Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

On l’Humanité,
the Central Organ of the French Party

DEAR COMRADE [1], in accordance with your expressed desire, I shall formulate in greater detail my views concerning l’Humanité.

1) Parliamentary reports occupy a very important place in the French Communist newspaper. Not because we consider – like the reformists – participation in parliament to be either the basic or supremely important method of working-class struggle; but precisely because we must – while assigning to parliament and parliamentarianism that place which is actually occupied by them in modem society – work to dispel both the prejudices of parliamentary reformism as well as the anti-parliamentary superstitions of anarchism. Through parliamentary reports our aim is to show the workers the real role of parliament and of the parties represented there. However, in my opinion, this department is at bottom incorrectly organized in l’Humanite’. The debates are treated in a light journalistic vein, with quips, jokes, sly hints, etc. No mention is ever made of the party to which this or that orator belongs, nor is it pointed out just what class or sectional interests he happens to represent; the class character of the espoused ideas is never laid bare; neither speeches nor proposals are ever reduced to their essentials but everything is slurred over in catching up superficial contradictions, and in making puns, jokes, etc. I have no doubt that out of 100 workers whom you might approach at factory gates and to whom you might read a parliamentary report from l’Humanité, 99 would understand nothing and learn nothing, while the hundredth one might perhaps understand something but he, too, could learn nothing. In a workers’ newspaper it is impermissible to write about the parliament and its internal struggles in the style of journalists discussing among themselves in a cloakroom in parliament.

In this field, clarity, precision and a popular style are particularly indispensable. I don’t at all mean to say that one should give dry summaries of the debates, interspersed with commentaries on the orators and their parties. On the contrary, the reports must be written in a lively agitational manner. But this means that the writer must have his audience clearly in mind, and must set himself the task of laying bare before his audience the class essence of parliamentary activities and machinations. Sometimes a couple of words out of a whole speech suffice to characterize not alone the orator but his party as well. It is necessary constantly to repeat, underscore and hammer away, and then to repeat and to underscore all over again, instead of fluttering journalistically over the surface of parliamentary discussions.

2) L’Humanité’s attitude toward the Dissidents [2] is far too vague and at times utterly false: A split is a very serious matter, and once we recognize that a split is inevitable, then it is necessary to make its full meaning comprehensible to the masses. It is necessary to mercilessly expose the policy of the Dissidents. It is necessary to make their leaders and their press ludicrous and hateful in the eyes of the masses. In this way the broad party mass attains a far greater political distinctness and clarity. In the April 17 (1921) issue of l’Humanité Comrade Launat takes a position toward the Dissidents that is absolutely incorrect. He expresses the hope for an early publication of the text of Paul Boncour’s bill in order that it may be possible to corroborate whether the differences are really as irreconcilable as Blum [3] claims. This entire article, together with some others on the same subject, is written in a spirit as if we were engaged not in an irreconcilable political struggle with the Longuetists, but simply in a comradely discussion. This is false to the core. Naturally, we must tear away from the Longuetists the section of workers who follow them. But we shall attain this only through a merciless campaign against Longuetism in all of its manifestations.

3) I read Comrade Frossard’s article in the May 5 issue: Sang Froid et Discipline (Composure and Discipline). The article is in the main quite correct, insofar as it tells what to do and how to do it. But it is inadequate, because it doesn’t give vent to the feeling of protest prevalent among the best elements of the working class. The newspaper’s tone is not firm and energetic enough. The paper failed to supplement the parliamentary fraction, whose public speeches were exceedingly feeble and even wrong in principle. I can’t say so definitively, but in all likelihood protests could have been made in such a form as would not have committed the party to any decisive actions. There were no indications of this in l’Humanité.

4) The issue for April 3 contains a leading article: Christianity and Socialism.This article is in glaring contradiction with Marxism, for it seeks to justify socialism by platitudes from the Bible. The author cites the example of Soviet Russia where the church is tolerated and puts forth the demand that the French Communist Party emulate the Soviet Republic in this respect. But this is a monstrous confusion of concepts. The Soviet Republic is a state, constrained to tolerate prejudices and their organized expression – the church – in its midst. The Communist Party is a voluntary association of co-thinkers and cannot tolerate in its ranks propaganda of Christian Socialism, nor make the pages of its central organ available to such propaganda, all the less so in the guise of leading articles. The party can reconcile itself to the fact that individual members, especially workers and peasants, remain as yet not free from religious prejudices, but the party as a party, in the person of its leading organs, is duty-bound to conduct genuine educational activity. In any case, we cannot permit mystic-intellectuals to exploit the party as an auditorium for their religious ravings. At the decisive moment elements of this type will nine times out of ten espouse their fifty percent Christian self and become a brake upon revolutionary action.

5) The Luxembourg comrades have complained about the party’s apathy in connection with the military brutalities perpetrated by the French government upon the workers of Luxembourg. On this subject I was able to find in I’Humanité one solitary article by Comrade Victor Méric. [4] Unquestionably, it is possible and necessary to conduct far more agitation around precisely such issues.

6) Colonial questions are treated in the pages of l’Humanité in much too weak a tone. Yet its attitude toward colonial slavery is a genuine test for the revolutionary spirit of a proletarian party. The leading article in the May 20 issue dealing with the alleged conspiracy in Indo-China is written in a democratic and not Communist spirit. We must utilize every opportunity to implant in the minds of workers that the colonies have the right to rise up against and separate from the metropolises. In every instance we are obliged to underscore that it is the duty of the working class to support the colonies in their uprisings against the metropolises. Not alone in England but in France as well, the social revolution implies not only the uprising of the proletariat but also the uprising of the colonial peoples against the metropolises. Any vagueness in this connection becomes a source of and a cover for chauvinism.

7) In a number of articles and particularly among the commentaries there is a careless handling of concepts: fatherland, republic, love for one’s country, etc., etc. Precision in terminology and a firmly sustained class character of political phraseology are more important in France than anywhere else.

8) I shall refrain from citing numerous instances of extreme vagueness and outright indecision in l’Humanité’s line with regard to syndicalism. A number of articles directly violate the fundamental principles of Marxism and Communism. Communists write articles which are directed wholly against the party line. Syndicalist resolutions are published without any commentaries. To be sure, the columns of l’Humanité should be opened up at present for a discussion on the trade union question, with the opposing side given an opportunity to express itself. But in every case the editorial board must make its voice heard, otherwise the reader becomes hopelessly disoriented and confused. A discussion on this question especially in France must inescapably partake of the nature of pandemonium. This can give rise to the greatest disorder, if the editorial board vacillates. On the other hand, if the editorial board steers a firm course, the masses will choose the principled, correct and firmly sustained Communist line, and reject the confusion, equivocation and contradictoriness of all other lines.

9) L’Humanité readily publishes photographs of German and English ministers, including German Social Democrats and others. In my opinion it would be desirable to carry instead pictures of Communists. It is necessary to bring the Communist parties closer to one another, in personal respects as well.

10) In conclusion I take the opportunity to express again my admiration for the work of your wonderful cartoonist, Gassier. [5]

With comradely greetings.

July 23, 1921. Moscow.


1. This letter was originally addressed to Lucie Leiciague – at that time member of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party and the representative of the French CP in the ECCI in 1922.

2. Dissidents – the name given to the followers of Longuet who, finding themselves in the minority at the Tours Congress in 1919, split from the French party to form a party of their own.

3. Leon Blum – a prominent figure in the French Socialist Party. Blum was a wealthy man, a “boulevardier” who went into labor politics. Champion of the Left Bloc – and later of its Stalinist version, the People’s Front, under which he became premier – and of participation in the bourgeois government. A typical French reformist-traitor.

4. Méric – a former anarchist. During the First World War he held an internationalist position inside the French Socialist Party. In 1919 took active part in the split at the Tours Congress. In 1920-23 he traveled the same road as Frossard and found himself shortly outside the ranks of the Communist movement.

5. H.-P. Gassier – a very witty cartoonist who worked for a long time on l’Humanité, central organ of the French Communist movement.

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Last updated on: 19.1.2007