Ernest Mandel

Pierre Frank is Dead

A Generation of Revolutionary Fighters is Vanishing

(April 1984)

From International Viewpoint, May 7, 1984, Issue No.52, pp.15-16.
Downloaded with thanks from the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrade Pierre Frank died last Wednesday April 18, in the morning. He was 78 years old and had been active in the workers movement for over six decades. His comrades and friends will pay him a last tribute at the time of his cremation at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, in Paris, on April 27.

With the death of Pierre Frank, the Fourth International loses one of the very last survivors of the generation of revolutionary communists who joined the fight of the Soviet Left Opposition and Comrade Lev Davidovich Trotsky, at the time the Soviet bureaucracy exiled the Russian revolutionary leader to Turkey, in 1929. Trotsky had developed a substantial influence among the French Communist Left, partly because the relations he had established with trade unionists like Pierre Monatte and Alfred Rosmer and Communists like Boris Souvarine during and immediately after World War I.

As a result, beginning in 1923, the various organs of the French Communist Left gave wide coverage and support, albeit often critical, to the struggle waged by the Left Opposition and Leon Trotsky within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist International.

But only a small nucleus grouped around the surrealist Pierre Naville, the trade unionist Alfred Rosmer and the young chemical engineer Pierre Frank fully identified with Trotsky’s struggle. Pierre Frank joined Trotsky on the island of Prinkipo, near Istanbul, and became part of the secretariat formed round the old Russian revolutionary. These young secretaries were the team that helped Trotsky prepare the first conference of the International Left Opposition (ILO) in 1930 and draft the founding document of our world movement.

The 1929-1934 period was a period of initial growth for the Trotskyist movement in France. Pierre Frank actively participated in its leadership, with his friend Raymond Molinier. The magazine Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle) and the newspaper La Verité (The Truth) were launched. An intense propaganda campaign was waged against the rise of the Hitlerite fascist threat in Germany. Still more intense was the agitation campaign for the workers united front to stop fascism, first in Germany and then in France. This campaign failed in Germany, with well-known tragic consequences.

But in France, after the February 6, 1934 events, it succeeded and opened the way to a new rise of the workers movement in all Western Europe. But the very successes scored by Trotskyist agitation on the ground created considerable difficulties for the building of an organization.

The small Trotskyist organization of the time, the Communist League, was overwhelmingly outweighed by the two reformist apparatuses – the social democratic apparatus of the SFIO (Socialist Party) and the Stalinist apparatus of the PCF (Communist Party) – who collaborated closely to smother the revolutionary anticapitalist potential contained in the expansion of the working class struggles and mass organizations.

The French Trotskyists had to engage in a series of discussions to determine the correct tactical orientation in that complex situation. A series of grievous differences and splits ensued in which Pierre Frank and Raymond Molinier did not always pick the same side as Leon Trotsky. Still, there were some positive developments for the Trotskyist current during the 1935-1939 period: gains in the Socialist left and later in the centrist Socialist Workers and Peasants Party (PSOP) left, with the recruitment of people like Jean Rous, David Rousset and Daniel Guerin who stayed with the Trotskyist movement for a time, and Pierre Lambert and Marcel Hic who joined it to remain the rest of their lives. Nevertheless, the fundamental trajectory was not towards growth, but towards stagnation and setback. In addition, beginning in 1937 the weight of the Popular Front’s defeat in France and of the defeats of the Civil War in Spain, began to bear down and paved the way for World War II.

Pierre Frank, Raymond Molinier and their very small group, separated from the bulk of the forces that prepared the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938, were chiefly identified with a thorough-going preparation of antimilitarist and anti-imperialist work that earned them repression and persecution at the hands of the French imperialist government. This led Pierre to move to Great Britain where he was also persecuted by the British government, including being interned in a concentration camp. He was gladdened by the news of a beginning reconciliation with Trotsky shortly before the latter’s assassination in August 1940.

In occupied France, the different Trotskyist organizations remained divided by tactical problems, but they all continued the struggle under the occupation and made no concessions at any time to either German imperialism and its super-exploitation of the French working class, or French imperialism. The prominent role of these fighters in launching the massive workers and people’s resistance in France earned these organizations a new phase of growth, running from 1940 to 1948.

This is when the group connected to Pierre Frank in France, under the leadership of Jacques Grimblat and Rudolphe Prager, began to orient, after some mishaps, towards the reunification of the Trotskyist movement which was actually achieved in 1944, following the European conference of Trotskyist organizations that took place in February of that year, in the midst of the occupation. Pierre Frank had drawn all the lessons from his own misadventures in the late 1930s and rejected blind factionalism; he applauded the course towards unity with both hands.

As soon as World War II was over and he was allowed to return to France, he joined the united Internationalist Communist Party (PCI), became a part of its leadership and was assigned by the latter to the leadership of the Fourth International that had been reconstituted around Michel Raptis (Pablo). In this capacity, he actively prepared the Second World Congress of the Fourth International in 1948, as well as all the successive congresses of our organization up to and including the Eleventh World Congress in 1979. He was often the reporter on important political and theoretical questions at International Executive Committees (IEC) and World Congresses. He was also the editor in charge of the publication of the magazine Quatrieme Internationale for several decades, and without his obstinacy that journal would not have the continuity that it enjoys today.

With the end of the post-World War II revolutionary upsurge in Western Europe, that is around 1948-1949, the French Trotskyist movement – along with the Trotskyist movement in all Western Europe and North America – went through a new period of stagnation and setback which were reflected by increasing internal problems and a series of splits. Pierre Frank participated in all these internal debates and understood they had a function beyond their negative aspects. The fact is, they served to maintain the programmatic and theoretical continuity of our movement through the inevitable readjustments necessitated by the new phenomena revolutionary Marxists had to grapple with, such as the victory of the Yugoslav, Chinese and Indochinese revolutions led by forces which originated in the international Stalinist movement but were led to break with it on key questions of revolutionary strategy to be able to lead the revolution to victory in their respective countries.

The small PCI survived during this period, led by Pierre Frank. Its main achievement was to understand the importance of the colonial revolution that continued to unfold in the world throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Because of this solidarity work, Pierre Frank was arrested in 1956. Thus, he had the honor of being the only leader of the French workers movement to be arrested for solidarity with the Algerian revolution.

Indeed, the PCI, spurred on mainly by Michel Raptis and Pierre Frank, committed itself to an active defense, including material and political aid, of the Algerian revolution, the Cuban revolution and the Vietnamese revolution. This enabled it to influence and then win over a broad current of Communist youth in the Union of Communist Students (Union des Étudiants Communistes – UEC) that had spontaneously adopted the same orientation.

This led to the creation of the Revolutionary Communist Youth (Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire – JCR) and after the thunderbolt of May 1968, to the fusion of the JCR and PCI that gave birth to the Communist League, French section of the Fourth International, the first example in Europe of the transformation of one of the small original Trotskyist groups into a numerically stronger organization with more roots in the working class.

The resurgence of the world revolution in each of its three sectors, with the upsurge of the colonial revolution, the resumption of the workers struggle of prerevolutionary scope in a series of Western European countries, and the process that led to the Prague Spring, made it possible for the Fourth International to resolve, at least partially, the problem of its internal divisions and led to the reunification of our movement in 1962-1963.

For five years, the Fourth International had to work under conditions of extreme organizational and administrative weakness, with a day-to-day leadership reduced in fact to three people: Comrade Pierre Frank who was its organizational linchpin, Comrade Joseph Hansen, insofar as the reactionary Voorhis Act, forbidding US organizations to affiliate internationally permitted, and myself. After the breakthrough and development of our organizations in 1968-1969, our movement was able to establish broader leadership structures in which Pierre Frank continued to occupy a prominent position.

His literary work includes many articles and brochures, but two of his books deserve particular mention: The History of the Fourth International and especially the monumental Histoire de l’Internationale Communiste (1919-1943) whose two volumes were published by La Breche Publishers in 1979. This book, which is the only scientific, Marxist work on this decisive topic illustrates the scope of the experience and lucidity that Pierre acquired in his nearly sixty years of activism. Likewise, it also reflects his fundamental concern for the continuity of communist theory and practice, that is, in the twentieth century, of revolutionary Marxist theory and practice.

Pierre Frank had a very deep sense of friendship, generosity and of the indispensable emotional ties that bind militants committed to the gigantic task of reconstructing the world on a socialist basis. Because our movement embodies an obstinate desire to maintain the continuity of the Communist movement, Pierre Frank attached particular importance to all manifestations of a rebirth of Leninism and Marxism in the Soviet Union and other bureaucratized workers states. The explosion of workers’ struggles in Poland and around Solidarnosc, the appearance of Comrade Alexander Zimine’s book Le stalinisme et son “socialisme réel” (Stalinism and its “Actually Existing Socialism”), produced in the Soviet Union and published by La Breche in 1983, were a source of joy and satisfaction and marked the last years of his life. In all the conversations I had with him, these were the events, along with the need to give the utmost importance to the differentiations presently developing within the PCF, that occupied his attention.

Farewell dear comrade, dear friend, older brother. Your memory will live on in the Fourth International with whose existence and construction your entire life was identified. The growth and transformation of our movement, leading to the future mass communist International, will enable us to keep that memory alive in the entire international working class.

April 19, 1984


Last updated on 5.8.2007