Alfred Rosmer 1922
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Speech in Discussion of Trade Union Report

November 20, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, pp. 609–613.
Translation: John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

I completely agree with what Comrade Tasca has said. But I come to a conclusion different from his, and I ask that Point 20 in the proposed theses be retained.

I will not say much regarding the conduct of the Communist Party of France. The presentation by Comrade Lauridan here has given the delegates a clear picture regarding the activity – or, better said, the inactivity – of the Communist Party in the trade union arena.

All the facts he presented are accurate. There are some points that might appear secondary, such as what he said about the conduct of l’Humanité during the trial of the Social Revolutionaries. However, Comrade Lauridan mentioned this example only to emphasise that the trade union federation of the North had to take the initiative which the party had let slip.

Of course he did not intend to imply that l’Humanité never spoke about the trial. He wanted only to say that l’Humanité did not say what the French workers expected of it in responding to the lies of the bourgeois and Social Democratic press.

As for the views of the French party’s leaders on the trade union question, Comrade Lozovsky read here this morning two passages of an article by the party’s administrative secretary. This article has special importance because its author is not just any old member of the party. He is a Central Committee member and administrative secretary of the party. He wrote this article immediately after he signed a declaration, along with other Central Committee members, stating their intention to carry out the policies of the Communist International. After submitting this fine declaration, he wrote an article commenting on a motion on the trade unions. He quoted a passage from this motion stating that the Communist Party is the party that best incorporates the endeavours of the working class and is best able to ensure the defence of this class. He is then quick to add that this is a thoroughly excessive and dangerous formulation, which the Central Committee of course could not accept. Other such passages could be cited, but this is not particularly helpful, and for us it is also a bit humiliating to have to display this picture of the French party.

As Comrade Tasca explained here, the trade union question stands at the heart of the French question. So long as the party has not resolved this issue, it obviously cannot be regarded as a Communist Party. Why is it, then, that the theses distributed to the congress contain this Point 20, regarding which we already had such an intense debate with Comrade Azzario in the commission meeting?

Just like Comrade Tasca today, Comrade Azzario asked why the theses and general decisions should take up the special case of France. If special instructions are needed regarding France, he said, there will always be time for this in dealing with the French question and in discussing the resolution that will close the debates on this point.

Yet we consider that a special point is still needed in these theses. Why? Because of this situation in the Communist Party of France.

Before the congress you had a more or less approximate concept of the French party’s conduct. Now you know it quite precisely. You know that the French party has not yet taken the first step on the trade union question, and that it does not even want to take this first step. Moreover, when individual party members demand that the party emerge from its passivity and demonstrate its will to act as a true communist workers party, you can be sure that they are sharply disavowed by the Central Committee members and maliciously attacked by those who have political reasons for making common cause with the syndicalists.

That is the present situation in France. The Communist Party, which has no trade union policy of its own, faces the CGTU, which of course maintains its ties with the masses. The CGTU’s activity expresses communism in France reasonably well, or at least, given the circumstances, expresses it better than the party.

The party votes for the decisions of the Communist International. When these decisions are presented to it a second time, it votes for them again. But nothing changes. Its policies remain exactly the same as what they were before.

All economic battles are carried out by the CGTU, and the Communist Party limits itself to offering unconditional support.

In Point 20 of the theses, we present the general situation in France, where a mighty revolutionary syndicalist movement exists alongside a Communist Party that is not yet a Communist Party. We do not want in the slightest to weaken the general observations that have just been voiced, and we do not want in any way to moderate the principles and methods of the Communist International.

We confidently hope that these principles and methods will at a certain point no longer seem excessive, even in France, and that they will be applied in exactly the same way as is notably already the case in Italy.

The comrades of the Left have quite a different conception of relations with the CGTU than comrades who have until now led the party. In our view, the party’s relations to the CGTU will take on the character that is essential to serve the interests of both the trade union organisation and the party and workers’ movement as a whole only when these relations are imbued with the Left’s conceptions. As I just said, our theories are different from those of our syndicalist comrades. As long as they remain revolutionary syndicalists and we remain Communists, we will have significant theoretical differences with them.

Should we hide these differences? Not at all. Otherwise we will merely continue the previous policy of abdication by the party with regard to the CGTU. This policy is not communist; it is incompatible with the essence of the Communist Party. This policy is, so to speak, the source of all the difficulties now affecting the French party.

On the contrary, we believe that no unpleasant results will follow from admitting the theoretical disagreements that separate us from the syndicalists and, where necessary, even emphasising them. This will in no way disrupt the working relationship that must exist between the CGTU and the party. When the party establishes its direction emphatically and energetically, there will be discussions and perhaps unavoidable frictions with the CGTU comrades. Nonetheless, we are convinced that the work will then proceed under much more favourable conditions. The revolutionary syndicalists will hold the party in more esteem than is the case today. Why should a syndicalist respect the Communist Party today, given that it does not essentially differ from the old Socialist Party?

It has already been said that the formulation that trade unions should be subordinated to the party, which crops up so often in these controversies, is impossible, and certainly does not express in any way the communist attitude to party-trade union relations. Rather, if you observe the present events in France, what you see is in fact a subordination of the party to the CGTU.

When a workers’ organisation takes a decision and adopts an agenda that now and then includes clearly anti-communist statements, this decision or agenda is passed on to l’Humanité for publication. If the editor for this item decides to add a short comment saying that the text includes things that no Communist can accept, this causes something of a scandal. That’s because we are so accustomed to having every message reproduced without comment, no matter what its character and importance may be.

And I must say that this attitude is also reflected in l’Humanité.

Cachin: Please permit me to make a correction. In fact there were two occasions on which the CGTU sent a delegation to l’Humanité. They came to complain of the following:

  1. Because of the non-publication of an official decision written by the CGTU’s bureau or the trade union federation of the Seine district.
  2. Because of the fact that an official statement submitted to an editor of l’Humanité was not published in its original form. Rather comments were inserted inside the text.

The delegation came simply to tell us: We do not in the slightest deny the right of l’Humanité to make criticisms of our statements. But because l’Humanité is a working-class newspaper, it should publish our texts and then make comments at its discretion. We demand only that the comments not be inserted into the text.

That was the only time we received a complaint and a request for its correction.

I confess that the director of l’Humanité told the comrade who is responsible for the Vie sociale [Social Issues] column that we believe it is correct for the official CGTU statement to appear in the paper and that a comment appear only afterwards.

As for the second incident that you have alluded to, it concerns the following. The CGTU brought us an article. The article did not appear. The CGTU then protested through a second delegation.

In this case too, the l’Humanité leadership agreed it was necessary that the article appear, followed by the commentary.

That is a more precise portrayal of the facts you have pointed to, facts that – permit me to tell you this – you have not conveyed accurately.

Rosmer: If I were to present all the complaints that Communists can raise against l’Humanité’s treatment of trade union matters, I would need far more time than the fifteen minutes I have been granted.

We will have time in the French commission to discuss these facts and these points of view. We will also discuss some of the editorials that have appeared recently, in which this situation is dealt with directly [10or by allusion.

I merely tried to show through examples the nature of the situation in France with regard to the discussion initiated by Comrade Tasca regarding Point 20. I have showed that the Communist Party refrains from any initiative in the arena of worker struggles, that it limits itself to supporting and assisting the CGTU. I maintain, contrary to Comrade Tasca, that this situation, which was dealt with in the drafting of Point 20, belongs in the overall theses.

For although these theses are general in nature, they take up specific problems of trade union action, talking of unity, split, and propaganda in the international industrial federations. The question is no longer posed as at the Second Congress, where it was a matter of defining for the first time the party’s role and the relations between party and trade unions.

Comrade Azzario also wanted the commission to include in the proposed text a passage that would recall the role of the party and the Communist International’s policy in the trade union arena. We suggested to him that there is no need to include this wording once again. We said: To include it again is superfluous for you Italians, since you have already carried it out. If you wish it to be published again for France, that brings us no advantage, because the French problem is much more difficult to resolve.

This work must start anew in France. In Italy, you have already systematically applied the policies adopted by Communist International. But the situation in France is quite the opposite. The work has not yet been tackled. It must begin, so that the French party can become a Communist Party. In my opinion it is appropriate for this very reason that this text, which is general in character, include a special paragraph dealing with France. Of course, if this concerned a matter of principle, if it concerned modifying one of the Communist International’s basic principles regarding relations between party and trade unions, we would be the first to oppose it. But I repeat once again that question is practical in nature. It’s a matter of characterising the given situation and deducing from that the appropriate form of action.

For this reason I ask our Comrade Tasca and our Italian comrades not to insist on their motion to delete Point 20. We for our part can assure them that this is absolutely not to be understood as showing an inclination to cancel the principles adopted by the Communist International in its thesis on the relations between the party and the trade unions.


Last updated on 5 May 2019