Heinz Neumann

In the International

The Marseilles Congress
of the French Communist Party

(6 January 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. II No. 2, 6 January 1922, pp. 14–13.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Communist Party of France held its first National Congress in Marseilles during Christmas week 1921. After the departure of Longuet and Renaudel in Tours in December 1920, the young party had devoted 12 months to its establishment on a firm basis and had accumulated its first experiences.

After Tours it was faced by enormous tasks of organization, as the report of the Comité Directeur to the Marseilles Congress interestingly shows. Together with Longuet and Renaudel the majority of the deputies and propagandists, many intellectuals and officials of the party went over to the Dissidents. They took the cash, the archives, the newspapers and a considerable portion of the organization apparatus with them. These deficiencies had to be repaired by intensive detail work.

In Marseilles there were 350 delegates who represented 94 district federations with 120,000 members. The party is by far the strongest in France; it groups about itself the nucleus of the working masses of the country. Alongside it, the two unimportant groups of the Socialists (tendency 2½) and the “French Socialists” belonging to the Second International play practically no part.

Although the organic building up of the party has gone very far, it is still in the process of political transformation, of crystallization to a clear and serried section of the Third International. The Marseilles Congress was a stage in this process in which the party took up various problems placed before it by the present situation. In the debates at Marseilles the various tendencies within the party attempted to form a common platform, a basis for work in the future. The discussions were often of a very lively nature. Differences of opinion on various subjects clashed. However, the general impression was such as to remove completely any thought of a serious endangering of unity – a split in the Party. Only isolated comrades and small groups such as that of the Journal du Peuple are in fundamental opposition to the Party. The Congress rejected all of the propositions put for it by these groups. Frossard declared, “Those who combat the policy of the Party thereby automatically exclude themselves from the Party”, Loriot on the other hand, criticized the irresolute policy of the Party Executive against such Right tendencies and reproached it with the fact that a sheet such as the Journal du Peuple could appear with the collaboration of prominent members of the Communist Party.

On the very first day during the discussion on the report of the Executive Committee of the Party, there ensued a long and in part angry debate on the interior situation of the Party and the reorganization of the Central Committee. Loriot introduced a resolution which proposed the transformation of the Comité Directeur in the direction of increased centralization. A presidium of 5 members was to be formed from among the 24 members of the Committee which should have charge of the political leadership in order to do away with the hitherto prevailing overburdening of the members of the Central Committee with technical and administrative tasks. Rappoport and other comrades attacked this motion of Loriot. They accused him of desiring an oligarchical centralism. As a substitute motion a motion of Frossard was adopted which in large degree curtails the powers of the Committee of Five.

The most important question before the Congress was that of the trade-unions. The Congress was to decide whether Communists organized in the trade unions are obliged to spread Communist propaganda, to be active for the Communist goal and to diffuse the influence of the Communist Party among the workers organized in the unions. This problem, which perhaps exists in no other country in the world has been brought up by the unique character of the French trade-union movement. The organized workers are very distrustful of all political parties as a result of the reformist past of the Socialist Party. They obstinately adhere to the Amiens resolution which proclaims the “neutrality” and “autonomy” of the trade-unions and their independence of all political parties. Far be it from the French Communists to infringe upon the independence of the trade unions or to thrust them under the sovereignty of the Party, as the Party’s enemies falsely maintain. However, an increasing number of the Party’s members realized that this situation cannot go on indefinitely and that the inactivity of the Communists organized in the trade unions, their timidity to work for the Communist goal must come to an end. The Comité Directeur laid before the Congress theses on this problem which had been prepared by Comrade Dunois. Although these theses allow very much for the historical traditions of the trade-union movement and its desire for independence, they were severely attacked at the Marseilles Congress. Mavoux, Lafont and others attacked the claim of the Party to establish close political connection with the revolutionary workers in the trade unions. Subsequently the theses of the Comité Directeur – after they had been considerably amended in Committee in favor of the “autonomy wing” – were adopted by a vote of 3,963 against 372.

As a result of the fact that France is largely of a peasant structure, the discussion on land propaganda was of very great importance. As a whole, unanimity prevailed as to the necessity of drawing the small peasants together with the workers into the front of the class-struggle against the Capitalist Republic. In the theses on the agrarian question drawn up by Renaud Jean the old idea of Guesde is again brought forward, that it is necessary to maintain intact in the Party’s program alongside the measures necessary for the seizure of power, the usufruct of the small peasants’ property in the transition period. Provincial delegates from the agricultural provinces made important statements as to the situation among the French peasant masses. The representative of one of the departements stated:

“Our peasants are by instinct revolutionary, but they are insufficiently educated. The revolution cannot be made without them. One must have seen with what interest the peasants attend our propaganda meetings. However, our rural propaganda is not easy. Today the peasant have become well-to-do land owners. After the war there set in a period of enrichment which made our work more difficult.”

In opposing these statements, Vaillant-Couturier pointed out the miserable condition of the rural wage-laborers, who live in wretched hovels, are systematically poisoned by alcohol and who eke out a beggarly existence on a starvation wage. We must fight for the eight-hour day for these workers. Vaillant-Couturier sharply attacked Blanc’s statements. He stated that the legends of the enrichment of the peasants are of the same nature as the other legends of the enormous wages in the cities. He gave numerous examples of the difficulties with which the French peasant has to contend. The mortgage burden is continually grown. Taxes are increasing. Rappoport and various others protested against the passage in the theses which speaks of the granting of “perpetual usufruct” to the small peasants. Unity was obtained on the following:

“The usufruct of the soil will be guaranteed to the peasants until they renounce the parcelling out of the soil as a result of their experience with collective ownership on large estates.”

The debates on national defense, election tactics and the other points on the order of business were of less importance. Aside from the pacifist petty-bourgeois ideas of George Pioch who attacked “Red Militarism”, the Congress unconditionally approved the statements of Cachin and Rappoport that in case of war or even of danger of war the Party should lead the masses to resistance with all the resources at their disposal, going as far as general strike and armed uprising. This resolution is of extreme interest for the international working class when it is considered that France is the land of the strongest militarism.

In the evening session of the last day of the Congress there occurred a party crisis which was entirely unexpected. In the election of the new Comité Directeur Comrade Souvarine, against whom bitter attacks had been made in the previous sessions, was not re-elected. Thereupon Loriot, Treint, Vaillant-Couturier and Dunois declared that they considered the differences expressed in this vote not as personal, but as political in their nature, and therefore declined to accept re-election. An attempt of Kers, Bestel and Tommasi to have these comrades withdraw their resignation did not succeed. Four others were elected in their place and curiously enough Souvarine among them. Doubtless these resignations signify a crisis in the Party, the political significance of which must not be underestimated. However, it in no way endangers the unity of the Party. No one thinks even of the possibility of a split, as was clearly shown at the Congress. Through a thorough and sincere discussion of the differences of opinion, which center about the question of the centralized development of the Party and its subordination to the Communist International, the inner strength of the Communist Party of France will only be served.

Last updated on 31 August 2020