Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922(https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 963–1004.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
We now reach an extremely important and difficult point on our agenda, that of our French party.
The Communist Party of France is now undergoing a very severe crisis. Curiously, this crisis in the party coincides with that of the French bourgeoisie and its state.
I say this is curious because, in general, crises of bourgeois organisms create favourable conditions for the revolutionary party’s development. The revolutionary party normally draws strength from the crisis of bourgeois society.
The coincidence of these two crises leads me to conclude that the French party has not yet achieved the absolute independence and freedom in action and organisation from capitalist society that it needs in order to utilise the crisis of this society freely and fully. We will examine this more fully later on.
What is the nature of this crisis, whose existence is disputed by no one?
References have been made to a stagnation and even a decline in recruitment. The circulation of our newspapers, press statements, and above all of l’Humanité are declining. The organisation’s internal life is stagnating.
These are the most striking, obvious, and undeniable indications.
But more is involved here. A system of factions has taken root inside the party. The factional struggle and the harsh, sometimes even personal polemics are also undeniable expressions of a deep crisis of the party organism.
These outward indications are not of decisive importance for the development of our French party.
The decline in recruitment does not represent any great danger, provided it is only temporary and only a reflection of the fact that initially our party attracted forces that did not belong with us in terms of either their mentality or their political positions, and that the party is distancing itself from these forces in order to heighten and stabilise its Communist unity and cohesion. Even the decline in circulation of the press does not represent a danger. This could well be only a passing phenomenon brought about by a shift in the political situation.
It is an undeniable fact, which we have observed in the history of our different parties, that the path of our development is never entirely straight; rather, there is an alternation of ebb and flow. During a period of upsurge, the party must develop large-scale external activity in order to attract the masses, while during a period of ebb it must focus more on itself and turn into itself, developing its organisation, working out its ideas more precisely, and preparing itself for the inevitable struggles to come.
Much more significant are the struggles among factions and their predominance.
What causes factions? Who is responsible for the dominance of factions?
It is possible to give an answer that is mainly descriptive in character, an answer encountered rather often in the press of our French party. I will quote a comrade surely well known to you, Comrade Frossard, who wrote an article in l’Humanité on 16 July under the title, ‘So this will never end’. I will quote a few sentences:
We are so Byzantine! We are genuine hair-splitters! We are such pathetic nit-pickers! We can only have pity on the true heroes who read what we write.
That is a very dismal picture. However, in these sentences we find only an external description of the party’s condition. Why is it that we seem so Byzantine? Why are we such wretched nit-pickers and hair-splitters? What is the underlying basis for these assertions? This question absolutely demands an answer. And from time to time it is asked where these polemics, both general and personal, are coming from.
Comrades belonging to the same tendency as our Comrade Frossard often single out the Left as the driving force of these polemics and also of the system of factions. Comrades who themselves belong to factions often denounce the factional system as entirely artificial, as something that is not at all based on principles and does not relate to political goals. I would like to quote from an article by Daniel Renoult that appeared in l’Humanité in September.
As was said by my friend Duret – and no one ever answered him on this point – a serious and correct differentiation can come about only in action and through action.
Thus we see the factions attacking each other furiously, and that the leaders of both these factions declare these groupings to have been formed artificially, and that a genuine differentiation in the party can only be established by action – that is, action in the future. I do not believe that such an analysis is correct.
Above all we must ask how it is that comrades who reject the ideological and political shape of these factions belong to one of the three largest factions in the party.
We must also ask whether it is correct to argue that we can expect activity to bring about a differentiation on a correct basis.
If we were speaking here only of revolutionary activity, that is, the struggle for the seizure of power by the working class, then we would have been wrong to separate off from the Dissidents, because they claimed that the split was driven through by a will coming from outside rather than by the internal needs of the party.
But the entire life of the party must express a series of actions that form a chain, and this chain must lead to the greatest action of all, the conquest of power by the proletariat.
Now we hear that the groupings that took shape are not definitive. We are in agreement, and I believe that we will never put in question the correctness of such an assertion.
I believe that there will always be a differentiation into tendencies, and that in the moment of decisive revolutionary action the overwhelming majority of members of all factions will meet together in a common framework. That is quite correct. But the assertion that the tendencies existing today in mutual conflict are merely an artificial division is in fact inapplicable to the French party, which consists entirely of tendencies and has no existence apart from its tendencies. There must be a convincing reason for their existence and their struggles.
It is said that differentiation can be produced only through activity. But it was precisely through activity that the International sought for a year and a half to bring about a reconstitution of the groupings in the French party. In order to promote activity of this type, the international proposed two approaches, both of which lead to the same goal: activity in the trade unions both within the unions themselves and through the united front.
However, in order to conduct a campaign, one must have a more or less precise conception of it and also enjoy the agreement of the majority of the party. When it was proposed to reorganise the party through actions, this encountered a sharp rebuff. Among the French organisations that are the most important and largest – even if considerably smaller than before – there was opposition to methodical and organised party work, as well as to activity using the united front slogan.
It has now become a banal truism that in a country where we do not enjoy the confidence of the immense majority of the working class, where the proletariat is split into different factions on both trade union and party levels, where the members of these factions both in the trade unions and in the party represent only an extremely small portion of the working class – that given all these factors, it is impossible to develop our activity in any way other than under the slogan of the united front. When such a possibility for action is rejected – an action that has not been dreamed up but arises from necessity itself, one is in effect rejecting action itself. And if, after this, one complains about the existence of tendencies, one is only increasing the quantity of impermissible contradictions.
As you know, comrades, during the past year there was an ongoing struggle – there is no other word for it – between the International and the French party – that is, its majority, which in this case was represented by two currents, the Centre and the Renoult current.
We wanted to explain to the French party why the united front was necessary. In France, those arguing against the International in this important question have raised the argument that through the united front, the International has forced the French party to return to the policy of ‘civil peace’ and Millerandism. Comrade Zinoviev reminded us of this argument yesterday in the commission that you have established to deal with the French question. This indicates just how far misunderstandings have developed on a question that offers a powerful tool to develop the work of the French party.
The French bourgeois press has now seized on this argument. That is punishment for the errors committed in this polemic. It is punishment for you so that you will see how the enemy seizes on erroneous formulations, sharpens them, and throws them into the political marketplace. Here is what we read in Le Temps:
It has not been said that this humiliating obedience will be sufficient to appease Moscow’s anger, for it is far from easy to follow the spirit and letter of the International’s policies. They are boundlessly changeable, according to the momentary interests of the Soviet government and according to the circumstances that this government must take into account in order to try to conceal the complete failure of communism.
It was not Le Temps that discovered this formulation. They borrowed it from a representative of one of the tendencies of our party. Le Temps just refined it and turned it against the party as a whole.
Only a few days ago, Frossard, who also fought against the united front, turned to the reformists with a proposal for action on the basis of this policy.
The response of the Dissidents contains the entire terminology that we know so well, that we have already read in the press of our party, and that has now been taken up by our enemies.
Even more serious, however, is the fact that the French party delayed more than a year, permitting the Dissidents to seize on the idea of the united front. Now it is not our French party that appears before the French proletariat as the originator of this proposal, but the Dissidents, who have begun to compete with us in this arena. It is enough to read the articles in Le Populaire on the restoration of trade union unity.
The factional system was therefore not set up artificially and accidentally under the influence of some external will. It is based on currents that result from actions, or the absence of actions, which themselves do not represent accidental developments in the French party.
As for the question of who is responsible for this policy, I must reply that responsibility lies not with the Left but – perhaps unfortunately – with the International as a whole. Our French comrades could not carry out the action because they did not want to accept the preconditions for this action. The task is to remove the ideological barriers for action through polemics. That is why the International itself took the initiative for such a polemic.
In order to justify the guidelines that we have followed with regard to the French party during the last two years, I located a speech that I gave on the French question in June 1921 at a meeting of the Expanded Executive – that is, one and a half years ago.
I must admit I was struck by the fact that we have not made a step forward since that time.
I would like to recall a few important passages in this speech:
People do not see the gulf that our press and our speeches must create between the Communist Party and the entirety of bourgeois society. The gulf is not visible. Workers must now come and ask you, ‘But what are you up to? Why do you not speak in a Communist language? With you everything is vague, no more distinct than the obscurity of the Longuet people, with which it is actually identical.
I must add that there is another reality here that must be recognised and correctly evaluated: namely that the conduct of the party toward the syndicalists is entirely wrong.
We must therefore tell the Communist Party of France cordially but forcefully: We do not demand that you undertake revolutionary actions without taking into account whether the conditions are favourable or not. We demand of you only that you break once and for all with your former conduct, your former connections, your former relationship to capitalist society and its institutions – and that you do so not merely in form but through your deeds, your ideas, your feelings, and your conduct as a whole.
Do not these words sound as if spoken now, when we discussed freemasonry? Continuing:
We demand of you only that you give expression to your revolutionary will everywhere – in your press, in parliament, in the trade unions – and ultimately, in its highest expression, on the Paris barricades.
That is how we presented the matter to the Executive Committee. My voice was only one voice in the Executive, which in this matter was completely unanimous. And that was one and a half years ago. We fought against a spirit of conservatism, which represented the past, on behalf of a revolutionary spirit, which was the spirit of the future. I cannot say that our efforts were entirely without success. Something changed in the party. The present crisis, which is certainly very unpleasant, dealt a deadly blow to the party’s conservatism.
Obviously, if the party does not muster up the necessary energy to overcome this crisis, that could result in a defeat for the entire revolutionary development of the French proletariat. But there is no reason at all to form a pessimistic opinion of the opportunities before the French party. I repeat: the nature of the crisis results both from the polemic and from the struggle that the International has waged against conservatism, and the sharpness of this crisis and its entire character flow from the fact that conservatism has remained so strong – in fact, too strong.
After the Tours congress, we inherited many customs and habits that resist being displaced by those of Communist action. That is what caused the rise of factionalism, which signifies simply the struggle of the future against the past, or the intermediary tendency, which searches for an orientation.
Reference was often made to the many factors in the party itself that obstruct its more rapid development. Reference was made to French tradition and to the individualism of the French workers. However if the party wishes to be a party of struggle, it must not merely adopt the point of view of a historian, who steps aside from the party’s internal life and merely indicates the causes obstructing its development.
I would like to borrow an excellent argument from our comrade Vaillant-Couturier. He said: You claim that you have to deal with workers who are entirely imbued with the spirit of individualism, and that this individualist spirit obstructs the organisation of a revolutionary party. But did capitalist society come to a halt in the war when faced with French individualism? Did this individualism pose a barrier for the social patriots? Not at all. On the contrary, utilising the police and the regular army, but above all utilising public opinion, they brought to bear increasing pressure on the so-called individualism of the French worker, sufficient to bring him into the trenches, where he stayed for four and a half years.
When it served bourgeois interests, they knew how to conquer this individualism. Should this individualism really become so invincible the moment it is a matter of conquering it in the interests of the proletariat?
Thus we must reject this argument. Of course, there is a strongly developed individualist side to every worker. It can certainly be put down to French history that this individualism is perhaps more strongly developed among French workers than among other ones.
But the French worker also has a generous side. We must understand how to appeal to this generosity by opening up for him the perspectives of an action to which he can devote his entire commitment, his entire selflessness. You will see that he will sacrifice not only his material interests but his life, the moment that the struggle demands it.
But we must be capable of doing this. When I hear a Communist say that everything is in vain because the workers are so individualistic, I must respond that such a statement is likely to awaken mistrust of the party or of a certain tendency within it by demonstrating its impotence.
We have spoken much about the trade union question in the course of the congress and have encountered the same obstacles with the Centre and Renoult tendencies that were reflected in the proceedings of the Paris congress.
I would like to quote some statements by Comrade Jacob, who is part of the trade union delegation. His speech at the Paris congress is extremely characteristic and important and – I say this in friendship – quite wrong, entirely and dangerously wrong.
Comrade Jacob is a member of the party and also a leading member of a trade union. He addresses the role that the party should play in the workers’ movement as follows:
The party must not interfere in the activity of the trade unions. However, there are certain passages in the Central Committee resolution that can only obstruct this activity. Manuilsky is misinformed regarding the Le Havre strike. Frossard and Lopez said that the Communist Party had not carried out its duty in the strike. We, by contrast, say that the party had absolutely no role to play there.
This is an extremely dangerous statement. It could perhaps be said that this is simply a fit of bad temper. Possibly! That does not alter the fact that it is highly characteristic of the party’s entire mentality. It is party members – not sympathetic syndicalists like Monmousseau or Monatte – it is party members who are telling the party, ‘You have no business getting involved in events like the strike in Le Havre’.
You know that in the Le Havre strike, the local mayor – Meyer, a bourgeois radical – and the since-deceased parliamentary deputy Siegfried intervened. Also Poincaré intervened, using rifles. That is simply politics. Only one party did not intervene as such in this strike.
Certainly the party did a great deal for the strikers. It collected daily donations amounting to a great deal of money; many articles were written. But as an organisation that can provide advice; that can take a stand, without in any way interfering with the activity of the trade unions; that can show its political face to the workers and say, ‘We are here to help you. What do you ask of us? We are prepared to do it!’ – in this sense the party as such did nothing for the strike in Le Havre.
Some local trade unionists – I have heard this from comrades present here – said: Don’t compromise us in the eyes of the government, which will claim that we are carrying out a Communist strike, perhaps even on the orders of Moscow.
On hearing that, the party slunk away.
I well understand that there can be circumstances during a strike when the party may make concessions to backward attitudes among the masses or their local representatives. In that case, l’Humanité would have to write: We have offered our services to the leaders of the Le Havre strike, and they replied, ‘We are in touch with Meyer and Siegfried; do not compromise us!’ But we would say to them: Watch out! That is a trap! You are dealing with bourgeois professional politicians, who will betray you and sell you out. There is only one party that will march with you in a moment of intense struggle – the Communist Party!
If you had spoken these words from the first days of the Le Havre strike or during its development, before the tragic events of August 28, before the slaughter, your authority now would be much greater, because people would then know that you had foreseen the way events would develop.
But no. We were obedient. Comrade Frossard said, ‘The party cannot undertake anything in this arena.’ And a Communist working in the trade unions explains, ‘The party has no role to play there’.
This is a very sad and very dangerous situation. From here it is only one step to our Comrade Ernest Lafont, who in his speech to the Paris congress took inspiration from ‘Lagardellism’. You are probably familiar with this ‘Lagardellism’ – it is not syndicalism but a mishmash of various ideological bits and shavings of syndicalism, mixed in with political demagogy. And Ernest Lafont says: The trade unions are a second-rate thing, and I have been created for such second-rate things.
Lagardelle was a great philosopher. He is now in the employ of capitalist organisations. The party’s thoroughly opportunist, reformist, and non-revolutionary course is being pursued by reference to philosophical teachings that the revolution should be carried out outside the party. And Ernest Lafont comes up with a very apt formulation, saying: What business do we have, as lawyers, to get mixed up in trade union matters?
And Comrade Jacob, who is neither a lawyer nor a Lagardellist, but rather a good Communist and a good syndicalist worker, says, ‘Yes, the party has no role to play there’.
This alignment is particularly dangerous.
I also find something of this in the declaration that my friend Monatte has signed together with comrades Louzon, Chambellan, and others.
It is understandable that Monatte, who does not belong to the party, says, ‘We are revolutionary syndicalists, that is, we recognise that in the revolutionary struggle for the liberation of the proletariat, it is the trade union that plays the central role’.
Such a declaration appeared just a short while ago, just after the Paris congress, in the newspaper Lutte des classes [Class Struggle], edited by Comrade Rosmer. It was printed with a comment from the editors.
I understand such claims coming from Monatte, who remains outside the party – although he is wrong on this – but I do not understand Louzon, or Chambelland, or Clavel, or Orlianges, who belong to the party and are also members of the CGTU Executive Commission.
What does it mean to say, ‘We recognise that the trade union plays the main role in the revolutionary struggle for liberation’? Which trade union? There are various ones in France. Is this a reference to the trade union of the Jouhaux people? Certainly not. Or to the trade union of our Comrade Monmousseau? Possibly. But you want to bring about a unification, a fusion of the two unions [CGTU and CGT]. At the moment, Monmousseau is general secretary of the CGTU, but not long ago the CGTU administrative committee was in the hands of the originators of the Pact: Besnard, Verdier, and the like.
Can the proletariat advance to the revolution and carry it out, under their leadership? Do you seriously believe that the trade unions deserve the role of leading the working class? Do you really believe that the best workers’ organisation of the world is a trade union led by reformists, confusionists, and those Communists who do not want to submit to the discipline and theory of their party? Or is it, as we maintain, a trade union imbued with Communist ideas? You utilise a syndicalist formula, but you rob it of its revolutionary and ideological content, in order to declare that the trade union is the most important thing in the world.
Of course, if it were a matter of a trade union under the leadership of the best, most organised, and conscious forces of the working class, one inspired by the spirit of that theory, one defending the interests of revolutionary struggle, that would be an outstanding trade union. There is no union of this type, at least, not in France. It must still be created. What means should be employed? The collaboration of comrades who do not belong to the party with others who do belong to it. We must organise the best forces of the working class, by disseminating a Communist ideology among them and ensuring that it penetrates the spirit of all workers’ organisations.
You allow workers to join trade unions who are outside the party, who are not revolutionary, and who retain backward prejudices, such as the Catholic workers, for example. You are forced to do this, because if the trade unions included only Communists and those syndicalists who are held back by their prejudices from joining the party, if the unions included only such forces, then they would have no value, because they would simply reproduce the party.
But it would be even worse than that, because the party is homogenous, or at least should be more homogenous than unions containing Communists who do not submit to party discipline and syndicalists who belong to no party and are afraid of the party, even though they have a need to analyse their ideas and methods and do not have a party in which they could do this.
If the unions were constituted in this fashion they would be nothing but a poor copy of the political party.
The significance of trade unions is that they consist, or should consist, of forces that are not yet subject to the party’s influence. But it is obvious that there are various layers in the unions: layers that are fully conscious, layers that have a degree of class consciousness but also retain a residue of prejudices, and layers still seeking to develop revolutionary consciousness.
Who in this situation is to play the leading role?
We must not forget the role of the ‘Pact’. It must stand as an example for every single French worker, even for the most backward and undeveloped. We must explain to them the fact that because of the party’s weakness in the trade union field, some anarchist-inclined or outright anarchist forces made a secret ‘pact’ to take over the leadership of the movement.
The trade unions generate within their ranks a layer, their best forces, who feel the need for guidance by ideas. These ideas cannot arise out of nothing. They do not fall from the sky. There must be a continuity present in these ideas, confirmed by experienced, analysed and criticised, and this work must be carried out by the party.
The great objection that is raised against us is our demand that trade unions be subordinated to the party.
Yes, it is true that we want to subordinate the consciousness of the working class to revolutionary ideas. That is what we strive for. It would be stupid indeed to claim that we can function on the basis of a pressure coming from the outside, which does not arise from the free will of the workers themselves, or that the party controls means of pressuring the unions that are stronger, or at least should be stronger, than it is. Reaction has always claimed, in every country, that the party and the unions seek to subject the working class to their will.
Let us consider the most reactionary and perfidious publications in France, in Germany – everywhere, even in the United States. Everywhere we find the same claims. According to them, the workers’ organisations impose actions on the working class against its will, actions that it considers necessary and that, as a result of its manoeuvres, result in the subjugation of the working class to these organisations.
And how do you answer this? You explain, ‘No. we offer our services to the working class, we win its trust. The advanced sector of the working class joins the trade unions; the broad masses support them in struggle and gradually join them as well’.
Is the party not in the very same situation? We want to win the trust of the workers organised in trade unions. Is it not our right, our duty, to appear before the workers in every action, especially the challenging ones, as the most courageous supporters of these actions, in order to spur them on, give them courage, taking the most difficult assignments that carry the greatest dangers, in order to demonstrate that Communists are always and everywhere the most loyal forces in the revolutionary struggle?
Is that not our duty and our right?
In this regard, read the article by Comrade Soutif in the last or next-to-last issue of Bulletin communiste, that is, after the Paris congress. In France, they have a special way of criticising the International. They are obedient to the International, but at the same time they strike out with a sharp jab to their left, especially on the issues where the Left loyally presents the ideas of the International. Soutif says: ‘This resolution’ – it was Rosmer’s resolution, and I find it excellent – ‘this resolution announces that the Communist Party “believes itself to be best placed to express the strivings of the working class and to secure its liberation.” The majority of the Central Committee of course rejected this motion’.
The Central Committee of a party that claims it is the best servant of the working class has ‘of course’ to reject such a statement. And that is written in a publication of our party by a member of the Central Committee, who attacks the Left for having blundered into the assertion that our party is best capable of serving the working class.
All this is simply beyond comprehension. When we expose ourselves, in our publications, to such attacks by members of our central committee, how can we possibly then win the trust of the working class? Can we tolerate this for weeks on end? A living party that seeks to win the trust of the working class would have to immediately teach the author of this article the ABCs of communism.
That is not the first article of this kind. It is one in a long series of articles that we have taken up in our letters, our discussions, and our telegrams.
We see the results in the Le Havre strike and especially in the great general protest strike toward the end of the Le Havre strike, after the slaughter of August 28.
All of you are familiar with these events. The Le Havre strike lasted 110 days. It ended in a slaughter. Four workers were murdered and many wounded. I will now show you a few documents that form part of the history of the French workers’ movement. They are quotations from l’Humanité. First we have the call of the CGTU and its Seine union federation, which appeared in l’Humanité on Monday. This informed the working class of the murders in Le Havre, and it is followed by a postscript: ‘Tuesday (that is, the following day), twenty-four-hour general strike’. And then, added to that, ‘Meanwhile, the construction workers’ union has decided on a general strike today’. That is, already on Monday!
As our Comrade Jacob told us, our party had nothing to do with the strike in Le Havre. It was, he said, an economic question. Four workers were killed – that was ‘economics’ – and many workers were wounded in a purely trade union matter. And now economic organisations deal with the situation, beginning with the construction workers’ union, acting ‘meanwhile’, that is, without waiting, and thus sabotaging the action. They launched a strike that they proclaimed as a general strike.
And what did the CGTU do? It followed the construction workers’ union. Why? Because they could not let their place be taken by the anarchists, who would claim that they are better revolutionaries than the others and would say: We have proclaimed the general strike, and the syndicalists and semi-Communists of the CGTU have sabotaged our great action – which in fact was no action at all but at that moment was just the issuance of a slogan.
The CGTU went along with this great error. And what did the party do? It followed the CGTU. One error leads to another. How did it start? With a few young anarchists, who are probably really not so much to blame. They went to the headquarters of their organisation and said, ‘Something must be done’. And they found there a comrade who gave them an answer: ‘But of course, something must be done. We will proclaim a general strike’.
And the CGTU goes along with this great error. The party, which did hardly anything about the Le Havre strike; the party which, in this great contest between the Le Havre workers and bourgeois society as a whole, remained a totally irrelevant entity – what did the party do? It took the lead of the CGTU. What a chain of errors!
And the result? A disaster. A total fiasco. Why? Because the outcome was predetermined, decided in advance. The newspaper clippings that I read for you here were supposed to mobilise the working class of France in a single day – from Monday to Tuesday. Is that possible?
Even in a country like here in Russia, where we have possession of the telegraph network, radio telegraphy, where the party is strong and the trade unions work in full agreement with it, where our party and our unions are not confronted by any other party or unions, this would be impossible.
Thus, for example, before the demonstration in honour of the Fourth World Congress, it was first necessary to explain to the workers exactly what the Fourth World Congress is. Among the soldiers are many who marched past you on 7 November with no little enthusiasm. Where did this enthusiasm come from? Among them are peasant youths whose grasp of geography is not strong and who do not know what is happening in France and outside Russia. We had to explain to them the meaning of the Fourth World Congress. And what were we asking them to do? Simply that they march past the delegates from abroad and offer them a fraternal greeting.
But you, in asking that the French working class carry out a general strike, you had to explain what exactly was happening in Le Havre and not content yourself with the simple slogan, ‘government of murderers’.
In France such slogans are formulated much more readily than in any other country. They are experts at it. What was necessary was to explain to every single working man and woman, the agricultural workers, the peasant men and women, what had happened in Le Havre. In Le Havre they killed four workers, after having killed a million and a half in the war. It was necessary to display, where possible, photographs of the dead workers, and photographs of their daughters and sons. Correspondents must be sent there who understand such questions and the lives of the workers, comrades capable of going to the families of the dead workers, sharing their anguish, and explaining the entire appalling story to the working class.
It was necessary to mobilise thousands of the best Communists and revolutionary syndicalists, in Paris and across the country – to do this together with the CGTU, and send them everywhere, not just in every corner of Paris but across the entire country, in the cities and countryside, in order to carry out intensive propaganda. At the same time, leaflets and appeals had to be printed up with three or four million copies, in order to report on the events to the working class, explaining that we cannot let this crime pass without protest.
Does doing this imply immediately launching a 24-hour general strike? Not at all. The entire working class must be set in motion through intensive propaganda, which consists simply of explaining what happened. First everything must be concisely explained and told to the working class. That is the first precondition.
Why was this not done? Because it was feared that the feeling of outrage in the working class would not last three, four, or five days. This absolute mistrust is bureaucratic – mistrust by our revolutionary syndicalism and communism toward the working class. (Applause)
The facts have to be related and explained to the working class. Our comrades of Pas-de-Calais went into the mines and did not learn until later that they were supposed to strike. Naturally the action was crippled and compromised from the start. I really do wonder if anyone who deliberately wanted to compromise it could have acted differently.
And in the process, the Dissidents, the reformists, the Jouhaux people were saved. Of course not forever. Why was that? Very simple, comrades. When the bourgeoisie in France killed four workers, did it not place its friends, the Dissidents and reformists, in an extremely difficult situation? They are still able to deceive working people with reforms, with the idea of a National Bloc, with Jouhaux’s participation in bourgeois meetings to better the lot of the worker. That is why the slaughter in Le Havre represented for our opponents an almost fatal blow.
What ought to have been done? Every issue of l’Humanité for a week or two, all possible propaganda materials, all appropriate agitational material should have been utilised to ask the reformist CGT and the Dissidents, ‘What do you propose? This is not a matter of the dictatorship of the proletariat; that is not what we are asking, although we are its most loyal supporters. What do you propose doing against the bourgeoisie that has just killed four workers? What do you propose doing against the government, against Poincaré?’
That is the question that should have been repeated day after day, by the party and trade union propagandists and agitators at every street corner, in every corner of the country, in every village where a working man or woman is to be found, during the course of one or two weeks. That would really have been a great experience for the workers’ movement. Instead of that, the whole affair was a shambles. This crazy appeal was published for an immediate strike. A general strike must not be called in this way on twenty-four-hours notice, because that gives the Dissidents and reformists a pretext to draw back and say: We will not take part in such a risky undertaking.
And since the general strike was compromised from the start, they decided to pay wages to the victims. They did not carry out this decision. Nonetheless, their crime lay in their passivity, which turned into a generalised forgetfulness, for the entire attention of the working class was focused on the general strike that had been compromised in such a dangerous fashion.
Afterwards, Le Temps wrote, ‘The failure of the general strike is an encouraging sign for the future’.
Le Temps is right. And l’Humanité declared: The bourgeoisie will utilise this unprecedented passivity of the working class.
It was an appalling failure, and still, afterwards, it was declared to have been a great success. But since this position was untenable, it was then said that the bourgeoisie will utilise this unprecedented passivity of the working class. Responsibility is unloaded onto the shoulders of the working class. When the workers do not respond to the call of the CGTU and the party, it is the working class that is to blame for the failure. The working class should not tolerate this kind of thing any longer. It must demand that its leaders analyse their failures, in order to learn something from the experiences of the struggle. Truly it is high time for this, comrades.
We experienced a great event in France, of which the protest strike can only be viewed as a wretched repetition. That is the movement of 1 May 1920. The party was not then called the ‘Communist Party’. The split in the trade unions had not yet taken place. The forces, however, were the same in both the political and trade union arenas. The left forces had not prepared the action. The Right had done everything to compromise the movement and through their betrayal to destroy it. In this they succeeded. You know how important 1 May 1920 is in the postwar history of France.
The revolutionary spirit of the working class suddenly gave way, and the stability of bourgeois rule was suddenly increased. After this failed general strike a great change took place.
After this object lesson, two years and three months passed by, and now this strike has been repeated in the form of the protest strike against the slaughter in Le Havre. It of course caused great disappointment, and the result is working-class passivity and an unavoidable strengthening of reformism and syndicalism of the Jouhaux variety.
Why did this happen? Because the party did not succeed in rushing to aid the movement with its advice, because it failed to intervene, to analyse the situation, to express its point of view, and to call on our Comrade Monmousseau, who does not belong to the party and is opposed to an organic connection with it, to decide what is to be done. He should have been told: You are proposing a general strike for tomorrow, Tuesday, but that is completely impossible. By doing this, you will compromise the strike and create an unfavourable situation for the working class.
I am convinced that our Comrade Monmousseau would have answered: I am prepared to discuss with you, but my organisation is autonomous and will take the decisions that it considers appropriate and correct.
But was it not necessary to sit down around a single table to analyse the situation and exchange points of view?
This was all the more necessary since the CGTU did not do anything except follow the initiative of the construction workers’ union. We have seen the outcome. After 1 May 1920, months and months were lost, although in a working-class struggle time is the most precious thing. The bourgeoisie loses no time. We have lost two years, and there are comrades who say we won this time.
At the Paris congress, our Comrade Frossard characterised the party’s relations with the International with the phrase, ‘We must win time’.
The party’s general secretary [Frossard], who already held this post at the time of the Tours congress , and thus has the greatest authority to speak for the party, expressed himself as follows in a report entitled The Crisis and printed in l’Humanité:
What are the causes of the crisis? For two years I have been torn between my loyalty to the International and the interests of my party. For me this is a permanent crisis of duty. It is said that I change my positions. That is because I am not sure of myself. (Extended applause)
This applause is thus greeting a statement by the comrade with the most authority to represent the party, who is saying: ‘There are thus two kinds of loyalty, which do not coincide and contradict each other. And if you say that you see me vacillate, that I take two different positions, that is because of the continued internal conflict within me’. And after that, according to the report in l’Humanité, there was prolonged applause.
Later, Comrade Frossard says:
In the face of some decisions of the International that were unworkable, as I have explained, I began to play for time. I preferred that to breaking the neck of my party.
Thus, the general secretary of the party experienced the quarrel between the International and the French Communist Party as an internal struggle, and tries above all to play for time, so as not to break the neck of his party. We have to focus our attention on this. Every time I read this quotation, I am again shocked – it is so unexpected.
How can this be? For two years he belongs to the International and then says that this or that resolution of the International threatens to break the neck of his party. Why then belong to the International at all? Incomprehensible!
When I received this issue of l’Humanité and read this passage for the first time, I thought that this was the preparation for a break with the International.
We know our Comrade Frossard well. He is not a person to let himself be carried away by emotions. He is a man of sober calculation. When as general secretary of the party he tells its congress, not at all in passing, that for two years he has done nothing other than win time because the International has adopted resolutions that were damaging to his party, I must ask if there is any way to understand this except as preparation for a break with the International. (Applause)
The matter becomes even more serious when you consider what happened before that speech. In the so-called Frossard-Souvarine motion, which Frossard had signed and was distributed to the party congress, we read:
On the basis of experience we must recognise that the survivals of a Social Democratic spirit from the old party and a failure to grasp the meaning of the Communist International’s resolutions have retarded the strengthening and improvement of the young Communist Party.
So on the eve of the congress, this motion states that it is primarily the failure to understand the value of the International’s resolutions that has harmed the French party.
This concerns the value of the resolutions on the united front and trade union activity. Frossard signs this, and before the ink is dry, he is already declaring from the podium that the resolutions coming from Moscow and the International threaten to break the neck of the party.
I invite anyone who understands this to please explain this conduct. We have tried to receive an explanation from the eloquent mouth of our Comrade Frossard. We have invited him. We repeated our invitation in the form of letters and telegrams, indeed even decisions of the Executive. Unfortunately our efforts were unsuccessful. Nonetheless we would be very glad to hear an explanation of this conduct, which appears to us to be neither consistent nor coherent.
In order to give you at least a condensed picture of the relationship between the International and the French party (chiefly its central committee and its general secretary), and to show you the way in which the Executive threatened to break the neck of the Communist Party of France, I ask you to permit me to read a list of the letters, telegrams, and resolutions that we have sent. It makes for a dry and not very entertaining recital. It is a catalogue. I am not including here the private letters that I have written. I arranged for distribution to members of the full commission copies of the letters that I wrote in my own name to the French comrades – always with the consent and agreement of the Executive.
I will enumerate here only the official documents.
June 1921: A session of the Expanded Executive was held at which I made a speech from which I have already quoted some relevant passages.
July 1921: After the Third World Congress, three resolutions of the Executive were drafted, regarding supervision of the press, work in the trade unions, and the dissolution of the Committee for the Communist International.
Let us look at these resolutions. The resolution on supervision of the press was adopted in connection with the Fabre-Brizon affair. They had used their authority as party members as cover for their engagement in personal businesses. Did this resolution really threaten to break the neck of the party? Was it not high time to abandon this method of assuming very important posts in the Communist Party while simultaneously collaborating in bourgeois publications that poison the popular masses?
If this resolution threatened to break a neck, it seems to me that it was not the neck of the French party but at most that of some careerist journalists in the French party. This resolution was not implemented.
I have already said something of our discussion of trade union work.
Only one of these three resolutions was carried out. It was the one relating to dissolution of the Committee of the Communist International.
If we have made mistakes – and we have made many – the greatest of them, in my opinion, was our loyalty to the comrades that then led the French party, to whom we gave a bit too much loyalty.
26 July 1921: A confidential letter from the Executive to the Central Committee with friendly criticism and encouragement regarding the party’s parliamentary work; on its relations with the International; on the reports in l’Humanité on parliamentary debates (our Comrade Marthe Bigot made some remarks in the commission on this point that fully confirmed the correctness of our criticism); on relations with the syndicalists; on work in the trade unions; on reorganisation of the Central Committee (that was when we asked for the first time in writing for the creation of that dastardly oligarchy that is called the Political Bureau of the Central Committee; on the party’s structure; on inadequacies of l’Humanité, on supervision of the press; and finally, an invitation to Frossard and Cachin to come to Moscow.
1 October 1921: Telegram to the party with the request that Frossard be sent to Moscow.
15 December 1921: An open letter of the Executive to the Marseilles congress with criticism and encouragement regarding the weakness of the party leadership, discipline, trade union policy, supervision of the press, the Right tendency and the Journal du peuple.
That was not the first time. It began already with discussions during the Third Congress with the delegation. Then came the resolution on supervision of the press, in July 1921, when the question of Fabre was raised for the first time. The third step was that of 15 December 1921. Of course it is said that we ‘exaggerated’ the importance of Fabre, but now all those who have been turned away by the party are grouped around the Journal du peuple. It has become an abscess, but this time outside the party and in collaboration with the now notorious tribe of suburban mayors.
The same letter spoke of the party’s penetration into the factories; integrating workers into the leadership; the party’s indifference toward the life of the International.
Further: on 19 December 1921: A confidential letter to the Central Committee, containing criticisms and encouragement regarding the following questions: Toleration of the Journal du peuple. For the third time, failure to carry out the decisions of the International. Toleration of Brizon and La Vague [The Wave]. Relations of the party to the International. A presidium or political bureau for the party.
Why am I not enumerating the replies? Simply because there were none. Not a single time did they reply.
9 January 1922: Resolution regarding the resignations in Marseilles; telegrams summoning five party representatives to Moscow.
15 January 1922: Telegram repeating the invitation of a French delegation, making reference to the crisis.
23 January 1922: Telegram inviting Frossard and Cachin and stating that the French question would be placed on the agenda of the February session of the Expanded Executive.
24 January 1922: Telegram stressing the necessity that Frossard and Cachin come, and expressly pointing out the unfortunate impression that would be created by their absence.
27 January 1922: Telegram insisting on the presence of Frossard, ‘whose absence would make the worst impression on the entire Executive’, and also stating that the opening of the Expanded Executive meeting would be postponed by some days in order to enable Frossard to arrive in time.
During these days, in which we prepared to refer the French question to the International and make it known to the parties, we asked each other every morning and every evening on the phone:
‘Trotsky, do you think he'll come?’ – ‘How should I know?’
‘Zinoviev, do you think he'll come?’ – ‘I haven’t a clue’.
We wait, we send telegrams, and what is this all about? If we had been in a position to travel immediately to Paris, in order to consult with our friends there, every one of us would have tried to be the first to jump onto the railway train. (Applause)
What is at stake here is discussing the difficult problems of the French party and analysing them, in order to be able to resolve them. And we always try to invite their most able leaders to discuss with us. That is why these five telegrams were sent to invite the leaders of the French party to come to the International and resolve the French question.
At the same time: Radek discussed with Cachin in Berlin in order to convince him to come to Moscow.
February 1922: Expanded Executive – Resolution on the French question, criticism of opportunism, of the left bloc, of petty-bourgeois pacifism, of inactivity regarding syndicalism, the inadequate leadership of the party, federalism.
Undertaking by the delegation of the Centre to expel Fabre. For the fourth time the question was raised of reinstating the comrades who resigned in Marseilles and of implementing the trade union theses adopted in Marseilles.
April 1922: National Council of the French party.
9 May 1922: Fabre expelled by decision of the Executive (fifth time that the question was raised; Article 9 of the Statutes was brought into play).
12 May 1922: Confidential letter to the Central Committee with criticisms and encouragement on the following questions:
Same time period: Telegraphed instructions to Frossard to attend the June meeting of the Expanded Executive.
June 1922: Expanded Executive – Resolutions on:
July 1922: Three telegrams calling on the party to expel Verfeuil, Mayoux, and Lafont.
July 1922: Letter to the Seine federation on:
September 1922: Message to the Second Congress of the Communist Party of France, taking up all the questions raised in the letters previously referred to.
6 October 1922: Supplementary message to the Paris congress regarding:
November 1922: Several telegrams inviting Frossard and Cachin to attend the Fourth Congress.
That is a dry recital of the letters, telegrams, proposals, and ideas that we have sent off over the last year and a half, which have almost always gone without comment and without a response. That represents the time that our Comrade Frossard claims to have won. In our opinion, this must be marked down in the history of the French party as lost time. And the blame for this lies with the passivity and the material and political inertia of the comrades who were the party’s responsible leaders during this period.
I would like you to please tell me which of the proposals I have enumerated could be harmful to the party.
Consider Fabre’s expulsion, which was so obvious and unavoidable; the publications, the political bureau, and above all trade union unity and the united front – why was it necessary to win time in these matters?
No one questions the fact that the members of the International are not infallible. But can anyone show us that the International has committed errors in these motions, proposals, and resolutions? What are these errors? Please be so good as to show us that it was useful for the French party to ignore all these motions and initiatives of the International. Please be so good as to show us that time was won and not lost.
When the general secretary of the party himself declares that he has won time with regard to the International that threatened to break the neck of the French party, it follows logically that the party members responsible for ongoing propaganda will say and do the same, except in a more straightforward form. Thus we see that Comrade Auclair of the youth explains that the International’s decisions are based on ‘ragots’ – gossip – as he puts it.
When we asked Frossard if he had really given Auclair responsibility for propaganda, he responded that this was a temporary measure. That is quite true.
Now, however, we see that after the Paris congress this comrade was left at his post. And when we reproached our French comrades of the Centre for this fact, they responded: You're exaggerating. So, we exaggerate with Fabre, we exaggerate with Auclair, we exaggerate in our calls for the united front and for trade union action, we exaggerate regarding the publications – we are always exaggerating.
Yet it is natural that we object to expressions of an anti-Communist spirit, as expressed by Fabre and Auclair or in collaboration with the bourgeois press. Each of these facts, taken alone, has deep roots in the deepest layers of the party. To consider them meaningless is wrong, for they are indications to which a party militant must not be blind. What do you then require as a sure indication that someone is not a Communist? When Frossard declares that the International’s decisions threaten to break the neck of the French party, and when Auclair expands on this by saying that these decisions are written on the basis of gossip, you can get an impression of the kind of light that is shining in the deeper layers of the party, who are deprived of accurate information.
In this regard, we have extremely useful information from our comrade Louis Sellier (not to be confused with Henri Sellier, who has been expelled from the party). Louis Sellier represented the party for a time in Moscow. He has now returned to France and has been proposed as assistant general secretary of the party, an indication that this comrade is held in high regard in the French party. Those of us who got to know Louis Sellier in Moscow share in this esteem for him.
In l’Humanité on 27 August 1922, he published an article under the title, ‘First, Let Us Be Done with Absurd Legends’, which reads, in part:
‘Some of our comrades certainly display a great deal of ill will. They start by putting their hand on their heart and swearing that they were and are for the Russian revolution with heart and soul, but – ‘ And then begins a whole series of threatening, solemn, and absurd ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’: ‘If Moscow wants to convert the party into a small, subsidised, and servile sect'; ‘If Moscow wants to deprive the party of every form of independence’; ‘If Moscow wants to introduce the guillotine as permanent equipment in the party...’ and so on.
We would be neglecting our most elementary responsibilities if we did not shout out to our comrades of the majority, our comrades of the Centre, that they are being deceived when they are told stupidities about Moscow’s, of which I have just quoted some of the most perfidious. Moscow certainly does not want the Communist International to collapse the way the Second International did.
That is what Louis Sellier writes. So it is necessary to ‘shout out’ to the comrades of the Centre that Moscow does not want to create a small, subsidised, and servile sect. And this is said by a comrade of the Centre.
Louis Sellier reports the statement, ‘If Moscow wants to rob the party of every form of independence’. And we did in fact hear some words of this sort in the larger French commission, saying that some of the International’s interventions threaten the party’s honour. These are feelings, a mentality, a conception, that is entirely alien to us and that we do not understand.
In February there was a commission here on the Russian question. It was chaired, if I am not mistaken, by Comrade Marcel Cachin. It concerned an internal malady of our Russian party. The commission did not meet in Paris, because unfortunately we are not yet able to hold our congresses in Paris. That will come. It was in Moscow. The commission consisted of comrades from abroad, who had to decide a question that was very awkward for our party, for it concerned the so-called Workers’ Opposition against the Central Committee of the Russian party.
The commission invited Zinoviev, myself, and some other comrades to come before it. We expressed our point of view. We felt relief at the thought that there was an international institution, a highest body, and no one saw this as a humiliation for the authority of our party. On the contrary, we were very happy to be able to deal with an important question with the assistance of the Communist International.
The involvement of this commission had an outstanding result that was in the interests of our party, because after the involvement of this highest body, the Workers’ Opposition dissolved.
What then is the party’s honour? There is only the party’s interests, which are the highest law, which all of us must obey. That is the honour of the party and of each of its members. (Applause)
I have dwelt in length on this point because the spectre of the party’s honour was conjured up at the Paris congress. You know the entire situation created by the Paris congress. Some months prior to the congress, we had proposed to build an alliance between the two strongest factions, between the Centre and the Left against the Right, and with a certain attitude – how should I put it? – of a waiting game with regard to the Renoult-Dondicol current.
What was this proposal’s basic idea? It was simple. The Executive had predicted the factional struggle. In fact we stated many times to our Comrade Sellier that if the Centre stood by its conservatism, the formation of factions would be inevitable as a necessary and healthy response in the interests of the party, so that it did not sink into the swamp of passivity.
At the same time, as this unavoidable process unfolded, it became necessary to provide the party with a means of leadership for its external activity. At that time the Renoult-Duret faction was mounting the most strenuous opposition to the united front tactic. At that time there was not the slightest possibility of considering collaboration with this faction, although the Executive was well aware that it included many outstanding workers who were against parliamentarism and against combining with the Dissidents – that is, they were imbued with a pure revolutionary spirit but were poorly informed. We criticised this tendency but had an approach of waiting.
But we were also always aware of the fact that despite some errors committed by the Left from time to time, this was the tendency that represented an impulse to move the party forward, against conservatism and passivity.
In addition, we never lost sight of the Centre, despite its errors, which threaten the very foundations of the party. This faction includes a great many outstanding workers, who will unite tomorrow, or the day after, on a common foundation of revolutionary action. We therefore proposed an alliance of the two large groups, the Centre and the Left, in order to ease the task of the Paris congress, which consisted purely in clarifying the party’s ideas and creating a central leadership capable of leading it. The faction fight was leading the party into a dead end. Some kind of combination had to be put together that – if far from perfect – would still be able during the next year to offer a more or less appropriate solution.
This alliance had to be with the central leaders against the Right, and it had to be formed on the basis of the resolutions prepared by the Left, which were imbued with a Communist spirit. The negotiations to form this alliance began in Moscow with Comrade Louis Sellier, Comrade Lucie Leiciague, and with Frossard, as representatives of the Centre.
We always insisted that the alliance be realised on a revolutionary basis. It must be directed with full energy against the Right, so this question could be fully and finally resolved in a political fashion. Had this been achieved, we would have been able to initiate a powerful campaign, and the party would have come to the Fourth Congress as a much more disciplined organisation capable of carrying out actions.
We said and repeated countless times that if the Centre resists this and allows itself to be pulled along, passively, by forces of conservatism and reaction, in order to win time, we believe that it is heading for disintegration, and its disintegration will launch the party as a whole into a most grievous crisis.
I will not tell here the whole story of the negotiations that took place in Paris regarding the composition of the leading body. The factions ran into difficulties and were unable to achieve any results. In negotiations between two factions engaged in mutual struggle, the organisational questions are always awkward. Discussions take place, and both sides make exaggerated demands. That’s the way it always is. The breach, however, did not result from exaggerated demands by the Lefts, as was said by some, but from entirely clear proposals for a parity solution, made by the representative of the Executive.
The Centre preferred to break off negotiations. It rejected parity – even a provisional parity during the pre-congress period. Comrade Ker made a major speech about this on 17 October. He posed the question as follows:
It is a question of whether the French party is not to have the freedom to itself elect the men who are to lead it.
I take this from the report in l’Humanité of 18 October on the meeting held the previous day.
The moment the negotiations are broken off, on the initiative of the Centre, they tell the delegates from outside Paris, who have no knowledge of the International’s proposals, that it is a question of whether the French party is not to have the right to itself elect the men who are to lead it.
What is that supposed to mean? Negotiations were conducted by the Centre with the Left in order to determine the composition of the leadership body. And the Centre decided that these negotiations could not lead to any results. The Centre found the Executive’s intervention incorrect and dangerous. Instead, however, of saying, ‘We have not come to agreement with the other faction on the make-up of the leadership body,’ they permit rumours to spread regarding the negotiations and explain that it is a matter of whether the French party is not to have the freedom to itself elect the men who are to lead it.
There were denunciations of the Lefts and also of the International’s representatives, who supposedly had the intention of depriving the French party of the right to exercise autonomy as a party. This accusation was completely unjustified and was very dangerous in terms of national and anti-internationalist tendencies.
This notion comes up again in the appeal of the new Central Committee, made up of members of the Centre. On the day following the Paris congress they said:
The Fourth World Congress will examine the situation in the party. ... The party is undergoing a conflict that relates basically to whether the congress can be deprived of the right to itself elect the men in whom it has confidence and who have the task of representing it in the party’s leading bodies.
Comrades, our task here is to determine guidelines for the activity of every section, to provide advice on party organisation, to monitor the party’s direction. Every party can thus ask whether it has real control of itself or whether it is under threat of being deprived of its rights.
What is the nature of the party’s right to determine its own course? In the present case it consisted in the fact that the two factions that together constituted the immense majority of the party should have come to agreement, proposed a common slate, determined the composition of the leadership bodies in mutual agreement, and presented this slate to the congress with the explanation: These are our proposals. We advise you to accept them because in the present situation, where the party is threatened with breakdown, they represent the best way out.
The question was not, however, posed in these terms. After the negotiations with representatives of the Left and the International, that is, with institutions, organs, and individuals that threaten the honour and sovereignty of the French party, and after the tumult and anxiety of the congress, they declared in an appeal bearing the names of the Central Committee members, ‘The World Congress will have to take up the question of whether the national congress has the right to elect its own Central Committee’.
But no one contests that right! We see that this right exists. We see that these very same comrades have not dared – I think that is the right word – to propose to the congress the affirmation and protection of their sovereignty through forming a normal Central Committee. They themselves made the proposal to establish a provisional Central Committee. Why? Because they themselves had restricted the congress’s sovereignty, and after having done so, and given the party’s condition, they could not ask the congress to form a Central Committee based on only two-fifths of the votes. So nothing was left but to turn to the international congress so it could knit together the ties that had been ruptured through the fault of the Centre itself.
Comrades, as I said earlier, I cannot tell you the entire story of the Paris Congress. However, there was an incident that needs to be brought to your attention. This incident was dealt with in our full commission by Comrade Clara Zetkin. This concerns an extremely unpleasant incident linked with the name of Jean Jaurès. I believe it is necessary to say a few words on this, not in order to relive what happened at the Paris congress, but in order to deal with a serious matter of principle.
The Control Commission, whose secretary, I understand, was a young comrade of the Left, had distributed a motion to expel from the party Henri Sellier, an action long overdue. The motion made reference to the fact that the democratic outlook of Henri Sellier was based on the tradition of Jaurès.
Everyone will agree that in a motion for expulsion there was no call to speak of Jaurès, even tangentially. This piece of clumsiness was made into a great political incident not only at the congress but also after the congress in the party’s press.
A resolution was hastily drawn up. It became a factional question, and research was undertaken to discover who was for the tradition of Jaurès and who was against it. That is how the question was posed. I believe that this did not serve to honour the memory of Jaurès or the party itself.
We all knew Jaurès, if not personally, then through his political reputation. We all know his great and monumental historical role, which towers over his thought and which will always stand as one of the most glorious human achievements in history. We can say today, and we will also be able to say tomorrow, that every revolutionary party, every oppressed people, every oppressed working class, and above all the vanguard of the oppressed peoples and working classes, the Communist International, can claim Jaurès, his memory, his example, and his person, for our own. Jaurès belongs to us all, to the revolutionary parties, the oppressed classes, the oppressed peoples.
However, Jaurès played a specific role in a specific period, a specific party, and a specific tendency in this party. That is the other side of Jaurès.
Our Comrade Marcel Cachin knows the story of his political activity better than I do.
In France, before the war, there were two currents in the Socialist Party. The ideological and political leader of the other current was Jules Guesde, equally a great and brilliant figure in the history of the French and international working class. There was a great struggle between Jaurès and Guesde, and in this struggle it was Guesde, not Jaurès, who was right.
We must never forget that.
We are told that we are breaking with the tradition of Jaurès. But that does not mean that we leave the person and memory of Jaurès in the sullied hands of the Dissidents and reformists. It means only that our politics have undergone a great change.
We will combat the survivals and prejudices of what is called the Jaurès tradition in the French workers’ movement. Anyone who makes this incident into a battle of ideas, as if Communists could really snatch the democratic and socialist traditions of Jaurès, is not serving well the working class of France. When we read Jaurès’s books – his socialist history of the Great French Revolution, his book on the new army [l'Armée nouvelle], his speeches – we will always feel that we have been reborn with a new spirit and new beliefs. At the same time we must be aware of the great weaknesses that caused the downfall of the Second International. Least of all should we be guardians of the weaknesses and prejudices of the Second International represented by Jaurès, with all his brilliance. We should not be guardians of these prejudices. On the contrary, we combat these traditions. We must combat them and replace them with Communist ideology.
Comrades, the full commission that you established, after thorough and often passionate discussion, set up a sub-commission to deal with the organisational questions and to draft a political resolution. You have received our written proposal. In drafting this proposal we were guided by two thoughts.
The political errors and mistakes of the leading faction of the French Communist Party, the Centre, have to be condemned. The errors of the Daniel Renoult – Duret – Dondicol tendency must be stressed. And it must also be conceded that whatever the secondary errors that may have been committed by the Left faction, nonetheless it is this faction that has represented the International, its ideas, and its demands on the issues that are most important for the life and struggle of the French working class.
That has been recognised in our political resolution.
As for our proposal for the organisation and composition of the party’s leading bodies, we have tried to estimate the relationship of forces among the different currents and match the composition of the leading bodies to the present situation in the party. Of course, we usually proceed in a different manner. We unconditionally reject the principle of proportional representation, because it presents the danger of converting the party into a federation of different currents. It encourages every individual grouping that wants to build a tendency. This system harms the party and its activity.
However, we find ourselves in a situation created by the preceding events, of which I have spoken – and said enough, I hope, to enable you to grasp our policy.
Given this situation we have therefore called for proportional representation for the Central Committee and other central leadership bodies. The sub-commission that worked out this proposal consisted of comrades Zetkin, Bordiga, Kolarov, Humbert-Droz, Katayama, Manuilsky, and Trotsky.
We distributed our draft, worked out after through discussion, to the full commission. It unanimously adopted all the political and organisational proposals, and we ask the congress to do the same and to give unanimous support to the adopted resolutions.
During the deliberations of the full commission, a new question was placed before us. This is the question of Freemasonry, which until now has gone unnoticed in the life of the party. Never were articles written on this; it was never the object of polemics. It was never mentioned in the press that in the Communist Party, as well as the revolutionary and reformist trade unions, by the way, there is a not inconsiderable number of comrades who are simultaneously also members of the Freemasons.
When the commission learned this fact, it was quite amazed. None of the comrades from abroad would have believed that two years after Tours, the Communist Party of France would still accommodate comrades belonging to organisations whose character I probably do not need to define in a Communist world congress.
I initially attempted to do this in an article in the Congress’s publication, Bolschewik. In order to write this, I had to dig up out of my memory long-forgotten and dusty arguments against Freemasonry.
I will not bore you by repeating these arguments. The fact is that the radical bourgeoisie of France, which has quite mediocre leaders and truly piteous publications, utilises secret organisations such as Freemasonry, chiefly in order to conceal the reactionary conduct, the petty ambitions, and the perfidy that characterise their programme. Freemasonry is one of these institutions, one of these tools.
A year and a half ago we said to the French party, ‘We fail to see the abyss that our press and our speeches should create between the Communist Party and the entirety of bourgeois society’.
Today we see not only that this abyss does not exist, but that there is a well-constructed, somewhat concealed, somewhat veiled bridge: the bridges of Freemasonry, the League for the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and so on. This bridge secures the link between the League and Freemasonry and the institutions of the party, the editors of its newspapers, the Central Committee, the regional committees.
Yes, we make speeches, we write articles about destroying this corrupt society through the class struggle of the proletariat, which is led by a party completely independent of bourgeois society. We are revolutionary to the nth degree, and then we go to the Masonic lodges and there we meet and embrace the senior brothers that represent the bourgeois classes.
What are we to make of such a mentality and such conduct? Many comrades say: Yes, we agree that every Communist should devote his entire energy to the party and not set aside a certain part of this energy to other institutions, undertakings, organisations, and the like. But that is not the only reason. If a Communist is a musician, he may certainly go to concerts or the theatre. We cannot ask a sacrifice from him that is not demanded by the situation. If he is father of a family, he may devote part of his life to his children; we may demand much of him, but not that he abandon interest in his children.
But that is not what is involved here. What is at stake is not a division of interests, attention, and life between two institutions or two activities. Not at all! If you posed the question before the working class in these terms, they would never understand why the International is concerned. What must be stressed is the complete, absolute, and irreconcilable incompatibility of the revolutionary spirit with that of petty-bourgeois Freemasonry, which is a tool of the big bourgeoisie. (Applause)
Unfortunately this question was not raised after the Tours congress. It only came up in our commission as a result of the faction struggle. When the commission learned of these facts, it immediately recognised their great importance and placed the question on its agenda.
They told us we were exaggerating.
Always the same story. It’s the Fabre business, which comes up again and again. Fabre is immortal. No sooner is he dispatched by the Communist International, but he comes up again under other names, wearing a new mask – even that of secret Freemasonry – to celebrate his resurrection.
They told us we were exaggerating. On the contrary, we believe that this time we find ourselves confronted by an issue that can become a lever capable of changing things in our French party immediately and effectively.
We face major questions: the trade unions, the united front. These questions form the basis on which the workers’ movement develops. However, the parliamentarist tradition of the French party has led to the consolidation of a higher layer of parliamentary deputies, journalists, lawyers, and intellectuals, and this consolidation has created what one may call a state within a state.
The opportunist spirit has developed chiefly among intellectual elements, whose thinking is often confused by fragmented reminiscences of past experiences that they can no longer decipher.
A certain shock is needed here. Especially for this upper layer, such a shock would be therapeutic, not only for the party – the most important consideration – but also for healthy elements that are of course present in this leading layer, with its somewhat tradition-bound and overly conservative psychology, always glancing back to yesterday, rather than looking to the future.
Yes, this will be a major shock. For this is not a question of the ongoing line of march of the working class, but exclusively of the relationships, habits, and personal outlook of comrades who belong to this leading layer.
Many party functionaries visit the Masonic lodges regularly. They of course make no secret there of their Communist convictions when among the Masons, in the way that they hide their Freemasonry when they are among us. But still they give their Communism a veneer pleasing to the bourgeois ‘brothers’, so that they will be accepted in this very sensitive milieu, where perceptions are so refined. Maeterlinck, the poet, once said that he who conceals his soul between the stars will ultimately not be able to find his own self. So when you spend time in this environment and amend your opinions to suit the superior tastes of these brothers, so sophisticated in matters of radical politics, you will ultimately not be able to find your genuinely communist and revolutionary essence.
That is why this is such a difficult question for us and for the leading layers of the party. When the Central Committee carries out this task we are proposing to it, of course it will face the hostility of nine-tenths of official public opinion. We can already predict, with a certain revolutionary satisfaction, that these reactionary, Catholic, and Masonic circles, similar to Léon Daudet or to Herriot’s friends, will hurl themselves at the International and the Communist Party, using all their publications. But if you offer apologies and soothing words and explanations, if you say that there is nothing to be condemned in Freemasonry as such, but that one’s heart must not be divided between the party and Freemasonry, because the party demands 100% of your commitment, then, Central Committee comrades, you will place yourself in an indefensible position.
On the contrary, the party must vigorously bang its fist on the table and say: Yes, we made an error of criminal laxity by allowing valuable comrades to belong to the Masons. But as soon as we recognised this error, we launched an irreconcilable struggle against this apparatus for preventing revolution. The League for the Rights of Man and Freemasonry are bourgeois institutions that cloud the consciousness of representatives of the French proletariat. We are launching an irreconcilable struggle against these methods, which constitute a secret and disloyal component of the bourgeoisie’s whole mechanism.
If the Central Committee launches its campaign with such irreconcilable energy, it will of course have the Dissidents and Léon Blum against it. Even the Catholics will defend the Masons. The Catholics will aid the Masons by cursing Communists and placing them under ban. The party will be confronted by a mishmash of all the different shadings of the bourgeoisie, but despite all the political hacks, all the deceptions of bourgeois society, the party will remain firm as a revolutionary rock, defending the highest interests of the proletariat.
And I am convinced that you, having lived through this therapeutic shock, will find that after a month or two your party is in a situation far different from the one in which it found itself before the Fourth World Congress.
There will be a great outcry against the ‘orders’ of Moscow. They will shout about freedom of opinion – this time, that of the Masons. The same comrades will also demand freedom of thought and of criticism. But are the comrades fighting for this freedom concerned with the differences of opinion that inevitably exist among the Communist cadres? No. They want the party’s cadres to encompass the pacifists, the Masons, the advocates of holy Catholic faith, the reformists, and anarchists, the syndicalists. That is what they call freedom of opinion.
These people, who are almost always intellectuals, spend nine-tenths of their time in bourgeois circles. Their occupations are completely cut off from the working class. Their spirit is shaped by this milieu, in which they spend six days a week. They come to the party on Sunday. By that time they have forgotten the party’s principles, and of course they must raise their criticisms, starting above all with their doubts. They say they demand freedom of opinion. Then a new resolution is passed against them. After this they return to their milieu and start all over again. They are amateurs, dilettantes, and among them are many careerists.
They must be removed. The party must be freed from these elements who see in it nothing more than an open door to a post or a seat in parliament.
That is why we have adopted the strict guideline that nine-tenth of the elected posts available to the party should be filled by workers – not workers who have become party staffers but workers who are still labouring in the factory or in the field.
We must show the working class that they have been misled in the past by different parties that used them as a springboard for personal careers. We must show them that our party views activity in parliament as a component, a small part of its revolutionary activity as a whole.
It is the working class that acts in this arena. Its purest and best representatives, who can best speak for their class, must be brought into parliament, of course with the addition of some very gifted and reliable comrades who have a certain education. The overwhelming majority of our parliamentary, municipal, and regional fractions must be held by the working masses, especially in France, given the customs, outlook, and habits of this country.
We must put an end once and for all to the system in which the publications are viewed as a private playground for those with journalistic talent. It is very good for a journalist to have talent. However, the press is nothing more than a tool of struggle, a tool that must strive for autonomy and collectivity, expressing the guiding ideas of the working class rather than the personal notions of this or that individual.
From this point of view, Le Populaire represents very well the traditions of the parliamentary party [SP].
I have here an editorial from Le Populaire with a notation by the editors. The editor-in-chief comments: ‘I feel compelled to remind readers that editorials in this newspaper reflect the views only of their authors’.
That is how they function. Editorials reflect the views only of their authors. They ask that a worker pay for a newspaper that claims to represent socialism and then puts forward the general principle that editorials reflect the view only of their authors.
For us, the party is responsible for the articles. The journalist must be anonymous – at the disposal of the party. And when the esteemed journalists – and I am also part-member of this caste – respond that proceeding in this way insults their personal dignity, we answer that the highest dignity of a Communist journalist consists of being the most loyal and irreconcilable instrument of the thinking, politics, and struggle of the working class.
I still have to give particular attention to two other questions. The first is that of our work among the peasants.
At the Paris congress, this question was dealt with more hastily than any other major issue. It was raised by Comrade Jules Blanc, who said that letters from peasants made it clear that they have revolutionary instincts. He protested labelling them as petty bourgeois. We are all too quick to pin this label on them, he said; the distribution of literature treating the peasantry as petty bourgeois is playing a nasty trick on our party’s propaganda.
Comrade Renaud Jean raised the same objection. I would therefore like to say a few words about our work among the peasantry.
The term ‘petty bourgeois’ is not one of insult. It is a scientific term whose content is determined by the fact that the producer possesses his means of production. He has not been deprived of these means of production and is not a wage worker.
That is the meaning of the term ‘petty bourgeois’.
If while I am giving a propagandistic speech, rather than a theoretical class, a peasant asks me, ‘So am I a petty bourgeois'? I will give him an explanation that he will, I believe, not find offensive. Only too often we meet peasants who are no different from proletarians who have nothing, except with respect to possession of the means of production. This fact causes them to have a more individualistic manner of thinking than workers.
This term is correct and necessary so that we do not fool ourselves regarding the character of the peasantry and that of the workers. However, despite the differences that distinguish the life and thought of these two classes, this term should not limit our activity among the peasantry in the slightest.
The other question is that of the colonies. I do not know whether the resolution of the Sidi-Bel-Abbès section was mentioned here. Despite the small size of this group, which calls itself Communist, its resolution is a major scandal. The resolution states that the section is in complete disagreement with the Moscow theses. Only the native-born Communist groups are authorised to determine local tactics for Communist activity. The Algerian Communist groups cannot accept that manifestos are published in Algeria for which they must answer but whose spirit and content is quite alien to them.
This is equivalent to saying that the International must not intervene directly in internal questions within the party. A branch in the colonies is rebelling against its party and the International, saying: No, no, when it’s something concerning the natives, this is exclusively our business.
The resolution also says:
A victorious uprising of the Muslim masses of Algeria, unless preceded by a victorious uprising of the proletarian masses of the mother country, would inevitably lead to Algeria’s reversion to a system bordering on feudalism, which cannot be the goal of Communist activity.
That is the heart of the matter. One must not permit revolts of the indigenous people in the colonies – let alone victorious revolts – because if they commit the stupidity of freeing themselves from the rule of the French bourgeoisie, they will revert to feudalism. And the French Communists of Algeria must not permit the poor natives to carry out a revolutionary uprising, free themselves from the French bourgeoisie, and revert to feudalism.
Not for a single hour, not for a single minute, should we tolerate the presence in the party of comrades who think like slave-owners and want Poincaré to hold the indigenous people under the benevolent rule of capitalist civilisation, given that Poincaré represents a group that is going to employ all means of repression to save the poor indigenous people from feudalism and barbarism.
A betrayal in action is always masked by insistence on autonomy, independence, and freedom of action. There are constant protests against the intervention of the International and the French party. Well, there is much in the French party that needs changing. And we have already seen how the Dissidents draw comfort from the condition of the party, writing in their articles, for which of course the author takes sole responsibility, ‘Because of the Communist Party’s disarray, the situation is favourable. It is no longer a matter of defending ourselves but of going over to a powerful offensive’, and so on.
The Dissidents predict that their party will expand, a prophecy that will certainly not be fulfilled. On the contrary, it can safely be prophesied, without fear of the stenographers’ skilful record, that if the parties remain as they are now, differentiated only by shading, each with their supporters, their churches, and their hierarchical bureaucracies, this may last for years and decades. But the moment that the Communist Party undergoes a radical change and becomes a party entirely different from other parties – one that the workers recognise as not merely a party but a preparation for the proletarian revolution – we can predict that, from that moment on, the Dissidents will be defunct, that they, along with the reformists of the CGT, will no longer exist.
And I can tell you with full confidence that it is not the CGTU with its own forces that will extinguish the reformist CGT. No. There is only one great, powerful, and truly revolutionary party that encompasses the entire working-class elite. It will fully destroy political and trade union reformism. You will experience this soon.
The first weeks of struggle against Freemasonry or against the League for the Rights of Man will reveal weaknesses, and deserters will cross over to the Dissidents. But I am certain that if the Dissidents win at first, they will receive only the rubbish and trash of the Communist Party. (Applause)
It is a matter of carrying out a painful operation with energy and strength in order to speed up the process and carry out a great action to build a revolutionary party.
On behalf of our commission, we propose an action programme that was submitted to the commission by the Lefts and that has been unanimously adopted with changes of only a secondary nature.
The basis of this programme is the possibility of carrying out a broadly based party campaign, sweeping aside all forces that block this revolutionary campaign. Do not say that immediate demands by the French movement can lead to a new reformism. In this period of the decay of bourgeois society, immediate demands become the key to a truly revolutionary movement. This movement must develop in a fashion that takes the factory councils as its starting point and the united front as its necessary slogan in order to achieve all the forms of action and success. We also advance the slogan of the workers’ government, which is particularly necessary in France.
The quarrels over these questions must come to an end. Polemics on this slogan will only confuse working-class consciousness, which is disturbed enough already.
The notion of a government of Blum and Frossard is intended only in a symbolic sense, in order to capture the notion very concisely. But it is not a matter of an alliance among parliamentarians to form a viable government. For in order for the Dissidents and the Communists to achieve a majority in parliament, it’s necessary that they win the votes of the working class in its entirety. And for that, the Dissidents must stop calling on the working class to vote for the Left Bloc, in other words, to break from the Left Bloc and from bourgeois society. The French working class must be shown how essential it is to break from the bourgeoisie and resist it in every respect.
In a case like the Le Havre strike and the slaughter of workers, we must tell workers that no such slaughter could take place under a workers’ government. Our representatives in parliament must state that the working class cannot tolerate a government of Poincaré or the Left Bloc; it will recognise only a government that represents the working class and is formed by workers.
As Communists, we direct all our energy toward a workers’ government, formed by a revolutionary movement. But when workers believe that such a government can be achieved through parliamentary methods, we must tell them: Try it out, but to achieve it you must fully repudiate the Left Bloc and other bourgeois alliances. What you need is simply a workers’ bloc. If you fully free yourself from the bourgeoisie but still believe in parliamentary methods, we tell you: We have no confidence in these methods, but the moment you break from the bourgeoisie, we will support your actions. If asked whether a coalition is possible of the parties that speak in the name of the working class, I would answer: Of course, but on the basis not of parliamentary alliances, but of a great movement encompassing every aspect of the proletariat’s class struggle along with parliament.
The main thing is to convince the working class of the simple idea that it is capable of forming a workers’ government, of the workers and for the workers.
If you ask whether we are sure the Dissidents will not betray us, I reply: We will never be sure of that. That is why even at the moment that we form a revolutionary workers’ government with them, we must watch them with the same alertness and mistrust that we direct to our worst enemies. And if they show weakness, if they carry out a betrayal, we will throw them out of the government, just as we did with our Left Social Revolutionaries, who represented the peasantry in the workers’ government that we formed, and that we then had to throw out in order to establish a government wholly in the hands of the working class.
The slogan of a workers’ government means above all our party’s complete independence. We must achieve this independence quickly. In France, in the coming weeks, the Centre will carry the responsibility for this energetic campaign in our French Communist Party. I am convinced that the painful discussions we have had with our French comrades in the commission and which I have conveyed in this report will not be repeated.
Frossard’s speech, however, shows us the danger. I have quoted from it and interpreted it, but it is up to the Centre to banish this danger from the world forever. I see no reason for a breach. On the contrary, the prospects for our French party are extremely favourable. Given the breakdown of the National Bloc, the complete impossibility of reparations, the difficulties besetting the Left Bloc, I believe that our party holds the future of France and of humankind as a whole in its hands. We are convinced that the Centre, inspired by these great and wonderful prospects, will carry out its duty to the fullest. By the next congress we will have a unified, homogenous, revolutionary party, which will carry out its duty through to the victorious revolution of the French proletariat. (Lengthy applause)
17. The Tours Congress of the French SP in December 1920 voted by a seventy-five per cent majority to affiliate to the Comintern; the minority (Dissidents) then split away.
18. Civil peace or ‘union sacrée’ was the name given to the alliance of the majority SP and union leaderships with the French capitalist class during the World War. One of the earlier expressions of such a class-collaborationist approach was the acceptance by socialists of ministerial posts in the capitalist government, a practice pioneered by Alexandre Millerand in 1899.
19. Le Populaire, edited by Léon Blum, was the official publication of the ‘Dissidents’, that is, the French SP.
20. An abridged version of this speech can be found in The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922–1923 (Historical Materialism Book Series, 2018).
21. ‘Longuet people’ refers to the Socialist Party leadership.
22. The Paris congress of the French CP (15–20 October 1922) ended in deadlock and disorder. The Centre current rejected the ECCI representative’s proposal for a parity leadership and took the leadership alone, based on a delegate vote of 1,698 to 1,516, with 814 abstentions. The Left appealed to the World Congress, and the Centre agreed to continue the discussion in Moscow.
23. The name Lopez does not appear in available records of activists in the French Communist movement. Jacob may be referring to José López y López, a leader of the Spanish Communist youth movement.
Le Havre metalworkers went on strike 20 June 1922 in opposition to a ten per cent wage reduction. Strong local and national support enabled the strike to continue through the summer. In late August, heightened government repression led to a citywide general strike that shut down the docks. By 24 August, more than twenty thousand workers were on strike. On 26 August, the departmental prefect, Lallemand, ordered cavalry to charge the crowds of workers in the street. Troopers fired, killing three workers and seriously wounding one. The crowds stood their ground and did not disperse, but that evening most union leaders in Le Havre were arrested. On Sunday, 27 August, the CGTU called a nationwide general strike for Tuesday. The CGT refused support on the grounds that it had not been consulted. The 29 August strike failed, breaking the momentum of the struggle, although Le Havre metalworkers stayed out until October 10.
24. Trotsky is referring to the killing of strikers in Le Havre on 26 August 1922 and the attempted general strike three days later.
25. The declaration by Monatte et al., published 9 November 1922 in Bulletin communiste, stated that the signatories ‘attribute to the trade unions an essential role in the revolutionary struggle for proletarian emancipation, and assign to the party a supportive rather than directing role’.
26. Léon Jouhaux was general secretary of the CGT, which had forced out its revolutionary wing in 1921.
27. Besnard and Verdier were among the CGT and subsequently CGTU activists close to anarchism who in February 1921 signed a secret pact aiming to secure election of their candidates to the leadership of the union confederation and the revolutionary syndicalist association within it.
28. This description of the unions is based on the ‘open shop’ pattern then common in France and many other European countries, in which unions included only those workers at an organised workplace who chose to join. Factory councils, by contrast, were chosen in votes open to all workers.
29. See Mise au point nécessaire, in Bulletin communiste, 46 (16 November 1922).
30. Bracketed subheads have been supplied by the editor; other subheads are taken from the German text.
31. The massacre had taken place two days previously, 26 August.
32. A general strike on 1 May 1920 opened a broad strike movement of CGT unions, which ended in a severe defeat. Twenty-two thousand railway workers were fired. The CGT lost three-quarters of its members between the beginning of 1920 and the spring of 1921.
For ‘In this they succeeded’, the German text reads, ‘In this they did not succeed.’ The translation follows the Russian text, which was edited by Trotsky.
33. See Bulletin communiste, 20 (28 September 1922), p. 738.
34. Trotsky refers to ‘full commission’ because there was also a sub-commission on the French question, composed of Zetkin, Bordiga, Kolarov, Humbert-Droz, Katayama, Manuilsky, and Trotsky.
35. The Committee for Resumption of International Relations was formed January 1916 by French antiwar socialists and syndicalists, with support from Russian revolutionists in exile in France. Its name referred to the fact that pro-war Social Democrats refused contact with their counterparts on the other side of the battle line. The group was renamed Committee for the Third International in 1919, and played a leading role in founding the French CP.
36. Henri Fabre was founder of the socialist newspaper Le Journal du peuple, in which he expressed his strong criticisms of the Comintern. Looking back in 1952, he wrote that he had ‘seen through the Bolshevik game’ at the Tours congress (1920) and had joined the CP only on condition that he ‘retained full freedom of expression’.
37. At the 25–31 December 1921 Marseilles congress of the French CP, Boris Souvarine, a central leader of the party’s Left and its delegate in Moscow, failed to win election to the party Executive. Four Left members who had won election to the executive thereupon resigned in protest.
38. See The First Five Years of the Communist International, vol. 2, pp. 110–13.
39. Article 9 of the Statutes dealt with the relationship of the ECCI to the Comintern’s member parties. It granted the ECCI ‘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’. See Riddell (ed.), Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 2, p. 698. The ECCI interpreted this provision as granting it the right to expel party members.
40. See The First Five Years of the Communist International, vol. 2, pp. 124–32.
41. For the ECCI resolution, see ibid., vol. 2, pp. 143–51.
42. Verfeuil had been publishing criticism of the ECCI in non-Communist newspapers. He was expelled in October 1922 after writing an appeal against the ECCI that appeared in the rightist newspaper Le Matin. Lafont, also an opponent of the Comintern’s positions, was ultimately expelled following the Fourth Congress for opposing its decisions on France, especially concerning Freemasonry.
François Mayoux, with his wife Marie and about a dozen others, submitted a statement in November 1921, on the eve of the Marseilles congress, maintaining that unions should not in any way be influenced by the party or drawn into support of electoral struggles. ‘We belong to the party in order not to omit any form of action’, the statement said, but ‘the revolutionary direct action of the unions can be promoted only by the work of unionists’, and not by the influence of non-union communists. François and Marie Mayoux were expelled at the October 1922 Paris congress of the French CP as ‘unrepentant syndicalists’. Mayoux’s name is given as ‘Magoux’ in the German text.
43. See ibid., vol. 2, pp. 162–80.
44. See ibid., vol. 2, pp. 181–2.
45. The Workers’ Opposition in the Russian CP, formed in 1920, called for trade union control of industrial production and greater autonomy for CP fractions in the unions. Defeated at the tenth CP congress in March 1921, the oppositionists subsequently raised criticisms of measures adopted introducing the NEP. They submitted an appeal to the Expanded ECCI conference of February–March 1922, which was rejected, after discussion in a conference commission and plenary session.
46. The Paris congress of the French CP (15–20 October 1922) ended in deadlock and disorder. The Centre current rejected the ECCI representative’s proposal for a parity leadership and took the leadership alone, based on a delegate vote of 1,698 to 1,516, with 814 abstentions. The Left appealed to the World Congress, and the Centre agreed to continue the discussion in Moscow.
47. While not discussed in the French party, Freemasonry had been taken up in the International. At the Second Congress, whose complete proceedings were published in French, the problem was raised by Serrati, Graziadei, and Bombacci. A motion was put by the French delegate Guilbeaux to amend the Twenty-One Conditions by ‘forbidding Communists from belonging to the Freemasons’ and was unanimously adopted. See Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, vol. 1, p. 417; see also pp. 167, 320–1, 334, 523–4. However, the amendment on Freemasonry, sometimes called the ‘twenty-second condition’, was not included in the published theses – ‘only because this principle had already found expression in a separate resolution’, according to the Fourth Congress resolution on France.
48. For Trotsky’s article, see Kommunismus und Freimaurertum in Der Bolschewik, no. 18 (28 November 1922), Comintern 1994, 491/1/381/1735–43; or Communisme et franc-maçonnerie. During Trotsky’s first imprisonment (1898–1900), he studied Freemasonry, writing an extensive manuscript that was later lost. Trotsky, My Life (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), pp. 120, 122.
49. Founded in 1898, the League for Defence of the Rights of Man and the Citizen campaigned to affirm individual rights against injustice, notably on behalf of the framed-up Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus. Its scope soon expanded to include social rights and defence of trade unions. The League provided an arena for discussion and a meeting place for the French Republican left, above all of those in the Radical party. In 1933, its membership reached 180,000; it remains active today.
50. Several volumes of Trotsky’s professional journalistic writings from before 1917 were published in Russian after the revolution. One is available in English: see Trotsky 1980, The Balkan Wars 1912 – 13 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980).
51. See comments by Boudengha (pp. #604–6) and Safarov (pp. #620–21), and the resolution on France (pp. #992–3). The French edition of Trotsky’s speech, available at: here contains the following footnote by Trotsky:
‘This section is made up, of course, of French persons in Algeria. I omitted from my speech the necessary refutation of the pseudo-Marxist argument of the Sidi-Bel-Abbès group. They refer to the barbarous state in which the indigenous people would necessarily fall if their uprising against the French bourgeoisie’s despotism were to succeed. This argument is lifted from the prewar Social Democrats. But then they had a certain justification, we must concede, because capitalism was in a period of ascendancy. Now that European capitalism is in full decay, to view it as a progressive factor for the colonies would challenge the most essential truths of historical science. Only socialism – after having replaced capitalism and extended its influence to the colonies, will be really able to lift them out of “barbarism” – that is, their present backward conditions.
‘Every colonial movement that weakens capitalist rule in the ruling country (métropole) is progressive, because it assists the proletariat in its revolutionary task.
‘Clearly, the colonies cannot be sparked into rebellion at some arbitrarily chosen moment. Special conditions are needed to enable such a movement to achieve victory. But that is a question of strategy: the moment must be chosen and the methods must be appropriate. This strategic principle has nothing in common with the formula we are referring to, namely: “Colonial slaves, you must remain slaves until we, the supreme beings of the ruling country change all that, because if you are prematurely deprived of the protective tutelage of our bourgeoisie, you will inevitably fall back into the barbarism that is your natural state!”’
For other responses made in the prewar period by Kautsky, Lenin, and other Marxists to this pro-colonialist argument, see Riddell (ed.), Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1984), pp. 9–15, 38–9, 60–63.
52. ‘Moscow theses’ refers to the Twenty-One Conditions. The Sidi-Bel-Abbès resolution objected specifically to condition #8, which declared that every party in the Comintern must ‘support every liberation movement in the colonies not only in words but in deeds’ and ‘to demand that the imperialists of its country be driven out of these colonies’. Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, vol. 2, p. 768.
53. Trotsky means: Without fear that the printed stenographic record will stand as evidence of an incorrect forecast.
54. See Programme of Work and Struggle for the French Communist Party, Toward the United Front, pp. 1194–1198.
55. The Left Bloc was formed in 1899, encompassing forces that had fought against the reactionary frame-up of Dreyfus. Led by the Radical party, it united left-bourgeois and some Socialist forces in a parliamentary alliance.
Last updated on: 5 January 2021