Alfred Rosmer 1922
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Speech in Discussion of
Executive Committee Report

November 12, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, pp. 226–235.
Translation: John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

I have no intention of using the Executive Committee report to polemicise against another comrade of the French delegation. We will have plenty of opportunity for that in the discussion of the French question, and there is no need to start that now.

Nonetheless, at the end of his speech yesterday evening, Comrade Faure made a statement that I consider so important and serious that it must be examined immediately.

At the end of his talk, Comrade Faure expressed his deep regret regarding attacks that various speakers had made against the French party. This is a very serious statement, because it represents not only the point of view of Comrade Faure. We are well aware that this point of view is quite widely held in France, even among comrades responsible for the party leadership. Speeches by members of the Communist Party or representatives of the Communist International are routinely regarded as impermissible and intolerable interventions in the life of the French party.

This entirely erroneous and dangerous conception of the Communist International is the source of all the difficulties that have arisen in the course of the last fifteen months between the Communist International and its French section.

We are Communists here, discussing and investigating the international situation. The specific problems that have arisen for the French comrades concern not only them but also comrades of other countries, all the more given the extremely important position of France since the imperialist war. Everywhere the French army stands as the tool of counter-revolution, and our comrades in the other parties have good reason to express whatever criticisms of the French party’s activity that they consider appropriate.

Thus Comrade [Ernst] Meyer is right to say that the conduct of the Communist Party of France has seriously obstructed the activity of the German Communist Party. We know that this is true. We can quarrel over the opinion of our German comrade, but we know that he is right. We know that when it was necessary to support, through action, our German comrades in their daily struggle, the Communist Party of France did not do its duty.

Our Comrade Meyer adds that not long ago a conference took place in Cologne that brought together representatives of the Communist parties of France and Germany.[1] This conference took decisions that could not be carried out, because of the disputes that had arisen within the Communist Party of France.

And in conclusion he says: We insist that the French question be settled here once and for all.

For my part, I believe that this is an entirely justified demand.

If there is still any need to cite other examples where comrades from other countries have had the right to criticise the activity of the French revolutionaries, I would like to point to another very serious occurrence: the general strike that representatives of the French, Italian, and British organisations set for 21 July 1919.[2]

Renaud Jean: At that time the Communist Party [of France] didn’t even exist!

Rosmer: You know very well what happened then. The French CGT entered into a commitment and promised to proclaim the slogan of general strike. Yet at the last minute another decision was taken stating that given the difficult conditions in which the French CGT then found itself, and given the threats of the government, it was not in a position to stand by the agreed-on commitment and to take part in the announced strike movement.

We saw the results immediately.

As soon as this demonstration failed, the French bourgeoisie felt strong enough to proceed in the most brutal fashion in the struggle against the Hungarian Soviet Republic,[3] to mobilise the French armies against them, and to demolish the soviet system in Hungary.

Comrade Renaud Jean says that the Communist Party did not exist at that time. This is correct. The Communist Party of France already has enough liabilities on its account that there is no need to add to them. But I am not speaking merely of the Communist Party of France; I am considering the French workers’ movement in its entirety.

I stress that the comrades from other countries are fully justified at a congress like the present one in demanding an explanation and asking us: Are you doing everything possible to get ready? Are you fortifying your organisation to create a Communist Party capable of carrying out the tasks laid on it by current conditions?

Dormoy: That’s exactly what we say.

Rosmer: What Comrade Ferdinand Faure said yesterday evening was not exactly suitable for awakening in our comrades from other countries the belief that this is the unanimous opinion of the French delegation. If I again take up this statement by Comrade Faure, this is also because I believe that a completely impermissible nationalist spirit prevails in the Communist Party, which we must eradicate. Comrade Dormoy knows that there are French comrades, including influential party members, who consider it impermissible for a comrade from another country to pass judgment on or criticise the policies of the French party. When a comrade comes to us from Italy, Germany, or Russia, they come not as a foreigner but as a Communist. But as Comrade Dormoy well knows, for members of the French party such a comrade is seen above all not as a Communist but as a foreigner, come to interfere in matters that do not concern him.

I would now like to pass on briefly to matters related to Comrade Zinoviev’s report regarding the united front question, Clause 9 of the statutes,[4] the crisis of the French party, and the conduct of the Executive Committee.

Comrade Duret said yesterday that as soon as there was talk in France of the united front tactic, what can be called generalised indignation broke out among all French workers. He added that this was in the final analysis a quite correct reaction to a dangerous tactic.

I believe that Comrade Duret’s remarks on this point deserve to be expanded. Why was there this supposedly unanimous indignation among French workers?

The explanation is very simple. It is enough just to recall the way in which the united front tactic was described to French workers. It was described to them as a policy that denied communism, returned to reformism, and abandoned the principles that the Communist International had previously upheld. There was talk of disarming the revolution and other things of similar import. It’s not at all astonishing that the French workers were uneasy and concerned and said to themselves: We absolutely reject involvement in a policy that leads to reconciliation with the Dissidents [SP] and abandonment of communism.

How could such a fanciful description of the united front take hold so readily in France?

Because of the ignorance there regarding all questions that interest the working-class movement around the world. The united front was not a new question. It was possible to be quite familiar with it. It was first applied in Germany, but in France it was something new. It seemed as if the proposed policy would in fact mean a break with the entire policy followed up to that point.

The comrades that presented this dangerous fantasy about the united front were doubtless sincere. The fact that they could respond with such sincere consternation to the proposals of the Executive Committee was due to their ignorance of the international movement.

If we wanted to summarise all that was said about the united front in France during this initial period, we could do so under the heading: Everything that has nothing to do with the united front.

The Communists who misrepresented this policy so dreadfully drew support from the syndicalist comrades, who were similarly lacking in astuteness and understanding regarding the policy. To be sure, the Executive’s proposal was made in France right at the moment when the trade union organisation was splitting.[5] At the moment when this breakdown took place and the workers’ movement was split because of its reformist leaders, it was naturally difficult to apply the united front tactic immediately. The opposition to the united front did not focus, however, on individual aspects or on the way that it should be applied. The entire united front tactic was rejected as a dangerous proposal coming from the Communist International.

So they won over a large majority of French workers against the united front tactic. And after this was done, they utilised this fact to declare to the Communist International that it would be impossible to apply this tactic in France. They said: We will have all the workers against us, because the workers do not want to have anything to do with the united front tactic.

The French party sent a delegation to the February session of the Expanded Executive, and it is perhaps helpful to recall that this delegation included members of all tendencies, except the Left. Comrade Cachin was there for the Centre, Comrade Daniel Renoult represented his current, and another comrade represented the Far Left.[6] All these comrades were in complete agreement regarding the united front tactic. Nothing was heard of the explanations offered yesterday after the fact by Comrade Duret, namely that the Communist Party of France was too young a party; that it had no revolutionary past; that it could not take upon itself the risk of venturing into a mass action. These comrades said nothing of the kind. What they said was: Form a united front? With whom? With the Dissidents? They don’t exist any more. They are a completely insignificant faction. It is not worth wasting even word over them. The CGT in the rue Lafayette? It is completely disintegrating. Their trade unions are hollow, and it would be absurd to look for any reinforcements there.

Those were the grounds on which these comrades based their opposition to the united front.

I repeat: These were comrades of all shades, except for the left wing. They were unanimous; they formed an impregnable block and were determined to keep aloof from everyone.

The French comrades – at least, those who were there – argued with an energy that would be eagerly welcomed under other circumstances, when it is a matter of acting as genuine Communists. The energy they displayed regarding the united front is worthy of recognition. There was a discussion. They saw that not a single other section of the International shared their opinion. Yet they found a point of support among the Italian comrades, who had no distinctive opinion of their own regarding the specific character of a Communist party. The Italians signed a joint declaration with the French delegation, which provided them with some degree of support.[7] This led the French delegation to stand firm in its hostility and stick by their position on the united front.

After the delegation returned to France, the National Council met and looked into the united front question once again. The discussion led to the adoption of a resolution that is surely as extravagant as one could possibly imagine. Not only did the Communist Party of France show that it did not understand the united front tactic. It also declared that the Communist International and the Communist parties that were applying the united front were no longer revolutionary and were leaning toward reformism, toward Social Democracy.

It was the Communist Party of France that was speaking in this manner.

Comrade Ferdinand Faure laments that a German comrade is criticising the French party. But he has forgotten too quickly what the French party did then. It is no small matter to play the role of leftist Communists. There are parties and groups who can with good reason occupy that position. The French party however, is the last one that should permit itself to play the role of leftist Communism. Now that the French question has been so often discussed in the Communist International, and all comrades are familiar with this question in the greatest detail, there is a unanimous opinion that the French party not only is not located all that far to the left, but that it is much too far to the right to be a genuine Communist party.

Subsequently this unconditional hostility to the united front abated. The French party was, despite everything, inclined to stand by its hostility, but meanwhile the united front was being achieved more or less everywhere, including in France. At the same time that the tactic was declared in France to be completely unacceptable, examples of it could already be seen, especially in the trade union movement. The CGT in the rue Lafayette was regarded as a now nonexistent force, with which one no longer needed to reckon. It was harmful for us to fall into deception regarding the real forces at our disposal. When the comrades from the first delegation arrived here, we had just left Paris.

For a few days nothing happened that could alter the picture. We must not exaggerate. The rue Lafayette remains a force. We said that to the comrades, and they responded, ‘No, no, there is nothing there at all. There is nothing but split, dissolution, dispersion, and decomposition’.

The same policy was pursued further in France. False and absurd assertions were strewn about regarding the assets of the CGTU and the CGT. Of course it was hard to obtain exact figures, but it was not necessary to establish exact percentages. It was clear that in some federations significant forces had stayed with rue Lafayette, and that this must not be underestimated. In certain trades, certain industries of great economic importance, such as the miners, they still have significant forces. And no working-class campaign can be undertaken without them.

The resistance to the united front has ebbed somewhat, although not very quickly. But we had to note the unusual fact that at the moment when the united front was being realised, proposed by organisations that had seen its necessity in given situations, the French comrades said, ‘No, that is not important. Let us see in six months’.

First they said that the united front could not be realised. Then, as it became reality, they said, ‘We’ll see about that later’.

What was the outcome of this policy? The French party not only fell into passivity, as Comrade Bukharin pointed out, but also deepened this passivity. Comrade Duret is still searching for mass actions and is quite right to want to lead the party into mass actions. He wishes to draw the party out of its present stagnant condition, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself, he pushes it away. He tells us that the united front is impossible, but if we could create factory councils, if they became possible, we could build on that. So we should create factory councils first, and then the united front and mass action.

After the second session of the Expanded Executive was over, Comrade Frossard came back to France.[8] I cannot say that he was convinced that the united front tactic was opportune, but he was determined to accept it. But he said in this regard that one should have no illusions about the opinion of the International. The French party was completely isolated, and it was impossible to cling to this isolation and equally impossible to wait for the decision of the Fourth World Congress. In fact it had been said that the Executive had neither the qualities nor the authority to impose discipline in a question of this importance, and that only the Fourth Congress could decide on it.

After his return to France, Frossard said that we should delay no longer but should accept the united front. He succeeded in winning over a large number of comrades, and the united front tactic was approved at the congress by a large majority.

What we saw, therefore, was endless discussions in order to arrive at the smallest action, while the united front asserted itself in life. It did so against the Communist Party, which had always been opposed to it.

So the campaign came into being. The party not only did nothing to promote it but created the impression that it was opposed but had no alternative proposals. The opponents of the united front were in an ideal position if they had something better to propose. But they made no proposal.

What kind of position would the French party have been in if had realised from the start what role it has to play as a section of the Communist International? If the French Communist Party had understood the united front rightly, it would not have been imposed on the party overnight. A period of time, shorter or longer, would have been allowed during which the united front that must now be achieved would likely have been successful more quickly, bringing the Communist Party many benefits. It would have won the trust of the masses and strengthened the party’s still insufficient and weak ties with the working class.

Now as to the dangers of the united front.

Of course the united front tactic, like all other tactics, harbours many dangers, against which we must protect ourselves. There are democratic traditions in France that hold the danger for the party that it may reunify with the dissidents and restore unity. But even if we did not propose the united front, would we escape from these dangers? They crop up so frequently that we ought to be familiar with them.

Comrade Ruth Fischer, who tried to claim the French opposition to the united front for herself, showed us that its stance in fact had nothing in common with hers. She pointed out some dangers of this tactic using specific examples. This is very useful. We must constantly carry out criticism of our activity, showing up how far we have gone wrong, the degree to which we have we have entered on a false path, in order to draw from our experiences useful lessons for the future. But that is not the end of it. It is impermissible for us to abandon the entire tactic.

In 1920 the Communist International saved the international workers’ movement by forbidding revolutionaries from leaving the reformist trade unions. Through the united front tactic it has once again saved the workers’ movement, at a moment when circumstances had changed completely and its forces had been dispersed.

There were many comrades, good revolutionaries, who thought in 1920 that the trade union’s time had passed. They believed that it was no longer necessary to undertake to win over the reformist trade unions. But so long as the unions have not been won, we will not be able to show that we are capable of making the revolution. This is the first task before revolutionaries, and it is far from the least important.

The Communist International has performed the same service for the working class through the united front tactic.

The split was consummated, and we had to find a way to unite forces of the different organisations for a united struggle.

When we took this position, workers’ actions themselves benefited greatly. United action was absolutely necessary in order to counter the results of the split, which had already caused great damage, and to bring workers together against capitalism.

Let us now consider Clause 9.[9] It is astonishing that this question has been brought up by the French party, of all things, and that it has indicated such an interest in the Statutes of the Communist International. Usually the documents of the Communist International are not read in France; indeed they are unknown there. Clause 9 was discovered because of the Fabre affair.[10] It was hard to mount a struggle over the Fabre affair, so Clause 9 was chosen as the bone of contention. The text seemed not to be entirely clear. In the text it reads that the Communist International can expel a section. Obviously, if a section can be expelled, then this can also be done to an individual member. But the French comrades said, ‘No, the Communist International cannot do this, and besides, Clause 9 gives too much power to the Executive, and this must be changed’.

The very same comrades who have brought up the question of Clause 9 have also raised objections to the proposal that national congresses will from now on be held after the international congress. They say that the Communist International wants its congresses to take up the affairs of the national sections, leaving them without any say in the matter. They say that if they gather only after the international congress, there will be nothing left for them to do but to implement the adopted decisions. This is impermissible, they say. The Communist International belongs to the masses and the masses must lead it.

That is what they said in France. The French Communist Party is made up of segments that come from different origins, with different viewpoints that have been only weakly welded together. Only the link with the Communist International can keep the French Communist Party alive. And it is precisely this link that has been fractured, disparaged, belittled, and presented as something intolerable, and condemned as reducing the national sections to a passive role in the International, be it in drawing up principles or in carrying out the tactical line.

Comrades who have put forward this point of view in France surely realise today that they have gone down a road that is very dangerous for French communism. Comrade Duret has changed greatly since he left Paris. We hardly recognise him. But Comrade Bukharin, who had never seen him before, recognised him very well and characterised his position in a fashion that makes it superfluous for me to say anything further on the matter.

Duret: Why?

Rosmer: Because the chair has just informed me that my time is exhausted.

I’d like to say a few words about a question that is not clarified in Comrade Zinoviev’s report: the factory councils.

The French translation of this text reads that a Communist party cannot be taken seriously until it has created factory councils. Comrade Murphy was right to point to this question, saying that it is not enough for a Communist Party to want to create factory councils; a number of conditions must be present in their totality. He showed us how the question is posed in Britain. The same question was posed in France, and it is clear that it is just as difficult to create factory councils in France as in Britain, although the reasons are different. The efforts that have been made to do this have remained isolated, and it cannot be said that we are on the road to resolving this question. It is impossible to predict the formation of factory councils with a precision that would let us speak of building them as a task posed for the entire party.

Several voices: We will build them.

Rosmer: Of course, but this point still needed to be emphasised.

The draft resolution before us reads: The Fourth Congress of the Communist International approves the decision taken by the Communist International Executive regarding the internal crisis of the French Communist Party. I have no time left to take up the crisis of the French party, even if only summarily. This matter will come up for discussion later. Then we will show why the decisions of the Communist International Executive could not resolve this crisis, and why the crisis that broke out so acutely at the last congress of the French party is so important. (Applause)


1. On 26 August 1922, representatives of the French and German CP leaderships met in Cologne in response to French government threats to occupy the Ruhr region of Germany. The conference appealed to workers of France and Germany to reject nationalist propaganda and called for close ties of both governments with Soviet Russia.

2. The strike was called to protest armed attacks by Entente powers against the soviet republics in Russia and Hungary. In the German text, the date of this strike is incorrectly recorded as 21 July 1920.

3. In the final days of July, Romanian troops, acting in concert with other Entente powers, defeated the Red Army of the Hungarian soviet government and took Budapest. The revolutionary regime government fell on 1 August, after ruling for 133 days.

4. Clause 9 concerned the powers of the ECCI with regard to national sections. See p. #160, n. #99. For the statutes, see Riddell (ed.), Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press1991), vol. 2, pp. 694 – 9.

5. In the second half of 1921, the reformist current in the CGT of France, which held a narrow majority, drove the revolutionary minority out of the organisation. The Left forces established the CGTU in December 1921, the same month that the ECCI adopted the united front tactic.

6. In addition to Cachin and Renoult, the French CP delegation included Sellier for the Right current and Roger Métayer for the Far Left. Souvarine of the Left was present as an ECCI member.

7. At the Expanded ECCI conference of February – March, 1922, delegates of the French and Italian CPs, together with the delegate of the much smaller Spanish party, joined in opposing the majority position on the united front. The minority resolution stated that united working-class action must be carried out ‘without any formal rapprochement with the political parties, who are equally incapable of contributing to even the most urgent demands of the working classes.’

8. The second Expanded ECCI conference was held 7 – 11 June 1922.

9. Clause 9 of the Statutes includes the sentence, ‘The Executive Committee of the Communist International has the authority to demand of its member parties the expulsion of groups or individuals that breach international discipline, as well as the authority to expel from the Communist International any party that contravenes the resolutions of the world congress’. Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, vol. 2, p. 698.

10. Henri Fabre was a leader of the French CP right wing and editor of a non-party newspaper, Le Journal du peuple, which the ECCI judged an ‘instrument of bourgeois public opinion’ hostile to the Comintern. The ECCI expelled Fabre from the Comintern in March 1922, but the French CP did not ratify this action until October.


Last updated on 5 May 2019