L. Trotzky

In the International

The new phase of the
French Communist Party

(19 April 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 33 [15], 19 April 1923, pp. 272–273.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
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Imperialist France is to-day the ruling power on the European continent. This circumstance alone imparts immense importance to the French proletariat and its party. European revolution will be decisively and unalterably victorious only after it has mastered France. The victory of the proletariat on the European continent will almost automatically seal the fate of English capital. And finally revolutionary Europe, strengthened by the oppressed peoples of Asia and Africa, who will immediately add their forces to those of Europe, will be in a position to speak many a convincing word to the capitalist oligarchy of America. Thus the French working class is in possession of the master-key to the European situation, and to a great extent to the world situation.

The Communist International has a very high estimate of the historical role of the French Party, and has therefore followed its internal affairs with the closest attention. In the course of its history, the French working class has been far more often deceived than any other proletariat. For this reason the French Communist Party must be the more strict and severe with itself. Great success has recently been attained in this respect, success which may in a certain sense be designated as decisive.

During the last two years of inner fractional struggles, of secessions and expulsions, the French proletariat cut its real revolutionary teeth, and with these teeth it will have to bite through the iron of a mighty military state. The successes won along these lines, and at present still preparatory, are in a sense expressed in Frossard’s secession from the French Communist Party, and in the admittance of Monatte and Barbusse.

Frossard, formerly general secretary of the Party, and to a certain extent at least, the inspirer of its official policy, headed that wing of its parliamentary past which made the attempt to adapt itself to the determined turn to the left made by the proletarian vanguard. Frossard possesses a certain mental mobility and elasticity, inventiveness and eloquence – valuable characteristics and useful to everyone, including revolutionists, but of self-sufficient significance for the parliamentary politician – and [text missing] imagined in all seriousness that with the aid of these assets he would be able to steer till the end of time between the Communist International and its enemies, that he would be able to assume all the authority of communism in his relations to the workers, and at the same time warn the working class against the “exaggerations” of Moscow. But when Frossard opposed his diplomatic improvisations – masterpieces of ambiguity and subtlety – to the straight line of Communist International principles, he was bound to stray from the path at the first step. The attitude adopted by this man can best be characterized by the fact that a few hours before his secession he did not himself know whether he would travel to Moscow, in order to participate in the leadership of the Communist International as a member of the Executive, or whether he would go over into the camp of the enemies of the Communist International.

But Frossard’s individual peculiarities must not blind us to the typical in his whole mentality and action. In Italy we had to undergo the much discussed conflict with comrade Serrati, who placed himself and his fraction outside of the Communist International for a long time. The extraordinarily stormy character of Italy’s political development forced the Maximalist fraction, with its leaders, back to the side of the Communist International. We trust that the union will be successful, and more permanent than before. In Germany we had the classic episode of Paul Levi, who, beginning by raising protest against the undoubtedly faulty tactics pursued by the German CP in March 1921, proved within a few weeks, that he had only been on the lookout for a suitable pretext for crossing over into the camp of the enemies of proletarian revolution, we have experienced similar phenomena, in a less clear and complete form, in the Czecho-Slovakian, Norwegian, and other Parties.

At first glance it is particularly astonishing to note that in all these conflicts the seceders or vacillators are headed by the most eminent “leaders”, that is, by such persons who have stood at least externally as leaders of the movement “for Moscow” and “for the Third International”. Until September 1919, Serrati was the incontestable leader of the Italian party. Paul Levi was the chairman of the German CP; his imitator Friesland was general secretary of the same party; Frossard was the general secretary of the French party, and so forth. This repetition shows that it is not accident which rules here, but law. And the explanation of this law is after all not so very difficult. In countries with a highly developed capitalism, possessing old social democratic traditions, even the formation of a Communist Party signifies a rupture with a wide stratum of reformist, nationalist, and parliamentary traditions of the past. But the upper stratum of socialists, with great names, great authority, etc., clung fast to the past with their deepest roots. Even those social democrats who in pre-war times, or during the war, belonged to the extreme left of the party, and were therefore in opposition to the official course of the party, were in their overwhelming majority political prisoners of social democracy, and their opposition to the Scheidemann and Renaudel tendency was merely that of speakers and writers, formal, literary, but not of a revolutionary and active character.

After the war, an irresistible movement towards the left began among the masses, a tendency to settle accounts with the bourgeoisie; and then the social democratic opposition believed that its day had come, that the masses intended to justify its criticism and follow its instructions. The position and policy of these gentlemen of the opposition remind us strongly of the position and policy of the moderate liberals in times of revolution. The liberals have always regarded the first awakening of the people as a proof of their own power, of the correctness of their policy. But by the second day they observe with horror that the masses, at least their revolutionary section, do not make any fine differentiations between the lords of yesterday and those who formed the moderate opposition to these lords. At this point the liberals throw themselves into the arms of reaction.

The fact that it was possible for the undecided leaders of the social democratic opposition to place themselves at the head of the Communist Party is explained by the circumstance that the really revolutionary section of the working class was unable, for a period of some months, to find and train new leaders. And it must be admitted as a fact that during its first years the Communist International bad many sections headed by leaders who were either revolutionary, but insufficiently experienced and inadequately tenacious, or who were merely semi-revolutionary and eternally vacillating, but yet possessed considerable authority and political aptitude. This has been, and is still today – although in this respect there is a very great improvement – the source of the internal difficulties, strife, and conflicts within the Communist International. The semi-centrist feeders have always had the greatest fear of forfeiting legality decorated with formal radicalism. Hence they created the screen of “national autonomy”, which they placed between themselves and the revolutionary formulation of political questions, between them and the methods involving actual preparations for a rising of the proletariat.

But the affinities between the policies of Levi, Frossard, and others of their views, demonstrates that we are not confronted here by peculiarities inherent in any national situation – these must naturally be accorded the most careful consideration – but by a completely international tendency in the spirit of left centrism, which is prepared to adopt the external ritual of the Communist international, to swallow 21 and more conditions without a grimace, but all on the sole condition that everything go on exactly as before. Frossard is the perfect representative of this type. That he and his followers have left the Party is therefore a most significant sign of die creation of a really revolutionary French proletarian party.

Although Frossard himself, as we have seen, is by no means a unique national phenonomon, still, the reasons that enabled him to deceive himself and others for so long, are none the less to be found in the peculiarities of the French political situation. Victorious France was able to pass through the critical post-war years without any great political upheaval, and differed in this from vanquished Germany, and even from half-vanquished Italy. And although the fundamental tendencies leading the country to a revolutionary catastrophe were the same in France as in Germany or Italy, they have been much less acutely expressed in France, much milder and veiled in form. The formation of the revolutionary proletarian vanguard has for this reason been correspondingly slow in France, at any rate until a few months ago. For a time it seemed as if the old socialist party was gradually developing along communist lines, after throwing all openly reformistic ballast overboard at Tours. But in reality there were many at Tours who held the opinions of Renaudel and Longuet, and parted from these with “heavy hearts”, hoping by this sacrifice to purchase the right of holding a leading position in the Communist Party, which would then retrain, out of gratitude, from interfering with their old habits. In consequence of the slowness and conservatism of political life in France since the war, even the left wing of the Party, as represented by the Committee of the Third International within the Socialist Party, was distinguished by political insecurity and heterogeneity, and it was precisely this fact - which was not sufficiently clear to all comrades – that restrained the International for a time from taking energetic steps against the policy of Frossard and Co.

As early as 1921, and during the first half of 1922, this group furnished cause enough for a direct rupture. But at that time such a rupture would have been incomprehensible to many party comrades, the schism would have taken place along a somewhat accidental line, and the International would have found in the left fraction an extremely variegated group, requiring much internal purging. The first necessity was to give the left elements the possibility of dearly grasping their tasks, of becoming firmly consolidated ideologically, and of gathering the best part of the Party around them; it was not until this ideo-critical and educational preparatory work had been accomplished that the International could proceed on a large scale to energetic organizatory and “surgical” measures. The left wing was faced with severe political tests before it had the opportunity of preparing itself for them. In Italy the moment of schism in the Socialist Party was not determined by any tactical considerations, but by the ghastly capitulation of the leading elements of the party during the events of September 1919. In France the moment of schism, of rupture with the left centrists, depended to a large extent on the Communist International. But in any case there were some comrades, above all in the French party itself, who endeavored to hasten events, in the opinion that the tactics pursued by the Executive in the French question were too indeterminate, altogether too patient, even erroneous. Without considering whether necessary steps were omitted in questions of detail or not (probably they were), the phase of French party life now concluded permits us to maintain with the fullest conviction that the tactics of the Executive have been fundamentally correct, not only with regard to methods, but also with regard to tempo, which has corresponded to the inner rhythm of development in the proletarian vanguard of France. It is thanks to just this complete harmony, that our French Party, after a severe fend profound crisis, and after the expulsion of essentially foreign elements, has been able to retain the overwhelming majority of its members, the whole Party apparatus, and the central organ (Humanité), – which is of incomparably greater importance in France than in any other country. It must be remarked that the French Party and the International have to thank comrade Cachin for much in this respect. There have been misunderstandings between him and the International, but in the decisive moment he took up his post unfalteringly in the revolutionary camp.

The surgical operation undertaken by the fourth congress was a very severe one, and appeared to many comrades to be altogether too risky; it was a question of a final and irrevocable simultaneous rupture between the Party and bourgeois public opinion and its most equivocal institutions: Free-masonry, the League of Human Rights, the radical press, etc. When all these surgical operations were approaching their successful end, the still vacillating Frossard looked about him, and saw that he had nothing in common with this party. And the same door, which served as a means of exit for Frossard, for the freemasons and human righters, has also been the door through which two others have entered the Party: Monatte and Barbusse.

Monatte’s admittance is as far from a mere personal episode, as Frossard’s exit. During and after the war Monatte represented the traditions of revolutionary syndicalism in its prime, and stood for them more clearly and irreconcilably than anyone else: Mistrust of “politics” and “party” formed the most important part of these traditions. This mistrust had an adequate historical basis. During all these years Monatte was the sincere friend of the Russian Revolution, and never vacillated, even at the most critical moments.

But he maintained an attitude of extreme distrust towards the French Communist Party, and remained outside of it. It was only when the Party proved by actual deeds that it does not shrink from the severest measures, if these are required to secure its proletarian membership and its revolutionary character, that Monatte applied for admission into the Party. This was more than a personal “gesture”. It means that the Party has broken down the wall of distrust which separated it from a large section of revolutionary workers. It is highly probable that there will still be internal strife among the various elements composing the Party, but from now onwards the genuinely proletarian character of the Party is secured, and with it, its revolutionary future.

Barbusse’s entry bears a more individual character. Barbusse does not stand for any revolutionary traditions of pre-war. times. Barbusse is the most perfect embodiment of the indignant conscience of the war generation. As president of the Revolutionary Union of War Veterans, Barbusse kept up his independence from the Communist Party until recently, and thus mirrored the profoundly revolutionary but unexpressed indignation existing among the masses of workers and peasants of the postwar period. As soon as political relations had cleared up, and the declaimers of pacifism and the dilettantes of revolution had returned to their old bourgeois camps, Barbusse appeared at the door of the Party, and cried: “Here I am!”. By this he proves that there is no other spiritual outlet for all that is left of thought, sincerity, and indignation, in the war generation, than the Communist Party. Beneath the lyrical reticence of his letter to the Humanité the genuine revolutionary passion may be felt. We congratulate the French Party upon this conquest!

Scarcely had Frossard and his followers crossed the threshold, when the events connected with the Ruhr occupation put the Party to severe political tests. And the Party proved that now, freed from elements essentially strange to it, it is greater and stronger than ever before. The repressions which it has had to endure have only served to render its moral unity the firmer.

Naturally the greatest difficulties are still ahead. But there is one thing which we can say with the fullest conviction: In France a real Communist Party is living and breathing, fighting and growing.

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Last updated on: 16 October 2021