Jules Guesde 1912

Intervention at the Congress of the SFIO

Congress: held 24/25 November 1912;
Source: Compte-rendu du congrès;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.

I'll respond to the general theory brought here by our friend Albert Thomas before getting to the personal issue that was just brought up, and that has no place in the debate, each of has having been exposed to casting votes that we have later regretted [laughter]. As for myself, I've never claimed any kind of infallibility. And if, in my long life as a militant, moments are shown me where — while always defending what I believed to be the interests of the Party — I could or should have acted differently, I'm ready to accept this. I thus could have been wrong in the case cited by Roldes. That remains to be seen...but in the meanwhile I respond to Thomas, who showed us the divided and competitive capitalism of yesteryear increasingly giving place to a capitalism that is unified, trustified, and more dangerous to the working class, which it resists and attacks with greater strength. How, after having yourselves noted the supreme peril for the workers that the concentration of capital represents, how can you give these workers, who have become class-conscious, as the principal reform to be accomplished, the concentration of capital in the hands of the state?

The State is the enemy; it’s the arsenal and the fortress of the enemy class that the proletariat must sweep away if it wants to free itself, in order to free itself!

And when you want to extend the domain of this State, The State-Gendarme, the State-Boss... I just don’t understand this any more: you are provoking a veritable suicide. When leaning over the workers you tell them that in order to improve their conditions, to create more freedom, the best means is to replace private capitalism by State capitalism — of a State that is nothing but a vast organ of compression for the profit of the owning class — I put myself in their place and I ask you on their behalf: How can you thus play the enemy’s game? [Applause]

And even if we admit that the taking over by the State of certain enterprises can translate into a lowering of prices, just who would profit by such an amelioration? If it’s a question of mines, of coal at a better price, isn’t it the big industrialists — for whom coal is the essential element — who will see their profits increase? If it’s a question of railroads, isn’t it yet again the capitalist employers who — in proportion as they have merchandise to transport — will draw increased profits from the reduction in fares?

In the current society the so-called public services remain services for the usage of the capitalist class, benefiting all the more as they are more capitalist, and leaving only crumbs for the mass of those who only have their labor to live by.

I come to the German socialists who, according to Thomas, are in agreement with him on the subject of State monopolies. He spoke of Franck who spoke out at the Reichstag in favor of public services or Empire. Yes, we know that there exists in Germany something called “revisionism,” represented by Bernstein, by Franck, and by others. But what we also know it’s that at all Party congresses they were always put in the minority by the “Marxists” personified today by Bebel, following after Liebknecht and Singer. And without stopping before a declaration that will put in question only its author, I answer: find me a German Social-Democratic Congress, even one, in which the workers were given as a reform program the creation of public services, that is to say, State monopolies! Quote me even one resolution that can be taken in this sense! And let us understand each other on this: at German congresses, like at ours, theses can be produced that aren’t socialist; that are even anti-socialist [laughter]. It’s the same there as here; but you can’t lean on any of these theses that, at the moment they were abandoned, don’t and can’t commit any but those who formulated them. I repeat: I challenge you to bring me the text of one sole resolution of a German congress that orients the efforts of the proletariat towards this so-called Sate socialism!

No, comrades, this is not socialism, and this is why I applauded Jaurès when he spoke of the necessity of a congress...

JAURES: That’s when I'll bring you the texts you are asking for.

GUESDE: I said that I applauded Jaurès when he asked that at an upcoming conference we discuss at length social action as a whole and the method that should be followed. With all my heart I call for this indispensable congress, and I hope we'll all be in agreement in depersonalizing a debate of such importance, and that we remain in the sphere of ideas, concerned exclusively with the interests of the Party, which is to say the conditions under which the Party should pursue its march in order to arrive as quickly as possible at total liberation, which is the raison d'être of socialism [approbation]

As for the contradictions found by Roldes in certain of my votes of yesteryear in relation to the Bank of France and my condemnation — which dates not from today, but from all time — of so-called public services presented as a socialism that is arriving and in the making, I would in the first place like to point out that in this case it wasn’t a question of, it couldn’t be a question of, making a fraction of the working class part of the State, the Bank of France taken over and administered by the French State, not having behind it thousands of proletarians for whom the State is the worst of bosses.

I'd like to add that if things were otherwise the vote that I am confronted with — and which I don’t remember — could constitute a mistake, but wouldn’t prevent me from crying out: beware! once I've seen the Party take a path that I continue to believe perilous, and at the end of which failure awaits us.

It already happens today that our propaganda is hindered by certain State-run industries, which the ignorance of some and the partisanship of others confuse with tomorrow’s social production. Haven’t we all seen people get up, take a box of matches from their pocket, scratch one that doesn’t light and say to us: There’s socialism for you! opposing to them foreign matches that, though not run by the state tobacco company, are at one and the same time better and cheaper. [Laughter] It’s the same for the State tobacco company that is always thrown in our faces and for the same reasons.

And it’s precisely when we have to thus defend ourselves, to separate socialism from industrial governmentalism, that you want to generalize this by making it the supreme demand of the party?

No! Let’s say loudly and clearly exactly what is: in order to nationalize a nation is necessary, and it can only come about after the disappearance of classes and their antagonisms. Until then, in a class society always in struggle, in a state of permanent war — like ours — there is only room for Statism, which combines economic exploitation with political compression. Nationalization, socialization, will only cease being a fraud in order to become a reality — extended not only to mines and railroads, but to factories, land, to all the means of production — when the working class will have taken hold of the State, not to preserve it, but to destroy it and to substitute the administration of things for the government of men [lively applause]

ROLDES: I don’t want to prolong this debate, but I notice that Citizen Guesde has not responded...[protests]. He just told us that this vote is a useless vote. I say that it is of considerable importance, and in order to reduce the importance of it you, Guesde, told us that the Bank of France was a more or less secondary organ that interests only merchants and industrialists. You know perfectly well that at the present time, in 1913, the Bank of France dominates all of our credit institutions, and neither the Société Générale, nor the Comptoir d'Escompte nor the Crédit Lyonnais could carry out against the entire nation the financial policies they currently carry out without the daily complicity of the Bank of France ["very good!” Diverse interruptions] And so Guesde ...

A DELEGATE: It’s the financiers and not the proletarians that worry them! [noise]

ROLDES: And along the same lines can I recall some more recent votes? At the time when in the Chamber the principle of the repurchase of the Ouest was proposed did you, or some of the comrades who think like you, bring up the striking protest that you just brought up at this congress?

GUESDE: At the time I was at death’s door. I didn’t attend the session, but in any case I congratulate our friends for not having brought such a sharp conflict to the tribune of the Chamber. They would have been reproached for this here in the Party... ["very good!” Diverse interruptions]

ROLDES: You know very well that the question that I pose here goes far beyond your person and in fact if you were not here it would be possible to find in the Chamber to support such a thesis, to have the nation avoid a peril like the one you have pointed out, comrades to raise up in protest. But I complete my question: at the current time...

CONSTANS: This was done several times.

ROLDES: At the present time there are mineral riches that haven’t been conceded; they belong to the entire nation, they belong to the proletariat. And if tomorrow, if we propose to let them go, when you will have to choose between the maintaining by the State and the Nation of what is theirs, and their concession to private capitalism, I ask of you to affirm here that you would vote to abandon to capitalism what is today the property of the nation and the State.

GUESDE: I will bring to the tribune of the Chamber — when the Party Congress and the Party itself will have decided — the opinion of the Party. ["Very good!"] For the moment, placed between paper nationalization — false, lying — of the coal mines and the introduction in the account books of the mines to be conceded of serious guarantees for the workers, I wouldn’t hesitate for one minute. I would leave aside the so-called nationalizations and would vote for a minimum wage law, the eight-hour day and other conditions called for by the workers. [Applause — protests] This is how I would act in the Chamber. In the same way if tomorrow, to take another example, I had to choose between the taking over by the State with indemnification of the railroads, and the inscribing in the account books of the concessions to be renewed of a minimum wage not of five, but of ten for the railroad-workers, I would vote against the repurchase and for the renewal of concessions, certain of having fulfilled my obligation to the serfs of our railways. What we can and must do in the current society, be it in the national or municipal domain, is to obtain for the workers the greatest number of immediate advantages possible. It’s not a matter of building socialism in the current milieu, whose disappearance is the condition sine qua non of socialism. It’s a matter of tearing from this milieu, under whatever form, a better life, less work and more freedom for the proletariat, who is in this way better armed to carry out himself his final liberation...I have explained myself sufficiently; I ask to go no farther. We will take the question up again at our next Congress.