Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

From the ECCI to the Central Committee
of the French Communist Party

June 25, 1921

Dear Comrades,

We find it necessary to draw certain conclusions from the decisions of the last congress in applying them to the Communist parties of various countries.

1) It is urgently necessary to establish more regular and frequent connections between you and the Executive Committee of the Communist International. It is necessary to assign certain comrades to transmit to us all the Communist literature published by you in France. It is indispensable for us to receive periodic reports about the life of the party and about the French labour movement as a whole. Finally, it is necessary to supply our magazine, The Communist International with articles illuminating the current problems of French Communism.

The basic directives for the French Communist Party in the tactical field are contained in a corresponding World Congress resolution. Here we merely wish to express our views primarily with respect to the party’s parliamentary policy with greater clarity and frankness than is possible in theses intended for publication. Naturally parliamentary activity is not decisive in character, but it is nevertheless of enormous symptomatic significance. It enables one to appraise the degree of precision and clarity of a party’s revolutionary line, its capacity for resisting bourgeois influences and its ability to speak to the proletarian masses over the head of the parliamentary majority. In France, revolutionary precision in parliamentary tactics is more urgently required than anywhere else because the anarchistically inclined elements among the working class judge the party first of all by its parliamentary activity. The prejudices of those who deny the need and usefulness of the party can be surmounted only by converting the parliamentary fraction into an instrument for a genuinely revolutionary working-class policy. This does not, unfortunately, obtain in your country as yet.

Thus, the parliamentary policy of our fraction during the recent tension in Franco-German relations was absolutely inadequate. The speech of Comrade Cachin could have been interpreted to the effect that the French Communist Party is backing the Anglo-French alliance as the mainstay of European peace as against the adventuristic policy of Briand. Yet it is perfectly obvious that in exposing the adventurism of the ruling clique there is no need whatever of suppressing the fact that the Anglo-French alliance is not a factor of peace but, on the contrary, a factor of pillage, robbery and new wars. A break between Britain and France would simply bring forth another combination for the self-same purpose. After Briand made his reassuring declarations, the Communist faction introduced a resolution limiting itself to a demand that draftees of the class of 1919 be released. In the given conditions this meant that the fraction took its stand on the ground of governmental policy, approving its dilatory course and demanding only that a purely practical conclusion be drawn from the general premises. No greater tactical blunder in principle could have been committed by the party under these conditions. The duty of the fraction was to expose in its resolution the new phase of the Anglo-French brigandage and to point out that the dilatory character of Briand’s policy is only a prelude to new sanguinary depredations. In such a context the demand to release the 1919 draftees would have appeared in an entirely different light.

2) On a number of other questions the fraction disclosed its identity either too sketchily or failed to do so altogether; and in the eyes of the outside public it became dissolved in the “extreme left”. With respect to parliamentary manoeuvring, adapting oneself to an audience and achieving superficial oratorical effects, the superiority will invariably be on the side of the Dissidents, because they are a party par excellence of lawyers and deputies. All the more important, therefore, is it for us to pose questions flatly, to counterpose ourselves on every suitable occasion to the followers of Longuet, exposing them openly and directly from the parliamentary tribune and formulating sharp, precise slogans which are comprehensible to the broadest layers of the labour movement.

Concurrently we must see to it, that the parliamentary reports in l’Humanité supplement, illuminate and render more precise the speeches of our deputies. It would do no harm but, on the contrary, would prove only beneficial if l’Humanité were, in specific cases, to point out directly a mistake in this or that speech by a Communist deputy. The bourgeois press will pounce upon this with malicious glee but the working mass will see that our deputies are not divinities, that they are subject to the party’s control. This would have only an educational value.

The present parliamentary reports of l’Humanité are completely permeated with the spirit of parliamentary lobbies and therefore are positively inaccessible to the working masses.

3) The sharp declarations of Comrades Monatte [1] and Monmousseau against the Moscow congress resolution on the interrelations between the party and the trade unions arise by and large from the fact that the French syndicalists have never heard an open criticism of their views from the French Communists. A tacit agreement reigns by virtue of which all questions of the trade-union movement seem to have become something in the nature of an ideological monopoly of revolutionary syndicalism. As if by way of compensation, the syndicalists on their part have absolutely refrained from concerning themselves with the passivity of the party and especially its parliamentary activity. Such a mechanical cleavage can prove fatal to the revolutionary movement of France. The working class represents a unity. The proletarian revolution becomes the more possible all the more this unity manifests itself in all fields of the proletariat’s class struggle. We must, before the eyes of the working mass, demand of the syndicalists that they openly express their views on the party’s policy, and the negative aspect of the party. We must force them to explain why they refuse to join the Communist Party at a time when the Communist Party makes it obligatory for all its members to join the trade unions. We must listen with utmost attention to the criticism of syndicalists, because, as the entire past shows, they express by and large the moods and views of rather large revolutionary sections of the proletariat. At the same time, however, it is necessary to criticize openly the narrowness of the revolutionary syndicalist position.

Constant references to the Charter of Amiens, refusals to join the Red Trade-Union International, appeals for a new Trade-Union Congress for the purpose of setting up a “broader” International – all this represents a repetition of the tactics employed by the Longuetists who likewise began by solidarizing with Moscow, then set themselves the task of “reconstructing” the past, refused to join the International, proposed to create a “broader” International and ended up by creating the tiny Two-and-a-Half International. If Monatte and Monmousseau were to persist stubbornly on their present position, the end-result would undoubtedly be the formation of a tiny Two-and-a-Half Trade-Union International, midway between Amsterdam and Moscow. All these dangers must be openly pointed out today. It is necessary to explain – through the spoken and written word – to broad working masses the meaning of the resolutions on trade-union work adopted by the Moscow congresses. It is possible and obligatory to permit in the columns of the party press a discussion on the question of the interrelationship between the party and the trade unions. It is especially important to draw the revolutionary syndicalists into this discussion. But it is in no case permissible to leave the masses without leadership. The viewpoint of the Communist International must be counterposed without fail from one issue to the next to the declarations, articles and resolutions of revolutionary syndicalists insofar as these resolutions diverge from the decisions of the International.

4) The basic task is the conquest of the working masses. The advanced section of the working mass is concentrated in the trade unions. For this reason the trade unions must become in the immediate period ahead the most important arena for a co-ordinated and organized activity of the party.

A close check must be kept on the Communists in the trade unions, they must be kept in touch with one another and brought under the control and guidance of the closest party organization. The Central Committee must give constant leadership to local party organizations on questions of trade-union tactics.

In view of this it appears expedient to create a special and permanent functioning Commission attached to the Central Committee and devoting itself to questions of the trade-union movement. This Commission might be composed of several members of the Central Committee, intimately acquainted with trade-union questions plus several worker-Communists who work primarily or exclusively in the trade unions. All questions of the trade-union movement must come before this Commission. Especially important questions, or those over which differences arise inside the Commission must be referred to the Central Committee. This Commission shall organize in Paris a number of gatherings and conferences of those Communists who work in the trade unions for the purpose of clarifying the internal life of the trade unions, the ideological groupings there, the ways and means of conducting agitation, organization, and so on. To such conferences it would be desirable to invite the revolutionary syndicalists, giving them a consultative vote to enable them to gain an understanding in practice that the Communist Party is an organization of the proletarian vanguard, setting itself the task of conquering the leadership in all spheres of proletarian life and struggle.

We must at all costs educate and imbue the Communists, working in the trade unions, with the conviction that within the trade unions, too, they remain party members and carry out its basic directives. Communists who stubbornly persist in a blunder that in their trade-union work they are independent of the party are subject, as a general rule, to expulsion from the party.

5) It is necessary right now to select worker-Communists who are capable of holding responsible posts in the trade unions when the latter have been partially or completely won over. These designated comrades must devote their main efforts to training themselves practically for trade-union work.

6) In line with the resolutions of the last World Congress it is necessary to introduce serious and deep-going changes in the party’s organizational apparatus and its methods of functioning.

We proceed on the assumption that this reorganization should begin with the Central Committee itself, devoting the interval up to the coming Party Convention to prepare carefully for this reorganization.

The Central Committee must:

  1. be brought as closely as possible to the rank and file;
  2. be composed of comrades who devote their efforts chiefly to party work.

Roughly speaking, not less than one-third of the members of the Central Committee should be professional party workers, kept on the party payroll and completely at the party’s disposal. Next to them it is necessary to place in the Central Committee those who work primarily as functionaries in the trade unions. In view of the exceptional importance of the trade-union question the aim should be to constitute approximately one-third of the Central Committee from among these workers. Under such conditions there would not be in the Central Committee more than one-third from among those comrades who devote the greater part of their time to parliamentary activity or to private work. It is our firm conviction that only a Central Committee composed in this way and with a large proportion of workers can assure this central party body genuine leadership of the movement. It is necessary right now to proceed to a selection of qualified comrades and a designation of the necessary candidates because in the absence of such careful preparatory work the Convention will not produce the necessary results in this connection.

7) Under the existing set-up of federations the party is deprived of direct leadership. The Central Committee cannot direct, in all its concrete aspects, local work from Paris. There do not exist local committees, as elected and permanently functioning bodies. It is perfectly obvious that without permanent functioning local committees, the party is rendered incapable of action. The personnel of each local committee, too, must contain a number of comrades all of whose energies are at the party’s disposal.

Unquestionably, in the person of party secretaries and treasurers we have inherited from the old party a considerable number of individuals who became Communists only because the majority of the party members came out in favour of the Third International. These old-type functionaries all too frequently prove incapable of grasping the character and the tasks of the new epoch and of the new work. Indispensable is a new selection from among the workers, including the ranks of the Communist Youth.

In each committee there must be comrades capable of sacrificing their personal interests for the sake of party work and equipped to set an example in this respect to others. In the cause of spreading literature, conducting agitation, propaganda, etc., it is necessary for party members to display the selflessness and energy that are required for the preparation of decisive battles facing us in the more or less immediate future.

8) The party’s internal life must be mirrored far more distinctly, effectively and efficiently in the columns of l’Humanité. It is necessary to openly criticize the shortcomings of local work, to severely castigate those party members who, under the cover of the Communist banner, show the greatest opportunism in local work and are ready to engage in any horse trade with the powers that be. Only the vigilant strictness of the party toward its parliamentary deputies, municipal councillors, and others can assure it the confidence and respect of the working class.

9) An end must be put once and for all to a situation which makes it possible for party members, out of personal material consideration or because of their political views, to publish newspapers and periodicals over which the party has no control and which are, time after time, hostile to the party. Consciously or semi-Consciously, covering themselves up by their proximity to Communism, publishers, editors and journalists of this type, use their connections with Communism as a cover in order to exploit the authority of the party and the revolutionary enthusiasm of the working masses for the benefit of their own private enterprise, in order later on at the most critical moment of the struggle to turn all the influence they wield against the Communist Party. In this field, considerations of political expediency dictate to the party a firm and resolute line of conduct.

10) The considerable success of La Vague [2], one of these obviously pernicious publications, is evidence, by the way, of how strong is the urge among broad circles of workers, soldiers and peasants to find in a newspaper or periodical some reflection of their own lives, their own experiences, thoughts, etc. We must at all costs bring the party press, including l’Humanité, closer to the life of the toiling masses. It is necessary to establish a far-flung network of correspondents in factories, shops, neighbourhoods, etc. The reports of these correspondents should be condensed, cut, supplemented with a commentary. But it is indispensable for the working masses to find themselves mirrored in their own newspaper.

11) Complete mutual understanding and the establishment of close ties between the new ECCI and the Central Committee of the French Communist Party we consider to be a most important condition for the success of future work. For this reason we insist on requesting that Comrade Frossard, as Secretary of the party and Comrade Cachin, as chairman of the parliamentarian fraction, come to Moscow as soon as possible – together, or if this proves too difficult, separately – in order to discuss a number of questions most intimately connected with the forthcoming Convention of the French Communist Party.

Having freely expressed our views on the tasks of the French Communist Party, we do not for a moment doubt that you, on your part, will take our criticism only as an expression of what it really is, namely: our profound and sincere attempt to render every possible assistance to the French Communist Party, one of the most important sections of the Communist International.

Please accept our fraternal greetings, and our wishes for your success.

Executive Committee of the Communist International.

June 25, 1921


1. Monatte, one of the leaders of the French Communist Party, which he joined toward the end of 1922. Prior to World War I Monatte stood in the ranks of the French revolutionary syndicalists, who constituted during those war years the core of the opposition in the labor movement to the social-patriots. After the war ended, Monatte continued his revolutionary work but did not immediately join the French CP. When the Frossard group split in the winter of 1922, Monatte finally joined the Communist movement only to leave it subsequently.

2. La Vague – one of the typical newspapers published in France at the time, using the cover of the French CP in order to attack Marxism and the revolutionary World Congresses of the Third International. (See From the ECCI to the Marseilles Convention of the French Communist Party, note 3).

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