Karl Radek

Antoine Ker

(The Road to Communism)

(23 August 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 57 [35], 23 August 1923, pp. 619–620.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). 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.

I knew Comrade Ker but little, and am therefore not in a position to compile his biography. And I do not possess sufficient personal recollections of him to justify me in writing about him. But that which I have had the opportunity of learning about him has given me an illustration of the general development of a communist who came to us from the ranks of the intelligenzia; and who had to fight obstinately against many prejudices hindering him from becoming a complete communist. And thus the thoughts which have passed through my mind when observing Comrade Ker may give me a right to speak a few words at his grave.

When Comrade Ker, at the end of the war – he served in the army and thus did not participate in the struggle of ideas during the war – had worked his way through to communism, he belonged to the left wing of the party. He was in favor of separation from the reformists, and for affiliation to the Comintern. He cooperated with the comrades of the Left until the outbreak of the sharp conflict between these comrades and Frossard and the Right. Our friends of the Left felt themselves bitterly disappointed in him at this time, and regarded him as a deserter.

When Ker came to Moscow to the IV. Congress, I had a detailed conversation with him. I had made a deliberate effort to get into conversation with him, for I had read some of his works dealing with international politics, and these had aroused my attention by their knowledge of the subject treated. The Communist International is still a very young organization, and the majority of the leaders of the Communist Parties of the West are still but young people. The socialist parties of the past have had at then disposal but an extremely small number of members really familiar with any special sphere of social life. The majority of party organizers and journalists have been nourished by general ideas. People possessing special knowledge have generally belonged to the camp of the reformists, and we have had scarcely any in our camp. In the socialist party of France those who possessed special concrete knowledge were, besides Jaurès. Compare Morel (of the agrarian question), Albert Thomas (of the history of the labor movement and social legislation), and Rappoport (of the general history of socialism, and of French socialism in particular). Of these, Rappoport was the only one to join us. Thus Comrade Ker, who showed concrete interest for international politics, was, in my eyes, a person whose retention for our Party appeared to be of great importance.

In reply to my question whether he did not observe that Frossard was merely accepting the resolutions of the Comintern in order to sabotage them, Ker replied: “If I were convinced of that. I should not go with Frossard. But it seems to me that Frossard, who is a competent organizer, is sufficiently intimately associated with the labor movement in France to be the better judge of the difficulties to be encountered in pursuing the lines laid down by the Comintern in a petty bourgeois anarchist country. He is no traitor, but a cunctator.” I asked Ker if he held such “postponement’’ to be possible. “No”, replied Ker, “but I fear that without Frossard, without his intelligence and without his organizing ability, we shall not be able to realize our aims even gradually. We shall merely remain a closed circle of pure communists. This is the reason that induced me to leave the Left, in order to avert the danger of Frossard’s expulsion.”

On the evening of the same day upon which this conversation took place, an extraordinarily dramatic scene occurred in the French commission of the congress. Comrade Trotzky was speaking of the circumstance that the Party had not yet broken with the decadent past of the French Labor movement a past in which members given responsible posts by the Party still maintained connection with the bourgeoisie by contributing to bourgeois newspapers, and at times even by membership of freemasons’ lodges. “I am informed”, said Comrade Trotzky”, that some of the leading comrades are still members of freemasons’ lodges. When Serrati, at the II. Congress, made the demand that the 21 conditions be supplemented by another one breaking with freemasonry, it appeared to us as if he were joking, as if he were suggesting something similar to witlidrawal from some order of Jesuits.” “I do not know”, continued Trotzky, “if it is true that the secretary of the party, and leading members of the parliamentary fraction, are members of freemasons’ lodges, as we are informed.”

These words took effect like the lash of a whip. Trotzky stood erect amidst the French comrades. Ker turned pale and let his head sink. For a moment an oppressive silence reigned. Then Ker’s quiet voice was heard: “With regard to me, Comrade Trotzky, you are correctly informed”. Trotzky turned brusquely to the worker from Frossard’s fraction sealed at his left. He laid his hand on his shoulder and addressed him m sharp and cutting sentences: “Do you know what freemasons are? Do you know that they are an organization of bourgeois career hunters, who govern the economic and political life of France, and deceive the workers with the aid of democratic phrases, in the interests of plutocracy? And a proletarian like you permits it that the secretary of the party belongs to a freemasons’ lodge?” Ker rose to his feet: “Up to now there has been no resolution forbidding membership of a freemasons’ lodge. I have continued my membership out of laziness, but shall give it up if the Party demands it”. The session was closed.

The next day I called up Comrade Trotzky on the telephone, in order to consult him as to what course it would be best to take with regard to the address to be delivered by Ker on the Versailles Peace. After the incident of the day before, could he make the speech? Trotzky replied: “It is the first time in my life that I found myself impelled to fire at any one from such close quarters. If he is cured, he must not be given up for lost; but it seems to me that, for the moment, he must be crossed off the list of speakers.” We informed Comrade Cachin. Ker agreed without objection. On returning to France afterwards, and after withdrawing from the Party Secretariat and the Humanité, he did not, however, follow Frossard and desert us, but remained in the Party. We were now certain that Ker could be kept for the Party. He had recognized the justice of our standpoint, and grasped the fact that he who intends to be a communist must break off every link with the past, every bond with the bourgeois world. He bore with resignation his temporary isolation and removal from a leading position. His behavior proved him to be a true champion of communism. Eight days before his death I received from him a work on the “Comité des Forges”, the organization of the French heavy industry. This work appears in the next number of the Communist International, now being printed. I wrote him a letter requesting him to contribute regularly to this periodical. I do not know if the letter reached him.

The Communist International, and the Communist Party of France, lose in Ker a valuable and excellent worker. He was the more faithful and valuable fighter for having won his membership card after a severe internal struggle, and by a victory over inner doubts. Only that which has been won by struggle is durable. Ker’s powers are now lost to the Party. May his example be an encouragement to the many who have not yet been able to bring themselves to break with the past, to conquer all half-heartedness and join our ranks without reserve. Ker’s case forms but a brief episode in the story of the great difficulties of the young Communist movement. We do not hew our Communist Parties out of granite just taken from the earth, but we form them out of elements bequeathed to us by the labor movements of the past, and have to carry out the difficult task of remoulding old material. And we find remnants of the old ideas not only among the intellectuals who have joined the communists, but in the working class itself. These difficulties can only be overcome by obstinate and determined struggle, in which it must never be forgotten that there is still much valuable material which may be utilized for the construction of a new society, and that none of this must be thrown away.

Last updated on 3 September 2022