘Outside the SFIO we will be isolated, we will sink into futility, etc. ... ’, we should answer, ‘Dear friend, your nerves are shot; take a four-week vacation, and then we’ll see!’ And at the same time we must engrave on our memory the attitude of these comrades in this moment of crisis: we will know more formidable crises in the future, and the same faint-heartedness can recur on a much vaster scale. [36]

The entry of the Bolshevik-Leninists into the SFIO thus came to an end, but not without difficulty. As Trotsky explained on 16 December 1935, if entry were not seen as a short-term tactic it must lead to opportunism.

... what ... was the meaning of our entering the SFIO, some sophists or naive persons will object? The temporary entry into the SFIO ... is not an evil in itself; however, it is necessary to know not only how to enter, but also how to leave. When you continue to hang onto an organisation that can no longer tolerate proletarian revolutionaries in its midst, you become of necessity the wretched tool of reformism, patriotism, and capitalism. [37]

But Trotsky’s views were not shared by many of his French followers. This, for example, is what one of the BL leaders of the Seine, Rigal, wrote in La Vérité the very day after the expulsions:

We must guard against any rash action: several of them [Socialist Youth], even entire federations, are talking about resignation, about regrouping independently. No, comrades! More than ever we cry: long live the revolutionary unity of socialist youth! More than ever we say: down with any criminal split in the workers’ movement! Splitting is not what we wish. We demand the reinstatement of the thirteen expelled comrades.

Craipeau comments:

This was the official line of the BLs. It was firmly held to in the Seine where there was unity around the revolutionary leadership. But across the rest of the country it was to sow the most disastrous illusions. Indeed, the provinces, left to their own devices, did not go beyond wishes for reinstatement. [Illusions had been sown that reinstatement might be possible] ... [38]

This equivocal policy had catastrophic consequences, above all in the provinces. The expulsions had taken place in July 1935; in January 1936 the Paris groups had still to break with the SFIO. In the Seine-et-Oise, most of the groups had shown sympathy with the expelled comrades, but had remained with social-democracy, with the exception of a few. In January 1936 the Socialist Youth of the Paris region broke officially with the SFIO and set up the Revolutionary Socialist Youth. [39]

In November La Vérité was still focusing on preparing sections for the Seine federal SFIO conference. The following week the national committee expelled the BLs. But at the end of December the BLs elected to the federal Executive Committee ... calmly continued to take their seats. Some were still there in January. [40]

The tardiness of the Trotskyist leadership’s reaction to the expulsions from the SFIO is described as follows by Erwin Wolf, a member of the International Secretariat:

Instead of the alarm being sounded to all revolutionaries, with a special of La Vérité, no paper came out for an entire four weeks – so as not to ‘provoke’ the enemies. La Vérité appeared only at the end of September, Révolution at the beginning of October. Instead of going on the offensive, they retreated. [41]

The first issue of La Vérité published after the decision of the SFIO leadership to expel the 13 was exclusively devoted to ... the peasant question!

Among the strongest opponents of Trotsky’s call for leaving the SFIO were Pierre Frank and Raymond Molinier, who had so vehemently opposed entry to start with. After Mulhouse Pierre Frank wrote in the GBL’s June internal bulletin that it would be ‘criminal’ to think of leaving the SFIO. Of the Lille expulsions, which he called a ‘provocation aimed at running us out of the SFIO’, Frank wrote: ‘On the whole, that changes nothing in the perspective.’ [42] It was the same Pierre Frank who in August 1934 had declared: ‘Decide what you wish, but as for me, I will not enter the SFIO.’ [43]

Finding it difficult to build a strong revolutionary organisation, Molinier and Frank now looked for a new short cut – the production of a mass popular paper. This organ would not be published in the name of the Bolshevik-Leninists, but in the name of new bodies – the Revolutionary Action Groups – based on a minimum programme and with no obligation on its members to leave the SFIO. [44]

Molinier tried for several months to get GBL authorisation for the projected paper and indeed did so partially, at least for a time, as the Central Committee majority wavered back and forth. But he never got the complete authorization he needed to determine the character of the paper. Finally, in November, his patience ran out and he decided to go ahead and present the GBL with an accomplished fact. On 20 November he began, with his friends in and out of the GBL, to make all the practical preparations for the publication of a new paper. At a meeting of the Central Committee on November 23 he announced to its startled members that a mass paper named La Commune was to appear the following week. To show that he meant business he displayed printed copies of a Commune poster, handbill and a list of sponsors of the paper. He also proposed a motion that the Central Committee support La Commune as ‘the mass paper for the creation of the Revolutionary Action Groups [1*] (GARs) and communes’, to be controlled by the GBL. The motion was defeated 10-8, with 1 abstention. [45] This resolution did not stop Molinier from going ahead with publishing his new paper in December.

Molinier and his group threw all their energies and resources behind the GARs, but early on it became clear that they consisted of little more than members of the Molinier tendency in the GBL and their sympathisers. The first number of La Commune went on sale on 6 December at which point Molinier was suspended from the Central Committee and the GBL split. [46] The La Commune group attracted half the Bolshevik-Leninists and a significant minority of the youth. The Revolutionary Socialist Youth, the youth section of the Trotskyists, was very much weakened by this split. To start with, it was actually a Parisian organisation, and with the split many of its members simply left the Trotskyist movement altogether. [47]

The existence of two Trotskyist groups hostile to each other, with two competing weeklies, did massive damage to Trotskyism. ‘The workers did not understand the quarrels. Finally they remained in the Socialist Party or returned to it’, Craipeau writes. [48]

All the squabbling of the French Bolshevik-Leninists could not but depress Trotsky, in spite of his strong will and strong nerves. So, on 27 December 1935 he asked the International Secretariat for a month’s leave of absence. He wrote to his son Sedov.

It is absolutely necessary that I should get at least four weeks’ leave and should not be approached with any letters from the sections ... Otherwise it will he impossible for me to recover my capacity for work. These disgusting trivia not only rob me of my ability to cope with more serious affairs, but give me insomnia, fever, etc. ... I request you to be quite ruthless about this. Then I may perhaps be at your disposal again, say, by February 1. [49]

‘These disgusting trivia’!

What was the balance sheet of the Trotskyists’ entry into the SFIO?

In an article entitled Lessons of the SFIO Entry, written on 30 December 1935, Trotsky wrote:

The first seven or eight months of the Bolshevik-Leninist activity within the SFIO was their best period. For the first time, they were able to present their analysis and their slogans before a larger audience, test their Marxist superiority over their opponents, and at the same time recognize their own tactical and organizational deficiencies and eliminate them by making changes in their practice. The culminating point was the Mulhouse congress (June 1935). For the youth, this period of ‘prosperity’ lasted much longer and gave much greater results.

But when the Bolshevik-Leninists were faced with expulsion from the SFIO, many of its leaders caught fright, refusing to grasp that the slogan must be:

... Relentless revolutionary offensive against the apparatuses of treason, under the banner of the Fourth International.

If this political line, the only correct one, had been applied six months ago without hesitation, consistently and courageously, the French section would be in an incomparably better position today than it now is. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It was precisely at this time that the opportunist group around R Molinier gained a thoroughly pernicious influence: leaning on the psychological inertia of the first period already past, advocating and explaining adaptation and concessions, and sliding more and more toward the right, it finally openly betrayed. Only at this point did the majority of the group pull itself together ...

We are now at the end of this second period. It still is not possible to draw up an exact balance sheet. But one thing can he said with absolute certainty: In spite of the two splits, both at the time of the entry and the time of the exit, as well as big mistakes and hesitations, the group did conclude the SFIO chapter with a large and incontestable gain. The group has increased in size; it has a significant youth organization; it learned how to produce a mass weekly paper; and what is perhaps still more important, it has acquired precious practical experience.

Comrades can draw important lessons from the French experience:

Entry into a reformist centrist party in itself does not include a long perspective. It is only a stage which, under certain conditions, can be limited to an episode. [50]

A different, probably more realistic balance sheet of the entry experience was given many years after the event by Pierre Frank.

... our exit from the SFIO while the Popular Front was being organised took place under very unfortunate circumstances, and the split among the Bolshevik-Leninists occurring at that time caused us to lose part of the benefits obtained from our entry. [51],

To complete the picture it should be noted that the influence of the Trotskyists was even less impressive than the number of members would suggest. This can be gauged from their impact during the general elections of 26 April and 3 May 1936. Craipeau writes:

The general election results had indeed been disappointing. The Bolshevik-Leninist Group had held some 80 meetings but had obtained only a few hundred votes, between 20 and 50 in each constituency; only Fred Zeller had got 170 votes at Saint Denis. The [Molinierist] PCI’s electoral results were of the same order, despite greater resources: 70 to 80 votes. Only in the second round had it gained a relative success at Puteaux (600 votes) and in the 18th District of Paris (180 votes). [52]

The Trotskyists during the June ’36 days

TROTSKY, AS we have mentioned, wrote an article on 9 June entitled The French Revolution has Begun!

How did the French Trotskyists measure up to the situation?

On 31 May the two Trotskyist organisations met and decided to merge as the International Workers’ Party (POI). It was reported that the delegates represented 615 members. But differences remained unsettled – even undiscussed – so that solutions were postponed to a congress announced for 15 August.

The unification was doomed from the start, given the attitudes on both sides. Political differences, small or large, were obscured or submerged by organisational gripes and suspicions. The Central Committee majority acted as if it did not expect the unification to last and was only going through the motions before the minority inevitably stepped out of line. [53]

A few weeks later the Molinierists announced their boycott of the next CC meeting. Trotsky called for the expulsion of Molinier from the POI and the world movement. The Molinierists split from the POI and constituted themselves into The International Communist Party, resuming publication of La Commune. [54]

The split in the POI led to a decline in its membership. The report of the credentials committee of its first congress (October 1936) disclosed a 23 percent drop in membership since 1 June, that is, during the four month period that witnessed the most massive workers’ upsurge in French history. [55] By contrast, during the five months of June to October 1936 the membership of the PCF grew from 141,000 to 278,000! The factional fighting among the Trotskyists, carrying on during the most exciting days of 1936, exposed their impotence. Craipeau writes:

In such an atmosphere, the Party was far from being able to push all its forces into battle. It did not even manage to get together all those with responsibilities for tasks in the struggles. Its worker delegates did more or less what came into their heads. In their workplaces they were not known as Trotskyists. The POI therefore made very little impact. With one or two exceptions, it drew no practical benefits from the events. [56]

In one way the tragedy of Trotskyism in France was even more shattering than in Germany. In the case of Germany, the efforts of Trotsky to build an organisation took place in a period of continuous defeat of the working class-1929-1933. Thus Trotsky could write on 15 July 1933:

... how explain the fact that our grouping, whose analysis and prognosis has been verified by the entire course of events, is growing so slowly? The cause must he looked for in the general course of the class struggle. The victory of fascism seizes tens of millions. Political prognoses are accessible only to thousands or tens of thousands who, moreover, feel the pressure of millions. A revolutionary tendency cannot score stormy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats. [57]

Yet now in France the stagnation of the Trotskyist movement took place in the midst of the most enormous upsurge of working class struggle, with millions involved in strikes, in demonstrations and factory occupations – in fact in a pre-revolutionary period.

The assumption that a revolutionary party is hound to grow in a period of revolutionary advance by the working class is mechanical determinism. Green shoots do grow in fertile soil. But if the shoots are weak, they can still wither before maturing. The first Trotskyists in France were the children of long isolation and defeats; and the mighty Stalinist apparatus, waving the banner of the October revolution, managed to rally the masses, and isolate and persecute the Trotskyists. The past lay like a heavy stone on the weak shoots of Trotskyism.

Footnote to the ‘French Turn’

WHEN THE attempt to create an international regrouping out of the August 1933 Paris conference had failed, Trotsky had adopted a new tactic to increase the Trotskyist International Communist League’s size and influence. This had been the so-called ‘French turn’. The idea was to get ICL sections to join Social-Democratic parties which were then experiencing a revival and radicalisation largely in response to the victory of fascism in Germany and Austria. In a number of countries the Trotskyists entered the Social Democratic parties, but the results were not impressive.

The most celebrated example was the United States. On 24 January 1936 Trotsky wrote to the leading American Trotskyists, James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman, arguing the case for entry into the Socialist Party, and he repeated the argument in a number of letters and articles. At its national conference held on 29 February-1 March, the American Trotskyist organisation, the Workers’ Party of the United States (WPUS), decided to enter the Socialist Party. Without any public announcement members immediately began joining the Socialist Party branches in various cities. As a result the WPUS was formally dissolved in June.

Before the entry, the WPUS had 700 members. [58] However, the decision to enter the Socialist Party caused the split of a number of prominent members who opposed it, among them A.J. Muste and Hugo Oehler. On joining the Socialist Party, the Militant newspaper and New International, the theoretical journal of the Trotskyists, suspended publication.

In the year or so that the Trotskyists were inside the Socialist Party they practically doubled their membership and took control of the Socialist Party youth movement, the Young People’s Socialist League. The Trotskyists won a significant group of activists in the United Auto Workers and in the maritime unions in California. [59]

This gain, however, was counterposed by the curbs they experienced due to being in the Socialist Party. They came under attack from its leadership and were diverted from struggles in what turned out to be the crucial year of the mass unionisation movement around the Congress of Industrial Organisations (CIO). Milton Fisk, in a pamphlet entitled Socialism from Below in the United States quite rightly says:

... the 1936-37 period was the hey-day of CIO organizing. By curbing their mass work, the Trotskyists were on the sidelines of the biggest upsurge in 20th century US labor. They adapted themselves to the SP leaders and missed the opportunity of the CIO, which the CP used to become an important influence in labor. [60]

Trotsky himself recognised that he had overestimated the possibilities. Writing on 6 October 1937, he said:

I personally believed the SP was stronger than it was in reality: I believed it had 20,000 members, but it was weaker. I believe we committed some tactical mistakes during our sojourn: we made some unnecessary concessions, such as giving up the Socialist Appeal and the practical mistake of giving up the printing press, possibly connected with a long-term perspective, but on the whole we gained ... [61]

As a matter of fact, the social composition of the Trotskyists worsened. Far less workers belonged to it after entry than before. But even in terms of the gain in numbers the achievement was not very stable. In August 1937 the Trotskyists were expelled from the Socialist Party. Their membership had risen to 1,520 in 1938, but it then dropped to 1,095 in 1940 – on the eve of a split between Cannon and Shachtman. The Shachtmanite minority then pulled about 40 percent of the party with it, as well as virtually the entire youth group. In 1942 Cannon’s Socialist Workers’ Party was established with 645 members, while Shachtman’s Workers’ Party was a couple of hundred smaller. [62] Thus Cannon’s SWP was marginally smaller than the WPUS had been on the eve of its entry into the Socialist Party.

In Belgium the entry into the Social Democratic Party was more successful. To start with the Trotskyists were more successful in building an organisation, the main reason being the relative weakness of the Communist Party. This weakness showed itself, for instance, in the general elections of 1929, when the Communist Party won only 1.94 percent of the total votes. [63]

On 27 November 1927 the Central Committee of the Belgian Communist Party voted by 15 to 13 to demand that the ECCI retract the expulsions and suspensions of the Left Opposition leaders of the Soviet Union, and convene a world congress immediately to judge the issues. After a couple of months of discussion on the substantial issue of Trotsky’s policy versus that of Stalin, the Central Committee split down the middle, 13 votes to 13. At the following congress of the party, in March 1928, 34 delegates supported the Opposition, and 74 supported the Stalinists. Among the supporters of Trotsky was E. Van Overstraeten, the founder of the party, its first and only MP, and at the time its general secretary. [64]

The Trotskyist organisation started two weekly papers, one in French, one in Flemish. The first had a circulation of some 3,000, the second of 1,700. [65]

Alas, the curse of factionalism quickly ate into the organisation. As a result the number of members coming to meetings in Brussels, for example, very quickly declined from around 40-50 to around 20. [66] Only two branches had substantial numbers of workers: in Antwerp, dockworkers; in Charleroi, miners.

Because of the weakness of the Communist Party in Belgium (as well as in the United States) in 1929 Trotsky believed that the Trotskyists could work as an independent organisation and not as a faction of the Communist Party. [67] However, in 1930 he changed his mind, coming to the conclusion that he had exaggerated the strength of the Trotskyist organisation in Belgium.

As a result of the weakness and relative isolation of the Trotskyist organisation, splits started appearing within it .At the beginning of 1930 a group of Brussels supporters decided to leave and form the Marx-Engels Circle, aiming at ‘clarification and deepening of knowledge of Marxist theory, without which agitation can have no sense.’ [68] This group proved futile and disappeared.

A more serious split took place in October 1930 when the Charleroi organisation broke away. The reason was disagreement with Overstraeten and his supporters over whether to support the USSR or China in their conflict over control of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, the attitude to the Soviet Union in general, trade union policy and the question of ‘faction or party’. On all these issues the Charleroi federation stood solidly with Trotsky and against Overstraeten. [69]

Overstraeten remained with a small group calling itself the League of Communist Internationalists, which continued to exist for a short while. Eventually Overstraeten withdrew from politics before it expired.

The Charleroi group now called itself Opposition Communiste de Gauche (OCG). To start with its total membership was 35. The circulation of its monthly, La Voix Communiste, was between 600 and 700. [70] However, things improved radically for the OCG when, in July-August 1932, a widespread unofficial miners’ strike broke out. Despite its small size the OCG still played a significant role in the strike. The circulation of La Voix Communiste shot up to 5,000, and even after the end of the strike, it kept to 2,000. The membership doubled, to 80. [71] However, outside Charleroi the Trotskyists had no success at all.

When the ‘French turn’ was announced, Trotsky made it clear in a letter of 1 November 1934 to the International Secretariat and the leadership of the Belgian section, that he believed it necessary for the Trotskyist youth immediately to join the Socialist Party youth, the Young Socialist Guard. Trotsky showed an even greater enthusiasm for entry in Belgium than in France. He wrote:

The SFIO is, in a certain sense, a petty-bourgeois organization not only because of its dominant tendency but also because of its social composition: the liberal professions, municipal functionaries, labor aristocracy, teachers, white-collar workers, etc. This fact naturally limits the possibilities created by the entry itself. The POB [Belgian Labour Party], on the other hand, embraces the working class, and the composition of the JGS [Young Socialist Guard] is proletarian in its overwhelming majority. That means that adherence to the JGS would open up even more favourable opportunities for us. [72]

A month after this letter was sent, the Trotskyist youth – the Young Leninists – joined the JGS.

When it came to joining the adult party, the POB, Trotsky had second thoughts and expressed reservations because of changes that had recently taken place in the political situation. The leaders of the POB had just entered into a coalition government of ‘national unity’ with capitalist parties. In addition the Trotskyists had to accept draconian political conditions and harsh vetting before they were allowed to join. A few of them, like Léon Lesoil, of Charleroi, one of the most important leaders, were not accepted, and in addition they had to give up their paper. In a letter to the Charleroi Federation, Trotsky wrote that he was inclined to think the Belgian comrades should wait for clearer, more positive results from the entry of the youth and the League in France, in order to carry out entry with the minimum of losses. ‘The need to give up La Voix in order to enter the POB seems to me to be a dangerous symptom’. [73]

At the beginning there was quite substantial opposition to entry in Belgium. A referendum among the members resulted in a vote of 55 against, 44 for and 5 abstentions. [74] But after further discussion the supporters of entry won the day. In March 1935 the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists, at a national conference, decided to enter the POB. Although Trotsky had questioned entering the POB, once the Belgian comrades decided to do it he supported them. A minority led by George Vereeken who opposed entry, split away.

The entry was quite successful, especially among the youth. The left of the POB – L’Action Socialiste – now split into two groups: one moved towards the Stalinists, the other toward the Trotskyists. The latter changed its name into Action Socialiste Révolutionnaire. Its paper had a circulation of some 5,000. [75]

Shortly afterwards the ASR were expelled from the POB (in April 1936). Its leader, Walter Dauge, stood as a parliamentary candidate in the Borinage, and got 7,050 votes (or 8.45 percent of the total vote); in Charleroi another ASR candidate won 2,082 votes, or 1.52 per cent of the total vote. [76]

The strike wave of 1935-36 gave further wind to the sails of Belgian Trotskyism. In October the ASR fused with the Trotskyist organisation to create the Parti Socialiste Revolutionnaire The beneficial impact of the entry tactic in Belgium was shown by membership figures. While the total in November 1934 was about one hundred [77], in September 1938 it was 800. [78] [2*]

In a number of Latin American countries too the Trotskyists joined the social democratic parties, but with very little success. Robert J Alexander in his book, Trotskyism in Latin America, writes about Argentina:

The new Liga Comunista Internacionalista, Sección Argentina, lasted little more than two years ...

Early in 1937, faced with the disintegration of their own organization, the Trotskyists split over the issue of whether they should follow the line which Leon Trotsky had generally recommended to his followers – to enter the Socialist parties and attempt to bore from within them. One group of Argentine Trotskyites ... took this line. They entered the Socialist Party and a left-wing group, the Partido Socialista Obrero, which had recently separated from the Socialist Party, taking with them a fair proportion of the Socialists’ more youthful element ...

This controversy over ‘entrism’ was the final blow to the Liga Communista Internacionalista ...

The Trotskyists were not able to exert much influence in either the Partido Socialista or the Partido Socialista Obrero. Most of the top leaders of the latter ultimately joined the Communist Party, and many of the rank and file members and lower level leaders rejoined the Socialist Party. [80]

The strongest Trotskyist organisation in Latin America in the mid-1930s was the Izquierda Comunista in Chile. According to one well-informed author, it was ‘more influential’ than the Stalinist Communist Party. [81]

... in 1937, the majority of the Izquierda Comunista decided to dissolve their party and enter as a group into the Partido Socialista de Chile. There were undoubtedly several reasons for this decision ...

The ex-members of the Izquierda Comunista were generally integrated into the Socialist Party. Some of them became leading figures in the party’s trade-union apparatus, while others assumed positions of importance in the general leadership of the party. Manuel Hidalgo himself became the Chilean Ambassador in Mexico, as a Socialist nominee, during the Popular Front government of President Pedro Aguirre Cerda, in 1939.

... the Izquierda Comunista was an important force in the Chilean left for some years, but after the entry of most members and leaders of the Izquierda into the Partido Socialista de Chile in 1937, the influence of Trotskyism in Chilean politics declined sharply. Those who entered the Socialist Party ranks lost all identity as Trotskyists after a few years; those who chose to stay out of the Partido Socialista had relatively little influence in the labor movement and virtually none in national politics, and were plagued by a series of splits which did not serve to increase their general prestige or influence. [82]

In Mexico, in the early 1930s, a Trotskyist organisation existed, called Oposición Communista de Izquierda (Communist Left Opposition) which in 1934 changed its name to Liga Comunista Internacional. Less than a year after its establishment it split over the issue of the ‘French turn’. [83] After that the splits into quarrelling factions continued unabated. [84]

In Cuba the Trotskyists were quite successful in the early 1930s. They were lucky to have at their head Sandalio Junco. Alexander writes:

One name stands out particularly among the founders of Trotskyism in Cuba, that of Sandalio Junco. He was one of the major trade-union figures in the Communist Party in the late 1920s, and was the party’s most important Negro leader at that time. A powerful orator with a magnetic personality, Junco had become the International Secretary of the Communist-controlled Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC). [85]

In 1932 Sandalio Junco founded the Trotskyist organisation which soon adopted the name Partido Bolchevique-Leninista.

By the time of the overthrow of the Machado dictatorship in August 1933, the Oposición Comunista was firmly established. Its trade-union influence was considerable, and it controlled the Federación Obrera de La Habaña, a major labor federation in the region of the national capital ...

By 1934 the Partido Bolchevique-Leninista (PBL), the name which the Oposición Comunista had by then assumed, had what was for a Latin American Trotskyist group a considerable membership. A. González, the Mexican-American charged with maintaining relations between the United States Trotskyists and their Latin American counterparts, reported to a Mexican correspondent that in the middle of 1934 the Cuban party had over six hundred members. [86]

Sadly the fate of Trotskyism in Cuba changed radically when the Trotskyists decided to join Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), a petty bourgeois, nationalist organisation. The result

was that instead of the Bolshevik-Leninists taking over Joven Cuba and converting it into a vehicle for Trotskyism in the republic, most of the Trotskyist leaders joined Joven Cuba and themselves became lost to Trotskyism ...

Later the ex-Trotskyists of Joven Cuba became part of the Auténtico Party led by ex-President Ramón Grau San Martin. On August 15, 1937, a meeting was held in Havana ... a reconstituted Partido Revolucionario Cubano (Autentico) was established. The ex-Trotskyists played a major role in the reorganized Partido Auténtico. Sandalio Junco and Eusebio Mujal established the Comisión Obrera (Labor Commission) of ex-President Grau San Martin’s party ...

With the departure of Sandalio Junco and most of the other founders of Cuban Trotskyism, the PBL became a very minor factor in the organized labor movement and an element of absolutely no significance in the country’s general politics. [87]

Robert J. Alexander sums up the history of Cuban Trotskyism thus:

Although Cuban Trotskyism had considerable influence in organised labor in the early 1930s, it declined sharply when its principal leaders withdrew to join what was for a quarter of a century the ‘mainstream’ of national politics. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Trotskyists continued to be a very minor factor in organized labor, and their main support was confined to the area of Guantánamo at the eastern tip of the island. [88]

In Panama the Trotskyists also entered the Socialist Party. Alexander writes:

By the early months of 1935, the Panamanian Trotskyists were firmly organized in the Partido Obrero Marxista-Leninista, which was putting out a newspaper, Organización. The leader of the new party was a young man named Diógenes de la Rosa, who was active in the country’s trade union movement ...

However, the Partido Obrero Marxista-Leninista went out of existence in late 1935. Its members entered the Socialist Party of Panama ... It does not appear that the Trotskyites did any serious ‘boring from within’ in the Panamanian Socialist Party. Rather, Diógenes de la Rosa emerged as one of the principal Socialist leaders, served as a member of the National Legislative Assembly in the middle 1940s, and in 1948 left the Socialist Party in a struggle for power within it which had nothing to do with Trotskyism, which he regarded by then as a relic of the past. In the 1950s and 1960s, de la Rosa served for some years as one of his country’s more distinguished diplomats. [89]

As mentioned above (see pp. 183-6) the ‘French Turn’ caused a number of Trotskyist organisations of some significance to break with Trotsky: the Spanish ICE, the Greek Archeo-Marxists, the Dutch RSAP. On balance, therefore, the ‘French Turn’ was far from a successful tactic in France, and was of doubtful help to Trotskyists elsewhere to increase membership or influence.

Had the brilliant strategist, tactician and organiser, who could organise the October insurrection, lead the Red Army and the Comintern, lost his touch? It seems, on the face of it, as if he committed one mistake after another – in August 1933 trying to pull the SAP and other centrist organisations towards Bolshevism-Leninism, and failing; then trying to break the isolation of the Trotskyists by entering into Social Democratic parties, and again failing. The truth is that the individual, even a genius like Trotsky, cannot eliminate other factors which are far weightier. The captain of a liner has greater leeway than a fisherman to mistake weather conditions: if the former makes an error his ship is less likely to sink; the second will be more at risk. Thus Lenin and Trotsky made serious mistakes during the revolution and civil war. There was, for example, Lenin’s insistence in 1920 on the march on Warsaw, or Trotsky’s perseverance with the militarisation of labour that same year. But the strength of the Bolshevik Party made it possible for this mistake to be overcome. (Of course the power of the party to overcome errors is not absolute: the isolation of the Russian revolution finally did break the Bolshevik party).

Trotsky was right when he declared, on 9 June 1936: ‘The French revolution has begun!’ The tiny boat of the Trotskyists had to navigate the rapids. Alas, the current of revolution never flows uninterruptedly forwards. It can be diverted and counteracted by counter-revolution if the subject – the proletariat – does not match the needs of the objective situation. In such circumstances the frail craft of the revolutionaries could easily disintegrate under the pressure of such powerful forces.

Trotsky in 1936 was far more experienced than Trotsky in 1917. He was therefore bound to have better judgment on issues of strategy and tactics. But in 1917 mistakes could he corrected by the great march forward of the proletariat and its party. In France during 1936 correct tactics did not lead to success, while every weakness of the party – its puny size, its weak implantation in the proletariat – fed defeat. In 1917 successes of the proletariat and of the Bolshevik Party overcame failures; in 1936 any failure of the French Trotskyists fed further failures.

To accept that clarity of ideas is indispensable for the success of the proletarian revolution does not mean that ideas are self-sufficient. Nor are they omnipotent; they need a body, that of the party within the wider proletariat, to be transformed into a material force.

The real tragedy of French Trotskyism was that it was born when there was very little space to grow left by the mass Social-Democratic and Communist Parties. If the choice facing French workers confronted by the fascist threat was either a united front of workers’ organisations or complete inactivity, then even the small voice of Trotskyism could have been heard. But the PCF and the SFIO did manage to deflect the call for unity into the Popular Front policy. The masses had great loyalty towards the two traditional mass parties, and so the realisation of the call for unity of action isolated the Trotskyists even more. Under the massive pressure of isolation, cracks inevitably appeared in the Trotskyist movement; squabbling and splitting followed. This again undermined any impact Trotskyism could have had.

The time factor is also decisive: in ‘normal’ times – i.e., when changes are relatively slow – if one misses an opportunity one can catch up. But not so in times of rapid change. If one misses a cart, one can run after it, catch up and jump on. One cannot do the same with a train, and to be one minute late is as bad as to be an hour late. If, in a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation, the subjective factor lags behind the needs of the time, the situation swiftly turns counter-revolutionary. We see how quickly the great days of May-June 1936 in France were followed, on 15 March 1937, by the killing of workers demonstrating against the fascists in Clichy, and the collapse of the Popular Front government on 22 June 1937.


1*. Amorphous bodies formed in October 1935, including Bolshevik-Leninists, Centrist Pivertists and other left wingers, seen variously as embryos of a new revolutionary party or of soviets.

2*. Walter Dauge betrayed the movement during the war. When the Nazis occupied Belgium he adopted an equivocal attitude toward them. There is ground to the accusation that he collaborated with the authorities. On 30 June 1944 he was assassinated by the partisans. [79]


1. Quoted from Trotsky’s archives by Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, p.45.

2. Craipeau, p.36.

3. WLT, 1929, pp.234-5.

4. Ibid., p.236.

5. Ibid., pp.237-8.

6. Craipeau, pp.38-9.

7. Ibid., p.39.

8. Ibid., p.40.

9. Ibid., p.41.

10. Van Heijenoort, p.1.

11. WLT, 1933-4, pp.88-9.

12. WLT, 1930, p.231..

13. Craipeau, p.87.

14. Ibid., p.107.

15. P. Frank, The Fourth International: The Long March of the Trotskyists, London 1979, p.51.

16. WLT, 1934-35, pp.41-2.

17. WLT, 1934-40, p.494.

18. Ibid., pp.500-1.

19. WLT, 1934-35, pp.87-8.

20. Craipeau, pp.110-11.

21. L. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section (1935-36). New York 1977, pp.20-21.

22. Craipeau, pp.119-20..

23. WLT, 1934-40, p.554.

24. WLT, 1934-35, p.202.

25. WLT, 1935-36, p.70.

26. Craipeau, p.129.

27. G. Vereeken, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, London 1976, p.90.

28. Ibid..

29. Craipeau, pp.124-5.

30. Ibid., p.141.

31. Ibid., pp.131-2.

32. Ibid., p.126.

33. Ibid., p.132.

34. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section, p.31.

35. WLT, 1934-35, pp.315-6.

36. Ibid., p.76.

37. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section, p.116.

38. Craipeau, p.133.

39. Ibid., p.136.

40. Ibid., p.143.

41. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section, p.186.

42. Ibid., p.29.

43. Ibid., p.183.

44. Craipeau, p.143.

45. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section, p.87.

46. Craipeau, p.144.

47. Ibid., p.137.

48. Ibid., p.144.

49. WLT, 1935-36, p.220.

50. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section, pp.124-5.

51. Frank, p.52.

52. Craipeau, p.157.

53. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section, p.137.

54. Ibid., p.139.

55. Ibid., p.165.

56. Craipeau, p.189.

57. Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p.421.

58. George Breitman to A.M. Wald, 17 July 1985, in A.M. Wald, The New York Intellectuals, University of North Carolina Press 1987, p.110.

59. James P. Cannon, History of American Trotskyism, New York 1972, pp.251-2.

60. M. Fisk, Socialism from Below in the United States, Cleveland 1977, p.10.

61. Trotsky WLT, 1936-37, p.483.

62. George Breitman to Wald, 17 July 1985, in Wald, p.165..

63. M. Staszewski, L’Action Socialiste. 1933-1936, thesis presented to gain a degree in history, UniversiteéLibre de Bruxelles, 1974-1975, p.3.

64. N. de Beule, Le Trotskyisme Belge, Brussels 1985, pp.44-6, 70-2, 93.

65. Ibid., p.93.

66. Ibid., p.105.

67. WLT, 1929, p.316.

68. N. de Beule, p.119.

69. Ibid., pp.119-23.

70. Ibid., pp.130, 134.

71. Ibid., p.139.

72. WLT, 1934-35, p.104.

73. Quoted in Vereeken, p.105.

74. Ibid., p.101.

75. Staszewski, p.196.

76. Ibid., p.199.

77. Vereeken, p.101.

78. W. Reisner, editor, Documents of the Fourth International. The Formative Years 1933-40, New York 1973, p.289.

79. R. Lefebvre, Dauge et le Daugisme, thesis presented to gain a degree in social sciences, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 1978-79, pp.78-83.

80. R.J. Alexander, Trotskyism in Latin America, Stanford 1973, pp.50-1.

81. Ibid., pp.101-2.

82. Ibid., pp.103, 104, 110.

83. Ibid., p.184.

84. Ibid., pp.184-198.

85. Ibid., p.215.

86. Ibid., pp.217, 219.

87. Ibid., pp.222-4.

88. Ibid., p.234.

89. Ibid., pp.246.

Last updated on 5 August 2009