Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Letter to Comrade Monatte

MY DEAR FRIEND, I take this opportunity to send my warmest regards and to express my personal views on the state of affairs in French syndicalism – views that are, I trust, in complete harmony with the guiding line of the Third International as a whole.

I shall not hide from you that our joy in following the constant successes of revolutionary syndicalism is tinged with deepest concern over the future development of ideas and relations within the French labor movement. Today the revolutionary syndicalists of all tendencies still remain an opposition and are being held together precisely by their oppositional status. Tomorrow, the instant that you conquer the General Confederation of Labor [1] – and we don’t doubt that this day is nigh – you will come up against the fundamental questions of the revolutionary struggle. And precisely here we enter the zone of our grave worries.

The official program of revolutionary syndicalism is the Charter of Amiens. [2] In order to immediately express my thought as sharply as possible, let me say flatly – every reference to the Charter of Amiens is not an answer but an evasion. To every thinking Communist it is perfectly clear that pre-war French syndicalism represented a profoundly significant and important revolutionary tendency. The Charter of Amiens was an extremely precious document of the proletarian movement. But this document is historically restricted. Since its adoption a World War has taken place, Soviet Russia has been founded, a mighty revolutionary wave has passed over all of Europe, the Third International has grown and developed. The old syndicalists and the old Social Democrats have split into two and even three hostile camps. New questions of gigantic proportions have risen before us as practical questions on the order of the day. No answer to these questions is contained in the Amiens Charter. In the columns of La Vie Ouvrieère I am able to glean no answers to the fundamental problems of the revolutionary struggle. Can it possibly be that our task today, in the year 1921, lies in returning to the positions of 1906 and in bringing about the “revival” (réconstruction) of pre-war syndicalism? Such a position greatly resembles, in principle, the position of those political “revivalists” (réconstructeurs) who are dreaming of a return to “pure” socialism, as it existed prior to its fall into sin during the war. Such a position is amorphous; it is conservative and it threatens to become reactionary.

Just how do you envisage the leadership of the syndicalist move-ment, from the moment you obtain the majority of the General Confederation of Labor? The ranks of the syndicates embrace party Communists, revolutionary syndicalists, anarchists, Socialists and broad non-party masses. Naturally, every issue involving revolutionary action must in the last analysis be brought before the entire syndicalist apparatus, embracing hundreds of thousands and millions of workers. But who will sum up the revolutionary experience, analyze it, draw all the necessary conclusions from it, formulate the specific proposals, slogans and methods of struggle, and transmit them to the broad masses? Who will lead? Are you perhaps of the opinion that this work can be carried out through the circle of La Vie Ouvrière? If such be the case, then one can state with certainty that alongside you other circles will arise to challenge your right to leadership under the banner of revolutionary syndicalism. And besides – what about the large contingent of Communists in the syndicates? What will be the relations between them and your group? The leading organs of one syndicate may be dominated by party Communists, while in the organs of another syndicate, revolutionary non-party syndicalists may predominate. The proposals and slogans of the La Vie Ouvrieère group may diverge from the proposals and slogans of the Communist organization. This danger is profoundly real, it may become fatal, and because of it our victory in the syndicalist movement may be followed within a few months by the return of Jouhaux, Dumoulin and Merrheim to power.

I am well acquainted with bias against “parties” and against “politics” prevalent among French workers who have passed through the anarchist school. I completely agree that no single sharp blow can possibly break these moods, which were wholly justified in the past but which are extremely dangerous for the future. With regard to this question I can fully understand a gradual transition from the old state of disarrangement to the complete fusion of revolutionary syndicalists and Communists within a single party. But one must clearly and firmly set himself this goal. If centrist tendencies still obtain within the party the syndicalist opposition likewise has them within it. More education and further ideological purification are necessary among both of them. At issue is not at all the question of subordinating the syndicates to the party, but the question of uniting the revolutionary Communists and revolutionary syndicalists within the framework of a single party; and of all the members of this unified party carrying on harmonious centralized activity within the syndicates, which remain throughout autonomous and independent of the party organizationally. At issue is this, that the genuine vanguard of the French proletariat be welded together for the sake of its fundamental historical task – the conquest of power – and that under this banner it carry out its line within the syndicates, these basic and decisive organizations of the working class as a whole.

There is a certain psychological obstacle blocking a man’s crossing the party’s threshold after he has spent many years in revolutionary struggle outside the party. But to yield to this is to shy away from an outward form while causing the greatest damage to the inner essence. For it is my contention that your entire past activity was nothing else but preparation for the creation of the Communist Party of the proletarian revolution. Pre-war revolutionary syndicalism was a Communist Party in embryo. To return to the embryo would be a monstrous retrogression. Conversely, active participation in the building of a genuine Communist Party means the continuation and development of the best traditions of French syndicalism.

In these years each of us has had occasion to renounce one part of his already obsolete past in order to preserve, develop and assure victory to that other part of his past which did meet the test of events. An inner revolution of this type does not come easily. But only at this price, and at this price alone, can one acquire the right to really participate in the revolution of the working class.

Dear friend! I consider that the present moment will decide for a long time to come the de«stiny of French syndicalism, and, consequently, of the French revolution. In this decision you hold an important place. You would deal a cruel blow to the cause which numbers you among its best workers, were you today, when the choice must be definitely made, to turn your back upon the Communist Party. I have no doubt that this will not happen. I warmly shake your hand and remain devotedly yours.

July 13, 1921


1. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) is the name of the largest trade union organization in France. In 1921 revolutionary elements actually had the majority in the French labor movement and in the CGT in particular. However, the movement was never won to the banner of Communism and therefore soon slipped back into the hands of Jouhaux and Co., where it remained up to the outbreak of the Second World War.

2. The Charter of Amiens was the programmatic resolution adopted by the French trade unions at their 1906 convention in the city of Amiens. The central point in this resolution was the affirmation of the independence of the labor movement (the trade union movement) and its non-political character.

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Last updated on: 16.1.2007