Leon Trotsky
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Political Resolution on the French Question[57]

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 1123–1132.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

The crisis in the party and the role of the factions

The Fourth Congress of the Communist International notes that the evolution of the Communist Party of France from parliamentary socialism to revolutionary communism has proceeded exceptionally slowly. The explanation for this is certainly not found exclusively in the objective conditions, traditions, the national psychology of the workers, and so forth. Rather it is due above all to the direct and at times extremely stubborn resistance of non-Communist forces, who are still very strong in the party’s leading circles and especially in the Centre, the faction that has chiefly held the leadership of the party since the Tours convention [1920].

The main cause of the present acute crisis in the party lies in the indecisive, vacillating, and dilatory policies of the leading forces in the Centre. Confronted by the urgently posed needs of the party organisation, they try to buy time. In this fashion they try to create a cover for their policy of direct sabotage regarding the trade union question, the united front, the party organisation, and so on. The time gained in this way by the leading forces in the Centre has been time lost for the revolutionary development of the French proletariat.

The congress instructs the Executive to follow attentively the internal life of the Communist Party of France and, relying on the unquestionably revolutionary and proletarian majority, to free the party from the influence of forces that have provoked this crisis and that continue to aggravate it.

The congress rejects any thought of a split, which is not justified by anything in the party’s situation. The overwhelming majority of party members are sincerely and profoundly committed to the cause of communism. Only a lack of clarity regarding party doctrines and a lack of self-confidence has enabled its conservative, centrist, and half-centrist forces to arouse great confusion and provoke factions. A determined, persistent effort by the party as a whole to clarify the essence of the disputed questions will win the overwhelming majority of its members, and above all of its proletarian base, to the decisions of this congress. There are also forces who, while members of the party, are also tied to the morals and customs of bourgeois society by their entire mode of thinking and living, and who cannot grasp genuine proletarian politics and cannot subordinate themselves to revolutionary discipline. Cleansing the party of such forces is a necessary precondition for its recovery, consolidation, and capacity for action.

The Communist vanguard of the working class has need, of course, for intellectuals who bring to the organisation their theoretical knowledge and their agitational and literary capacities. But there is a precondition: these forces must fully and finally break with the morals and customs of the bourgeois milieu. They must burn all the bridges linking them to the camp from which they have come. They must demand no exceptions and privileges for themselves, but rather subordinate themselves to party discipline just like any militant in the ranks.

The intellectuals, so numerous in France, who have joined the party as amateurs or careerists, not only do great harm to the party but also distort its revolutionary appearance, discrediting it in the eyes of the proletarian masses and hindering it from winning the trust of the working class. The party must be freed from such forces, whatever the cost, and must keep its doors closed against them in the future. This can best be done by a re-registration of party members under the direction of a special commission of workers of irreproachable Communist morality.

The Executive attempted to reduce the organisational impact of the crisis by constituting the party’s leading bodies on the basis of parity between the two main currents, the Centre and the Left.[58] The congress notes that this attempt was thwarted by the Centre, under the unquestionable influence of its most conservative elements. They invariably gain the upper hand in the Centre whenever it counterposes itself to the Left.

The congress considers it necessary to explain to all members of the Communist Party of France that the efforts of the Executive directed toward achieving a temporary agreement between the main factions had the goal of facilitating the work of the Paris congress. In no sense were they an infringement of the unquestioned rights of the congress as the highest body in the Communist Party of France.

The congress considers it necessary to note that the Left, whatever individual errors it may have committed, tried in the main to carry out the policies of the Communist International, both before and during the Paris congress. The Left took a correct stand on the most important issues facing the revolutionary movement – the united front and the trade union movement – in contrast to the positions of the Centre and the group of Comrade Renoult.

The congress urgently calls on all truly revolutionary, truly proletarian forces in the Centre faction – the unquestionable majority in its ranks – to call a halt to the opposition by conservative forces and join with the Left in common endeavour. The same holds true for the third-largest faction, which has conducted a particularly sharp and clearly erroneous struggle against the policy of the united front.

The extreme left wing

By eliminating the federalist structure of its organisation, the Seine Federation has rejected the clearly false position of the so-called extreme left wing. This current, represented by comrades Heine and Lavergne, has nonetheless considered it permissible to give Citizen Delplanque an imperative mandate, obliging him to abstain in the vote on all questions and not to accept any assignments. Such conduct by the above-named representative of the far-left wing shows that it has understood nothing of the meaning and essence of the Communist International.

The principles of democratic centralism on which our organisation is founded completely exclude the possibility of an imperative mandate, whether in regional, national, or international congresses. A congress has meaning only to the degree that the collective decisions of the organisation – local, national, or international – are taken through the free exchange of opinion and by free decision of all the delegates. Obviously, the debates and the exchange of experiences and arguments at the congresses would be devoid of meaning if the delegates were bound in advance by imperative mandates.

The violation of the International’s fundamental organisational principles is made worse in this case by the refusal of this group to accept any obligations whatsoever toward the International, as if the mere fact of membership in the International did not impose on all its members the unconditional duty of discipline and of carrying out all decisions that have been adopted. The congress calls on the Central Committee of our French party to investigate on the spot this entire incident and to draw all the appropriate political and organisational decisions.

The trade union question

The decisions adopted by the congress on the trade union question include certain organisational and formal concessions designed to make it easier for the party to draw closer to the unions or the masses organised in unions who do not yet accept the Communist point of view. But it would completely distort the meaning of these decisions to interpret them in the sense of approving a policy of trade union abstention. This policy has been dominant in the party, and is still advocated today by many members.

The tendencies represented by Ernest Lafont stand completely and irreconcilably opposed to the revolutionary tasks of the working class and the overall conceptions of communism. The party cannot and does not want to infringe on the autonomy of the trade unions. However, when some of its members demand autonomy to carry out their own disruptive and anarchist work in the unions, this must be implacably exposed and punished. This is a highly important arena of work, one in which the International is least of all inclined to tolerate any further deviation from the Communist path, which alone is correct with regard both to theory and international practice.

Lessons of the protest strike against the Le Havre murders

The strike in Le Havre, despite its local character, provides irrefutable evidence of the French proletariat’s growing willingness to struggle. The capitalist government responded to the strike by murdering four workers, as if in haste to remind the French proletariat that it can win power and overthrow capitalist slavery only at the cost of bitter struggle, great self-sacrifice, and many victims.

Responsibility for the quite inadequate response of the French proletariat to the Le Havre murders falls not only on the Dissident and reformist trade unions, whose betrayal has become routine, but also the obviously erroneous conduct of the CGTU and the Communist Party. The congress considers it necessary to dwell on this question, because it represents an eloquent example of a fundamentally incorrect approach to the question of revolutionary action.

By making a fundamentally false division of the proletarian class struggle into two spheres supposedly independent of one another – the economic and the political – the party failed on this occasion to display the slightest independent initiative, merely limiting its work to the support of the CGTU – as if the murder of four proletarians by the capitalist government were an economic action rather than a political event of the greatest importance. As for the CGTU, under pressure of the Paris construction workers’ union, it called on the day after the Le Havre murders, Sunday, for a general protest strike on Tuesday [29 August 1922]. In many places the workers of France were not able even to receive news of the murders, let alone hear of the call to general strike.

Under such circumstances, a general strike was doomed in advance to failure. There is no doubt that in this case, as in others, the CGTU adjusted its policy to that of anarchist forces, for whom an understanding of revolutionary action and its preparation is totally alien, and who replace revolutionary struggle by the revolutionary appeals of their circles, without even bothering to actually carry out what they have demanded. The party, for its part, silently capitulated to this obviously erroneous move by the CGTU, rather than trying in a fraternal but firm manner to convince the CGTU to postpone the protest strike, in order to develop large-scale mass agitation.

The first duty of both the party and the CGTU, when confronted with the scandalous crime of the French bourgeoisie, was to immediately send a large number of the best party and union agitators out to Paris and the regions in order to explain to backward layers of the working class the meaning of the events in Le Havre and to prepare the popular masses for protest and resistance. The party was duty bound in a case like this to issue an appeal to the French working class and peasantry, in millions of copies, regarding the atrocity in Le Havre. The party’s official publication had to pose daily the question to the social traitors – socialists, and syndicalists alike: ‘What form of struggle do you propose as a response to the murders in Le Havre?’ For its part, the party and the CGTU should have popularised the idea of a general strike, without setting its date and duration in advance, but rather allowing this to be determined by the development of agitation and the movement across the country. Attempts should have been made to create temporary protest committees in individual factories, neighbourhoods, cities, and districts. Into these committees Communists and revolutionary syndicalists, as their initiators, should have drawn members or representatives of the local reformist organisations.

Only such a campaign – systematic, concentrated, comprehensive, intense, and tireless; extended over a week or longer – could have been crowned by an immense and impressive movement in the form of a mass protest strike, numerous street demonstrations, and so on. Such a campaign would have brought as its lasting result a strengthening of contact with the masses and a reinforcement of the authority and influence among them of the Communist Party and the CGTU, while drawing the two movements closer in the arena of revolutionary work and increasing their ties with the portion of the working class that today still follows the reformists.

On 1 May 1920 there was a so-called general strike, which the revolutionary forces did not succeed in preparing, while the reformists criminally sabotaged it.[59] This event was a turning point in the internal life of France, weakening the proletariat and strengthening the bourgeoisie. The ‘general protest strike’ of August 1922 was fundamentally a repetition of both the betrayal by the Right and the errors of the Left.[60] The International urgently calls on the French comrades, whatever the branch of the proletarian movement in which they are active, to pay the utmost attention to problems of mass actions; to carefully study their conditions and methods; to subject the mistakes of their organisation in every specific case to detailed critical examination; to prepare for every possibility of mass action through careful, extended, and intense agitation; and to fit their slogans to the readiness and capacity of the masses for action.

The reformist leaders base themselves in their treacherous actions on the advice, inspiration, and suggestions of bourgeois public opinion as a whole, to which they are tightly bound. Revolutionary syndicalists,[61] who are of course only a minority in the trade unions, will make far fewer errors, the more the party as such turns its attention to all issues in the workers’ movement, carefully studying relationships and circumstances and, through its members in the trade unions, making specific proposals that are in accord with the entire situation.

Freemasonry, the League of the Rights of Man, and the bourgeois press

The incompatibility between Freemasonry and socialism was recognised by the majority of parties of the Second International. In 1914, the Socialist Party of Italy expelled the Masons from its ranks, and this measure was certainly among the reasons why this party was able to carry out an oppositional policy during the war, since the Italian Masons functioned as tools of the Entente in favour of Italy’s joining the war.

In defining the conditions for admission to the Communist International, the Second Congress did not include a special point regarding the incompatibility of communism with Freemasonry, but only because this principle had already found expression in a separate resolution adopted with the agreement of the congress.[62] At the Fourth Congress it unexpectedly came to light that a significant number of French Communists belong to Masonic lodges. In the eyes of the International, this fact constitutes the most striking and also the most regrettable evidence that our French party has preserved not merely the psychological heritage of the epoch of reformism, parliamentarism, and patriotism, but also very specific relationships, highly compromising for the party leadership, with secret political and careerist organisations of our enemies.

While the Communist vanguard gathers proletarian forces for irreconcilable struggle against all the groupings and organisations of bourgeois society and for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a whole number of responsible party staffers, deputies, journalists, and even Central Committee members maintain close ties to secret organisations of our enemies.

It is of particular concern that none of the currents in the party raised this question after the Tours convention, despite its obvious importance for the entire International. Only the faction struggle within the party brought this fact to the attention of the International in all its full and threatening significance.

The International considers it necessary to make an end, once and for all, to these compromising and demoralising ties between the Communist Party leadership and the political organisations of the bourgeoisie. It must be a point of honour for the French revolutionary proletariat to cleanse its entire class organisation of all forces that want to belong simultaneously to both warring camps.

The congress instructs the Central Committee of the Communist Party of France to cut all ties, in the person of individual members or groups, between the party and Freemasonry. Every Communist who is now still a member of the Freemasons, and has not publicly declared in the party press by 1 January 1923, that he has fully broken with Masonry, automatically leaves the Communist Party, without the right ever to be readmitted. If anyone conceals their membership in the Masonic order, this must be viewed as the penetration of the party ranks by an enemy agent, and the person concerned must be branded as such before the proletariat as a whole.

The mere fact of membership in the Masons – regardless of whether this was purely in pursuit of material gain, careerist goals, or some other dishonourable purpose – testifies to an extremely inadequate development of Communist consciousness and class feeling. The Fourth Congress therefore considers it absolutely necessary that the comrades that have until now belonged to the Masons and only now break with them lose the right to hold any important position in the party for two years. Only through intense work as rank-and-file fighters for the revolutionary cause can these comrades regain the party’s full trust and the right to hold important posts in the party.

The League for Defence of the Rights of Man and the Citizen is essentially an organisation of bourgeois radicalism. Each of its campaigns against this or that ‘injustice’ serves to sow the illusions and prejudices of bourgeois democracy. Above all, in the most important and decisive matters, such as during the war, it lent its full support to capitalism, organised through the state. Given these facts, the Fourth Congress of the Communist International regards membership in the League for Defence of the Rights of Man and the Citizen as absolutely incompatible with the calling of a Communist and contrary to the basic foundations of a Communist world outlook. It instructs all party members who belong to the League to leave its ranks by 1 January 1923, informing their organisation and announcing their departure in the press.

The Fourth Congress calls on the Central Committee of the Communist Party of France to:

  1. Immediately issue an appeal to the entire party, explaining the meaning and significance of this resolution.
  2. Take all the measures flowing from this resolution, so that the party will be cleansed of Freemasonry and that all ties to the League to Defend the Rights of Man and the Citizen will be broken, without leniency or omission, by 1 January 1923. The congress expresses its conviction that in this work of cleansing and rehabilitation, the Central Committee will receive the support of the overwhelming majority of party members, whatever their factional allegiance.

The Central Committee must draw up lists of all comrades in Paris or the regions who, although occupying responsible posts, simultaneously collaborate in the bourgeois press. It must call on these forces to make a full and final choice, by 1 January, between the bourgeois vehicle for corruption of the popular masses and the revolutionary party of proletarian dictatorship.

Party functionaries who have violated this rule, which has been repeatedly affirmed and confirmed, will lose for a year the right to hold responsible posts in the party.[63]

Party candidates

In order to give the party a truly proletarian character and to remove from its ranks forces that see it as merely a way to enter parliament, the municipal councils, the general councils, and so on, it is essential to establish a binding rule that at least nine-tenths of the list of party candidates in elections consist of Communist workers who still labour in the workplace, factory, or field, and peasants. Representatives of the liberal professions can be permitted only to a strictly limited degree, not to exceed one-tenth of the total number of seats that the party holds or hopes to occupy. Special care must be taken in the choice of candidates belonging to the liberal professions, including a minute checking of their political record, their social ties, and their loyalty and commitment to the cause of the working class, by special commissions made up of proletarians.

Only under such circumstances will the Communist members of parliament, municipal and general councils, and mayors cease to be, in its majority, a professional caste, linked only weakly to the working class, and become instead one of the tools of revolutionary struggle by the masses.

Communist work in the colonies

The Fourth Congress once again calls attention to the exceptional importance of correct and systematic work by the Communist party in the colonies. The congress sharply condemns the position of the Communist section in Sidi-Bel-Abbès,[64] which employs pseudo-Marxist phraseology to cover up a purely slaveholder’s point of view, fundamentally supporting the imperial rule of French capitalism over its colonial slaves. The congress considers that our work in the colonies should be based not on forces that are so imbued with capitalist and nationalist prejudices, but rather on the best forces among the indigenous people themselves, and above all, among the indigenous proletarian youth.

Only an irreconcilable struggle against colonial slavery by the Communist Party in the motherland and a systematic struggle in the colonies themselves can weaken the influence of ultra-nationalist forces among the oppressed colonial peoples among the working masses, win these masses’ sympathy for the cause of the French proletariat, and thus make it impossible for French capitalism to utilise the indigenous proletariat in the colonies as a final reserve of counter-revolution. The Fourth World Congress calls on the French party and its Central Committee to devote incomparably more attention, resources, and means than before to the colonial question and to propaganda in the colonies. It calls especially for the Central Committee itself to establish a permanent bureau for work in the colonies, drawing into this representatives of indigenous Communist organisations.


57. The resolution was drafted by Trotsky and is found in his collection of Comintern writings, The First Five Years of the Communist International, vol. 2, pp. 275–84.

58. The reference is to preparations for and events at the 15–20 October 1922 Paris congress.

59. The date of the strike is wrongly given as 1 May 1921 in both the German and Russian texts.

60. In the Russian text of this resolution and its translations into English, the date of the general strike is incorrectly given as October 1922. The translation follows here the date given in the German text.

61. Both the German and Russian texts at this point use variants of the French word ‘syndicalistes’, which can refer either to the syndicalist political current or to trade unionists in general.

62. The Russian text of the resolution reads, ‘The Second Congress of the Communist International did not include among the conditions of admission to the International a special point on the incompatibility between Communism and Freemasonry solely because this was deemed self-evident’. (See Adler 1980, p. 351 and Kun 1933, p. 347) The Second Congress proceedings show that such a motion was proposed by Graziadei and then put to a vote, on Henri Guilbeaux’s proposal, as an amendment to the Twenty-One Conditions. The motion was adopted, but was not incorporated into the published text of the Conditions. See Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, vol. 1, pp. 167, 320–1, 417, 523–4.

63. This paragraph is not found in the Russian text.

64. See Toward the United Front, comments by Boudengha (pp. 700–705), Safarov (pp. 719–20), and Trotsky (pp. 1000–1001) on the Communist section of Sidi-Bel-Abbès, Algeria.


Last updated on: 7 January 2021