R. Louzon & L. Trotzky

Polemics and Discussions

Trade Union Tactics in France

(14 June 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 43 [25], 14 June 1923, pp. 414–416.
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We published an article by Comrade Trotzky in No. 35 (17) of the English Inprecorr: entitled: A necessary discussion with our Syndicalist Comrades. We here place before our readers a rejoinder sent by comrade Louzon to this article, and Comrade Trotzky’s surrejoinder thereto. – Ed., Inprecor

R. Louzon

Trade Unions and Party

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 43 [25], 14 June 1923, pp. 414–415.

Comrade Trotzky has expressed his conception of the tasks of the trade unions and of the Communist Party in his speech delivered at the IV. Congress of the Communist International, and also in a recently published article. Trotzky’s fundamental idea is identical with the main line of thought of revolutionary syndicalism; the working class needs an organized class-conscious minority, whose task it is to undertake the leadership of the whole proletariat. The whole working class does not awaken simultaneously to class-consciousness. It is necessary that that section of the proletariat which first awakens to this consciousness should form a special organization, and should lead the remainder of the working class into action. This section of the proletariat is generally named the vanguard by our Russian comrades, Ihe revolutionary syndicalists name it the active minority. It is only to this active minority that the revolutionary syndicalists have appealed to join the trade unions. As a matter of fact the trade unions of the C.G.T.U. are formed almost exclusively of this minority. As far as regards this principle of the necessity of gathering together the elite of the working class in a special organization, which then undertakes the leadership of the whole of the proletariat, Trotzky and the revolutionary syndicalists are in full agreement. An agreement which Trotzky himself emphasizes.

But there remains yet a second problem to be solved: On what basis and in what form, is the proletarian elite to be organized in France? In our opinion: in the form of trade unions because the French trade union is a much purer class organization than the Party, and because the trade union has proved the sole form of organization capable of leading revolutionary action in France. The French trade union is an organization of the proletarian elite, and it is at the same time a purely proletarian organization Its conditions of membership alone prove its strictly proletarian character. Persons belonging to the bourgeois class are not admitted to the trade unions, whatever their convictions may be. And it is to be hoped that such admittance to membership in the C.G.T.U. as that of the “Union for Social Medicine“ and of the “Dramatic Actors” will remain exceptions. And with regard to action, syndicalism knows only direct action against the state. It ignores the political institutions of the bourgeoisie, and avoids them with the utmost

strictness. Syndicalism forbids participation in elections. And the majority of the trade unions do not permit their functionaries to be put up as parliamentary candidates. Should they allow themselves to be elected in spite of this, they must resign their functions. The French trade union is the strictest expression of class which it is possible to find. It signifies the most radical rupture between proletariat and bourgeoisie. In the trade unions there are no bourgeois and semi-bourgeois. The trade unions lake no part in the political institutions of the bourgeoisie. The complete breach between the classes is attained. The working class suffices for itself. And it has nothing whatever to do with the bourgeoisie except to fight it.

The political party in France is entirely different. Any one can be a member, no matter to what class he belongs. His right to membership depends on his convictions, not on his profession. The result of this has been: the leadership of the Communist Party of France, like that of the socialist parties which preceded it, has fallen into the hands of petty bourgeois, intellectuals, artisans, tradespeople, farmers, officials, and is not controlled by real proletarians, by workers from the factories and workshops. It is from these elements that the party secretaries, deputies, etc. are drawn. In this respect the German party is quite different to the French. Some time ago I had the opportunity of attending a conference of shop stewards in Essen. There were about 100 comrades present, all workmen who had obviously been in the shops a few hours before. But never, even in the most proletarian districts of France, would a shop stewards’ meeting of the Party have such a proletarian character. I may observe that our Russian comrades, at the last Moscow congress, were able to recognize the difficulties arising from this situation. A resolution had just been passed on the necessity of placing proletarians in leading positions in the French party. But the men chosen as representatives on the executive of the Communist International were, Frossard, a one-time state official and Party official of long standing; Souvarine, a journalist; and Duret, an academician. So long as an active revolutionary syndicalism continues to exist in France, this situation will remain the same. For the majority of active workers find ample fields for their revolutionary activity in the trade union.

It is necessary to also add, that the Party works within the confines of the political life of the bourgeoisie, and that in France these confines are those of democracy, that is, in the sphere in which it is most difficult to carry on the class struggle. It is an actual fact that in France, despite the efficiency of a Lafargue and a Guesde, no political party since the Commune has ever for a moment been a revolutionary party. The question of the relations between the Communist Party and the trade unions (I am still speaking only of France) is thus not a question of the relations between two sections ot the same class, i.e. between the great mass and the vanguard of the proletariat, but it is a question of the relations between two different classes, between the elite of the working class on the one hand, and petty bourgeoisie, who have accepted revolutionary ideology to a greater or less extent, on the other. When the French working class shows such determined resistance against a close alliance between the trade union organizations and the Party, this is not the fear of a mass alarmed lest it be driven too rapidly forward by its vanguard, it is the fear of being driven into the abyss of democracy by the petty bourgeoisie.


L. Trotzky

The Anarcho-Syndicalist Prejudices again!

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 43 [25], 14 June 1923, pp. 415–416.

Comrade Louzon’s new article contains more errors than his earlier ones, although this time his main line of argument takes an entirely different turn.

In his former articles, Comrade Louzon’s starting points were abstractions, which assumed that the trade unions represented the “working class as a whole”. In my reply I put the question: “Where does Comrade Louzon write his articles – in France or on Sirius?” In his latest article Comrade Louzon deserts the shaky foundation of universal laws, and attempts to stand upon the national ground of French Syndicalism. He says that the French trade unions are not actually the working class as a whole, but only the active minority of the working class. That is, comrade Louzon acknowledges that the trade unions form a sort of revolutionary party. But this syndicalist party is distinguished by being purely proletarian in its constituents; here lies its tremendous advantage over the Communist Party. And it has still another advantage; the syndicalist party categorically rejects the bourgeois state institutions; it does not “recognize democracy, and thus takes no part in the parliamentary struggles.

Comrade Louzon is never weary of repeating that we are dealing with the peculiarities of French development, and with these only. Beginning with a broad generalization, in the course of which he transformed Marx into a syndicalist, Louzon now sets England, Russia, and Germany on one side. He does not reply to our question, why he himself belongs to the Communist International, in company with the small English communist party, and not to the 2nd International, in company with the English trade unions and the English Labor Party which is supported by them? Louzon began with a “superhistorical” law for all countries, and closes by claiming an exceptional law for France. In this new form Louzon’s theory bears a purely national character. More than this, its essential character excludes the possibility of an international; how can common tactics be spoken of unless there are common fundamental premises? It is certainly very difficult to understand why comrade Louizon belongs to the Communist International. It is no less difficult to understand why he belongs to the French Communist Party, since there exists another party possessing all the advantages of the Communist, and none of its drawbacks.

But though comrade Louzon leaves international ground in the name of national, he systematically ignores that “national” question put him in our former article: What about the role played by the C.G.T. during the war? The rule played by Jouhaux was by no means less treacherous and despicable than that played by Renaudel. The sole difference consisted m the fact that the social patriotic party arranged their views and actions in accordance with a certain system, while the trade union patriots acted purely empirically, and veiled their actions in lamentable and stupid improvisations. It may be said that as regards patriotic betrayal, the socialist party, with its definite character, surpassed the semi-definite syndicalist party. At bottom, Jouhaux was at one with Renaudel.

And how is it today? Does Louzon desire the union of the two confederations? We desire it. The International deems it necessary. We should not be alarmed even should the union give Jouhaux the majority. Naturally we should not say, as does Comrade Louzon that Syndicalism, although headed by Jouhaux, Dumoulin, Merrheim, and their like, is the purest form of proletarian organization, that it incorporates “the working class as a whole”, etc. etc. for such a phrase would be a travesty of the facts. But we should consider the formation of a larger trade union organization, that is, the concentration of greater proletarian masses, forming a wider battle-field for the struggle for the ideas and tactics of Communism, to be a greater gain tor the cause of revolution. But for this the first necessity is, that the ideas and tactics of Communism do not remain in mid air, but are organized in the form of a party. With regard to Comrade Louzon, he does not pursue his train of thought to an end, but his logical conclusion would be the substitution of the party by a trade union organization of the “active minority”. The inevitable result of this would be a substitute party and a substitute trade union, for those trade unions required by comrade Louzon are too indefinite for the role of a Party, and too small for the role of a trade union.

Comrade Louzon’s expositions, to the effect that the trade unions do not want to soil their fingers by contact with the organs of bourgeois democracy, already form a weak echo of anarchism. It may be assumed that the majority of the workers organized in the C.G.T.U. will vote at elections for the Communist Party (at least we hope that comrade Louzon, as a member of the Communist Party, will call upon them to do so), while the majority of the members of the yellow confederation will vote for the Blum-Renaudel party. The trade union, as a form of organization, is not adapted for parliamentary struggle, but the workers organized in the trade unions will none the less have their deputies. It is simply a case of division of labor on the same class foundation. Or is it perchance a matter of indifference to the French worker what happens in parliament? The workers do not think so. The trade unions haw frequently reacted on the legislative work done by parliament, and will continue to do so in the future. And if there are, at the same time, communist deputies in parliament itself, who work hand in hand with the revolutionary trade unions against the deeds of violence and coups of imperialist “democracy”, this is naturally a positive gain. French “tradition” says that deputies are traitors. But the Communist Party has been called into being for the express purpose of doing away with all tradition. Should any deputy think of retreating from the class line, he will be thrown out of the Party. Our French Party has learnt how to do this, and all distrust in it is completely unfounded.

But Louzon complains that the Party contains many petty bourgeois intellectuals. This is so. But the IV. Congress of the Communist International recognized and adopted resolutions upon this, and the resolutions have not been without effect. Further work is required to establish the proletarian character of the party. But we shall not attain this end with the self-contradictory trade union metaphysics of Comrade Louzon, but rather by means of systematic party work in the sphere of the trade unions, and in every other sphere of proletarian struggle. There is already a considerable number of workers in the Central Committee of our French Party. This is mirrored in the whole Party. The same tendency is at work in accordance with the resolutions passed by the IV. congress, in the parliamentary and municipal elections. By this the Party will win the confidence of the revolutionary proletariat. And this means that the shortage of really competent and active proletarians, willing to take the most important and responsible revolutionary posts, will be gradually made up. I greatly fear that comrade Louzon’s views may exercise a retarding influence on this profound progressive evolution of the vanguard of the French working class. But I have no doubt but that Communism will succeed in overcoming this obstacle, like all others.

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