Max Shachtman

Political Banditry in
the French Communist Party

The Party is Conducting Factional Struggles Without Principles or Platform

(November 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 34 (Whole No. 93), 5 December 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Communist movement in France today finds itself in an extremely difficult position. The tremendous sweep of enthusiasm for the Communist International in the early years following upon the Russian revolution, reaching a high point when the Left wing won a majority at the Tours congress of the French Socialist Party, has been considerably arrested in recent years. Here, as everywhere else, the ravages of Stalinism have left their painful scars – more correctly, open wounds – on the body of the movement. A few instances, tersely stated, will prove adequate.

A brief four years ago, the C.G.T.U., the trade union center under the control of the party, had at least as many members as the reformist unions – some 400,000 in each. Today, the C.G.T.U. finds itself in the grip of a profound crisis, having lost almost half of its members, while the C.G.T. has about 700,000 in its ranks. The party has lost at least a similar proportion of its membership. The Y C L. reveals an even worse state of affairs. The central organ of the party, l’Humanité, reports an uninterrupted decline in circulation. Or, better yet, let us quote directly from an unpublished resolution adopted at the enlarged District Committee meeting of the Paris region of the party:

Revelations of the Party Conference of Paris

“(a) The membership of the party is stagnant. The applications made hardly suffice to compensate the losses suffered in certain centers and the fluctuations which continue to be very substantial.

“(b) The Unitary trade unions have lost, in 1930, an important number of adherents. In spite of the seriousness of such a fact, the loss of members has not been arrested in the first semester of 1931.

“(c) The sale of l’Humanité has been in constant regression for a long period.

“(d) This weakening of our organization indicates a loss of influence which manifests itself in the assemblages (less attendance at meetings and demonstrations) and in the course of certain elections where, side by side with some progress, we have observed retreats.

“(e) While the Socialist Federation makes an effort to win the workers’ strata, while it fights stubbornly for our troops, we record no work to win over the socialist and C.G.T. workers.

“(f) One of the most disturbing and most serious facts is that the offensive against wages in the metal industry developed this year without our having prepared and organized the resistance.

“(g) Our organizational positions in the shops are becoming constantly weaker. One might say almost non-existent.

“(h) The demonstrations of February 25, of May 1, of August 1, of September 6, brought out only a tiny number of workers.

“(i) The district revealed an almost complete passivity in the course of important national and international events: Spain, Roubaix, Germany, trip to Paris of General Bono, voyage of Reynaud to Indo-China, etc.

“(j) The Youth organization is stagnant and has found no support in the party.

“(k) In the various mass organizations (International Red Aid, Workers International Relief, Friends of the Soviet Union, Tenants, etc.) there is a stagnation or a retrogression of membership ...”

Stated in moderated terms, the resolution of the Paris district indicates the present state of affairs in the ranks of official Communism in France, based upon conditions obtaining in the most important and strongest sector of the party – Paris. In the provinces, the tableau is considerably more depressing.

Preparations For Another “Decisive Turn”

The “decisive turn” of the middle of last year, even if one is to take only the admissions made officially by the Stalinists, manifestly resulted in no amelioration of the failing health of the party. If anything, it has gone from bad to worse. And at the present moment, the party is threatened with heavy blows directed at the most important domain of Communist influence upon the working class: the trade unions. The details of this phase of the problem must be left for a more extensive account. It is enough to state here that the reformists of the C.G.T. have taken the offensive against the C.G.T.U. and the party all along the line, and already with considerable success. In the ranks of the C.G.T.U. itself, a substantial Right wing current has forged to the front and is conducting the work of reformism within the revolutionary ranks – on the question of trade union unity – which the helpless and hopeless Stalinist leaders of the C.G.T.U., whose national congress is assembled in Paris as these lines are written, show themselves to be incapable of counteracting. When one adds to this the fact that the discontentment of the party membership manifests itself not only by voting against the bureaucrats with their feet, but also by mutterings and even by open protest, those in the slightest initiated into the methods of operation of Stalinism will immediately realize that the stage is all set for a “new turn”, just as “decisive” as those which preceded it.

Another Scapegoat Is Discovered

But no “turn” is complete on the Stalinist stage without a villain, that is, without the revelation of a scapegoat, or a number, or group of scapegoats, to whom is attributed all the evil of yesterday, all the maladies of the party, and all the responsibility for what has happened since the last “turn” and frequently further back. This time, however, the “discovery of those responsible” has laid bare a case of political banditry which, at least so far as the writer knows, is unique in the records of the international Communist movement.

In the columns of l’Humanité, one reads now that most if not all of the tribulations of the party are to be traced to what is currently known as “the group”, that is, a clique of leaders of the party and the Youth. Just what is “the group”? One of its leading members, Billoux, gives the following information about it (all quotations are translated directly from l’Humanité itself):

“Actually constituted since 1923 in the struggle against the opportunist policy of the party leaderships of those days, this group, as leader of the Communist Youth, helped greatly in the purging of the party and in its formation. The mistake of the comrades belonging to this group is only the greater because of it.

“In the meetings of the regions and of the district committees, many comrades have asked for clarification on the Central Committee resolution where it says that we had constituted a group without a political basis. It is a fact that we had no special political platform. But we considered ourselves as the only ones capable of applying the correct political line.” (11-2-31)

Confirming the confessions of Billoux, the representative of the Political Bureau at the Paris district committee meeting mentioned above, Frachon declared that “the group constituted in the Political Bureau has existed for seven to eight years, that it had groups in the regions, in the districts, in the Paris district, in the Confederal Bureau [of the C.G.T.U.]”.

Explaining Away the “Excesses” of Stalinism

The group disclosed, the new group (for what else has replaced the old one in the leadership of the party?) proceeds systematically to demonstrate to the membership what scoundrels their predecessors were and what chemically pure Leninists the party is now endowed with in the person of the new leadership: Thorez, Frachon and Co. At the same time, the “excesses” of last year’s Stalinism are conveniently ascribed to the poor scapegoats. For example: Thorez writes indignantly about “the group” in these terms:

“A comrade of the group condemned by the Central Committee thought that the Communist International was backsliding to the Right and revising the previous theses on social-fascism. And what was the argument, or rather the pretext, invoked? Simply that we did not repeat in every line of the theses the term social-fascist. The group was impregnated with the sectarian, Leftist spirit, the comrade considered as a step towards opportunism the effort, recommended by the International, with a view towards convincing the socialist workers otherwise than with epithets [Aha!] ... And perhaps we shall still have to establish to what extent the sectarian practises of the group contributed to disorienting the party, to disarming it before the bourgeois and social democratic enemy, to what extent, finally, the group facilitated the frankly opportunist mistakes which we must establish at the moment when the party is once more taking the first steps in the tactic of the united front”. (11-3-31)

Bad? The Artful Dodger himself could do no better! And not only on the question of “social-fascism”. It appears that all the blunders and crimes, in the theoretical as well as in the practical domain, committed in the trade union question should legitimately be ascribed to “the group”. The apostle Thorez vouchsafes us this revelation also:

“By forgetting or not knowing these elementary truths, the group did considerable damage to the work of redressment decided upon by the party since July 1930, particularly in the relations between the party and the trade unions.” (10-31-31.)

The Paris resolution referred to above, to explain the situation which it speaks about in such detail, announces that “the fact that one of the principal leaders of the district, comrade Celor, belonged to the group constituted in the leadership of the party, contributed greatly to the development of such a state of affairs”. And it is in this resolution that we learn for the first time who it was that constituted “the group”: “... the enlarged District Committee approves the condemnation of the grave mistakes committed by Barbe, Celor, Raymond, Lozeray, Billoux, Coutheillas, Galopin and condemns the group work carried on by Celor in the Paris district”.

Who Are “The Group”?

The members of “the group” are no small fry. They were the leaders of the party and nothing less. Barbe was a member of the Political Bureau and of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, where he represented the French party. Celor held the same two positions. Raymond was on the Paris District Committee. Lozeray was on the Central Committee of the party and a member of the Secretariat. Billoux was secretary of the Young Communist League and member of the Executive of the Young Communist International. Coutheillas was on the secretariat of the Y.C.L. Galopin was on the Confederal Bureau of the C.G.T.U. Their influence extended far beyond the limits of seven clansmen. The report of the Paris meeting declares that Larriber, the secretary of the Paris district, “denies having known of the existence of the group but acknowledges having worked under its influence.” No less a Stalinist statesman than Pierre Semard, secretary of the party until a short time ago, made the same admission in a “self-critical” confession in l’Humanité.

The question immediately arises: How was this group which, if we are to believe Thorez, has neither a definite political platform nor any principles, and which always voted approval of the decisions of the International – how was this group able to exist for seven or eight years as a closed and unknown faction, carrying on its machinations and maneuvers throughout the party, the youth and the trade unions with the single aim of gaining control of the party apparatus? How was it able, from an obscure group of Communist Youth, to gain such decisive control of the party, to represent it in the highest instances of the Communist International – the Executive Committee?

There have been numerous instances in the history of the Communist International – in its best days and in its worst – of factional and group struggles for party leadership. But these were carried on in the open, their existence was known, they had distinct platforms, with very tangible points at issue. Around them took place open, and sometimes very violent, discussions. After a certain period, one standpoint or the other triumphed and the course of the party was clearly identifiable with the people who directed it. Such internal disputes constitute the very life of an active, lusty revolutionary political movement which is closely connected with the course of events and their constant permutations.

Sordid Practices Repealed

But what we have here is an entirely and a radically different matter. The “group” was constituted without any political platform. Its existence was never communicated to anyone other than its own chiefs. It never strove to gain places and posts in the party leadership in the name of a political line different from that pursued by the incumbent leadership. All its actions bore a purely conspirative character. Struggle for political control without political principle, without a special platform, by exclusively conspirative methods, is known by the short and ugly term: political banditry.

A couple of instances will serve as additional support for this designation. What l’Humanité does not tell the party members is an incident like the following: When Thorez was serving a term in prison at Nancy in 1930 for “violating the press law”, Barbe, who was in the party secretariat at the time, made a whole series of demagogic arguments against paying the fine which would have released Thorez for party work: “Party leaders should not be better treated than the ordinary revolutionary worker”. It was only after an indignant intervention of a Comintern delegation that the secretariat was obliged to pay the fine. Barbe’s reluctance to see Thorez at large is now easily comprehensible in the light of the revelations – Thorez and Barbe were at sword’s points in the party and the bourgeoisie had simply done Barbe a decent turn by incarcerating Thorez! Only, it must be borne in mind that if such conduct cannot be called Communist, it can surely be compared to the conduct of a gangster towards his rival.

The writer recalls further an incident at the 1925 Plenum of the Young Communist International. In the Political Commission, Doriot, at that time a conscious or unconscious agent of “the group”, launched a furious and thoroughly nauseating attack upon the then representative in Moscow of the French Youth League, Mouton. The violence and the gross language in which the attack was made were incomprehensible at the time, as was the categoric demand that Mouton be sent back to France. Now we learn the reason for the demand, which was in no way at all motivated by Doriot in his two speeches. It appeared that at that time Mouton was a political friend of Treint, the leader of the French party in 1925.” The group” was busy cutting Treint to pieces and Mouton was only one of many who had to be got rid of – and were.

Who Are the Fighters Against the Left Opposition?

Still another characterization of “the group” and its members cannot be omitted. As should be expected, all of them were and are still to be found in the very forefront of the struggle against “Trotskyism”. At the very moment when Barbe and his pals were carrying on their conspirative faction work, Barbe proclaimed at the 1928 congress of the French party, in speaking about the expulsion of the “Trotskyists” from the party: “It is to insult the memory and all of the teachings of Lenin even to dare to refer to the actions of Lenin in order to render legitimate the factional work of the Opposition which only leads to the demoralization of the working class, to deflecting it from the revolutionary path.” (2-1-28) It does not require penetrating imagination to picture to oneself the cynical laughter that must have shaken Barbe internally while delivering himself of this righteous assault upon the “factionalists” of the Opposition.

And now, where was the party all these seven-eight years while the bandits were secretly at work? Where was the membership, with its control over party policies and party leadership? The only answer is: it was there, but it had nothing to say in the matter. The membership became a mere shadow on the wall, going through certain formal motions which were never registered in actuality. Everything was decided outside of the ranks of the party itself, in the secret meeting places of a self-perpetuating clique without principles or a feeling of responsibility. In the face of the recent revelations, what do all the discussions in the French party signify? What value have all the party conferences and congresses, which were supposed to decide the questions of party policy and to select the leadership of the party? In this whole sordid history, where can one find the merest trace of party democracy? Nowhere, for in France as everywhere else in the Stalinist International, party democracy has long ago been ruthlessly exterminated; only the most shadowy recollections of it remain. And that is in the very nature of Stalinism: a false policy, a policy of blunders and uninterrupted defeats can be imposed upon the worker-Communists only by a bureaucratic machine which crushes the party to pieces as it rolls along. A more salient and unanswerable example of this process than that presented by “the group” cannot be given in the recent history of Stalinism. To find a comparison one must depart from the domain of the labor movement and search in the sewers of bourgeois politics: the seven years’ history of “the group” is comparable only to the conduct and methods of Tammany Hall. Its success would undoubtedly excite the admiration and perhaps the envy of John Curry, McCooey and Boss Vare of Philadelphia.

* * * *

But, it will be said, the “new” party leadership nevertheless did uncover them and pillory them in public. Like most half-trufhs this is worse than a falsehood. The fact of the matter is thai “the group” was not uncovered in the interests of Communist purity and probity of conduct. The fact of the matter is, further, that Thorez and Co. knew of the existence of “the group” many months ago, at least, and this by their own admission, in the very first article mentioning even the existence of “the group” (but taking care even then to omit the names), Thorez wrote at the end of October:

“’In July, the C.C. established, in spite of its May resolution, not only the development of the group spirit but also the existence of a closed group whose members submitted to the discipline of the group, met outside of the regular organisms of the party in order to put their heads together and to determine their common attitude in all the problems of party policy.” (10-28-31)

The fact of the matter is, still further, that “the group” was known even before July. In the middle of 1930, at the moment of the “decisive turn” which followed after the heights of the “third period” had been attained, the Political Bureau was reorganized precisely in order to destroy the domination of Barbe and Co. It was reconstituted with Thorez, Monmousseau, Semard, Frachon, Cachin, Doriot and Barbe, leaving only the last-named as a representative of “the group”. Why then are they exposed only now, at this late date? For the reason we mentioned at the very outset. The condition of the party has reached so serious a state and aroused so much discontentment in the party that another “new turn” has been decided upon. A Stalinist turn has as its sine qua non, its absolutely inescapable prerequisite, a group of scapegoats. In France, the scapegoat is “the group”. It offers itself willingly, as the public self-flagellations of its adherents demonstrate. As a reward for this final phase of the conspiracy against the party, they are let off with a “punishment” which is nothing less than a direct incitation to a repetition of such work. Lozeray, for example, after a public avowal of the fact that he had acted for some eight years as a common bourgeois politician, as a bandit instead of a Communist, is “punished” by being made full-time treasurer of the Workers’ Sport Federation.

What Needs To Be Done

But Thorez, Frachon and Co., to whom cynicism and Stalinist corruption are not alien qualities, are not interested in that. All they require is a scapegoat for themselves. The party membership is restless? Then throw it a bone! That is why the campaign is being conducted so furiously in the columns of l’Humanité against “the group”. That is why the attention of all the party meetings is being turned in that direction. That is why it is already common knowledge that, in face of the tremendous problems facing Communism in France, the announced party congress will be held shortly entirely under the sign of “the struggle against the group”. That is how the Stalinists hope to distract the attention of the party from their own enormities, from their own incapacity, from their own blunders in permanence.

Let us hope that the Left Opposition in France, despite the fewness of its numbers, will be able to arouse at least a small but resolute section of the party vanguard which will start delivering some imperatively needed blows, not only at political banditry but at the whole rotted foundation of Stalinism which underlies it.

Paris, November 11, 1931


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