Victor Serge

Frame of mind of the french proletariate


Source: The Communist International, May 1919, no.1, p.146 (997 words) Note: Spelling of the title and capitals as in the original.—Transcriber
Transcriber: Ted Crawford
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While Messrs. Wilson, Orlando and Pichon are dividing among themselves the old and battered world, revolutionary fermentation, seeking for new forms, leading to the creation of a new world, is penetrating deeper and deeper into the, working masses, little interested in the chatter of diplomats. Strikes in Lyons, the general strike of transport workmen in Paris, when the government militarised the omnibuses, the trams and the metropolitan railway; disturbances in the army the deepening schism in the Socialist party and in the syndicates—all these are signs of the growing tempest, a tempest of a yet unseen depth and force. The bourgeoisie knows only one means of reprisals: persecution, arrests, systematcal assaulting of workmen returning from meetings . . . . Almost simultaneously Villain, the murderer of Jaurès, is acquitted, and Cottin—a soldier wounded in the last war, but a syndicalist, whose, revolver bullet merely scratched the skin of the old “tiger”, is sentenced to death. A symbolical picture: a simple soldier judges and condemns the bourgeoisie in the person of Clemenceau—and is shot for the attempt; a fanatic disciple of the royalists murders the leader of the best part of the French nation and is acquitted. What is this, but a challenge to white terror? Names and facts change, but the policy is always the same: in Paris Henri Guilbeaux is sentenced to death for imaginary high treason; in Odessa Jeanne Labourbe is shot by order of the French commandment. The first blows have been struck; accounts will soon be settled now!

It is interesting to watch the French press of the last weeks from this point of view, The bourgeois press may continue its campaign of libel to its heart’s content; publishing lengthy commentaries on the death of Kropotkin, murdered by the bolsheviks,(!) at the same time omitting, as does the “Temps”, essential parts of Tchicherin’s radio containing the peace proposals of the Soviet government; All its efforts are in vain. Under the pressure of a new humour, which has at present seized the majority of the working masses all the papers, read by the workmen of the larger towns, well or ill defend in their every issue—the Russian councils. “Le Populaire” the organ of Jean Longuet’s group, “Le Journal du Peuple” edited by Henri Fabre, and a whole pleiade of radical journalists, grouped around these papers (Henri Barbusse, Leon Werth, Georges Pioche, Severin, Fornand Dupres, Victor Meric—not mentioning our real friends, such as P. Verfeuil, Loriot, A. Dunois, P. :Faure) are doing successful work towards acquainting French society with; the real state of affairs in Russia.

The organ of the syndicalists “L’ Avenir Internationale” and the anarchist newspapers—forbidden at present—“Ce qu’il fant dire”, “La Plebe”, “Franchise” all devote their energies to the defense of the Russian revolution and councils. As a contrast one is obliged to cite the sorry attitude of the renegates of the revolution, the group of the newspaper “Bataille” some time “syndicallists”.

Not small, is the number of those who formerly were enemies of the councils, and who would have remained so till the present day had they not been dependent the masses: they were hound to stand up for the councils order not to lose the favour of the proletariat. One cannot put any other construction on the conduct of the representatives of the centre or minority, from Longuet to Brizon—the likes of Moutet, Lafond, Mayeras and others, Who, although defending the councils, nevertheless steadfastly sacrifice their revolutionary duty to a mythical “unity” and refuse to declare themselves partisans of the Spartacists shot by transrhenanian Renaudels; but what is worse, they stoop to spread abroad the base libel brought forth by the bourgeois press and bourgeois jurisdiction, against the genuine French Communists (Comments of Mayeras on the condemnation of Guilbeaux).

The greatest importance is certainly attached to the fact that the French working masses no longer permit attacks against the councils; they demand their defence and their imitation. Georges Pioche—who is far from bolshevism wrote not long ago in “Les Hommes du Jour”:

“Say: if with the development of the revolution in Germany the country were to be seized by the same generous, just and fertile “disorders” that are creating a new Russia, then who but Lenin, Trotsky and their “illiterate” representatives will prove to be the saviours of Europe? . . . .

. . . . And who then is working with such enthusiasm not only for the Russian; but for all other nations, but the same much-decried Lenin, Trotzky and their disciples, their brothers?”

Such lines from the pen of a young author widely read by the younger part of the population, only confirm the profound change in the mood of the Freuch proletariat, its sympathy with the Russian Councils, which in spite of ruthless reaction, in spite of the despotic rule of Clemenceau,—are loudly acclaimed at every meeting of French working men.

Victor Serge


Last updated on 11.11.2007