Leon Lesoil

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 46, 16 November 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Again heart-breaking news reaches us from the hell that Europe has become. Again we learn of the death of a soldier of the revolution.

This time it is our comrade, Leon Lesoil, leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Belgium, section of the Fourth International, reported dead at the hands of the Nazi brutes in a Belgian prison.

With the Militants in Charleroi

Lesoil was raised in a proletarian family and he lived and worked almost all of his life in the famous Belgian mining district of Charleroi. He served as a non-commissioned officer of the Belgian army during the First World War and, in some technical capacity or other, paid a visit to the United States while the war was on.

Either immediately before the outbreak of the war or right after it ended (I no longer recall exactly), Lesoil became a member of the militant young socialist organization in the country, Jeunes Gardes, which had one of the finest anti-militarist traditions in the European socialist movement.

As an ardent supporter of its left wing, he helped to lay the foundations for the small but vigorous Communist Party of Belgium in the days following the Russian Revolution and the re-opening of the struggle by the militants of the Belgian Labor (Social Democratic) Party against the reformist and. patriotic leadership of Vandervelde.

The weight of this leadership was tremendous and the Belgian communists were never quite successful in breaking its reactionary hold upon the Belgian workers and the trade union movement. But one of the sections of the country where it was most frequently forced on the defensive was in the Charleroi mining country. Lesoil, known to and esteemed by ever-widening circles of workers for his. unimpeachable integrity, his combativity and in general for his “bon sens,” was one of those chiefly responsible for the headaches and sleepless nights of the reformist bureaucracy in the mine fields.

A Leader of the Trotskyist Movement

He was one of those few militants who had the courage to come out flatfootedly in solidarity with the struggle that the Trotskyist opposition launched in Russia and in the Communist International against the corruptive and degenerating effects of Stalinism. And when the showdown came in the International, he did not flinch and he did hot capitulate. The Stalinist machine made special efforts to save the day for themselves in Belgium, because the outstanding founders and leaders of communism in that country were with the Left Opposition. It used flattery and coercion, bribery and threats, but so far as the best militants were concerned, the machine failed. The political bureau of the party, including the outstanding leaders, men of the standing of Van Overstraeten and Hennaut among them, and Leon Lesoil of course, voted resolutions of solidarity with the Opposition. The leadership of the party was thereupon arbitrarily deposed and expelled by Stalin and a gang of lickspittles put in its place.

Lesoil took an even more prominent place in the Belgian Communist Opposition than he had had in the party. And whoever met him and saw him in action could easily understand why he had everybody’s respect.

I met him for the first time at the founding conference of the International Left Opposition in Paris, in 1930. His modesty of manner and speech was not paired with ignorance, but with firmness, with good practical experience in the movement, and with good common sense. If he did not always show quite the flair of some of the French comrades, for example, then, if I may say so, he was more solid, more rocky. I met him again and again at international conferences, and one unforgettable time in Charleroi itself, where I could see what the miners and other workers of that region thought of him and of his views and of the way he put them forward. Yet I never heard from him what is so far from rare on an active political person’s lips: a demagogic word, a spiteful or malicious personal attack, the pompous phrase of the arrogant bureaucrat or the blustering ignoramus. He spoke with the simplicity and sincerity of the working men who knew and followed him and from whom he differed only in that he was better educated politically, more experienced, more logical in his thought and action.

He Had the Courage to Stick It Out

Because of his activity in the labor and revolutionary, movements, Leon was on the coal operators’ blacklist and he could not get a job anywhere near the mines. He had to eke out a very humble living as a small coal distributor, and I, who saw how he lived in Charleroi, can tell you it was humble indeed.

What made it worse was that he unhesitatingly neglected his own little “business” for any party activity that fell to his lot – speaking at meetings from one end of the country to another on short notice, always on tap for aid of any kind in a strike struggle or the like, off to challenge the Stalinists or the trade union skates at every step, or off to take part in the assemblies of the French or Dutch sections of the International, or of the International itself. An acknowledged leader of our International, he was a member of its executive committee from its inception to the day he died.

The social revolution was his great dream; it was his living life, too.

The struggle buffeted him about and sometimes, as is the case with everyone, he had to summon up the last reserves of courage and conviction to stick it out. The difference between Leon and so many others is that he had those reserves. I recall that on one occasion, when things looked exceptionally black – it was right after the depressing victory of Hitler in Germany – Leon wrote the “Old Man” that he was finished, that he couldn’t do very much more, that it might be better if he dropped away from activity altogether. It was a momentary mood and it passed quickly. Trotsky wrote back a tender and understanding letter to an old friend and an old soldier. He told Leon that he could easily comprehend his reaction, that it had happened to others, but he was confident that if Leon took a brief vacation, it would end with his return to his old activity unreservedly. I don’t think Leon even took the vacation. It was but a passing mood, and, as we can see now, he continued the fight for the great and noble ideals of socialism down to the very end and under the most excruciating difficulties.

At His Post to the Very End

The exact circumstances of his death we do not know, but they are not hard to imagine. The invasion of the Nazis found Leon at his revolutionary post – that we do not doubt for a moment. And while others faltered in their loyalties, and one or two others even capitulated wretchedly to the enemy, Leon remained the wise and simple and honest incorruptible of Belgian Marxism. He would not give in; he never had.

That is why this clear-souled man symbolizes in his martyrdom the best that the socialist movement means: He would not give in; he never had. And so it shall be, until his assassins and his tormentors, the enemies of the people, the beneficiaries of capitalism, shall have been effaced from the earth, and a new order, as calm and serene and equable as Leon was, put in its place.

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