Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

From the ECCI to the Marseilles Convention
of the French Communist Party

December 1921

Dear Comrades, the Communist International sends fraternal greetings to its French section assembled in this convention. [1]

A year has elapsed since the Tours Convention where you took the necessary steps to liquidate the “socialism” of the war epoch and to free yourselves from the embraces of reformism by joining the Comintern. Those comrades who parted company with you, and whose defection was perhaps regretted by many in the beginning, have likewise put an end to all ambiguity. They had vowed that despite their leaving the party they would remain revolutionists, steadfast friends and defenders of the Russian Revolution. But their hostility to Communist principles, which drove them out of the ranks of the unified party, did not fail quickly to convert them into out-and-out counter-revolutionists mouthing the slanders which the capitalist press heaps upon the Russian Revolution. They have become the defenders of the counter-revolutionary Social Democrats who are among the bitterest enemies of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution. The party of the Dissidents is falling more and more under the influence and political leadership of Renaudel, Grumbach [2] and Blum, that is, of those who betrayed the French working class and international socialism during the war, those who have not renounced by an iota the policy of collaborating with the bourgeoisie and those who constrain their French party to function as a connecting link between the Vienna International and the Their-Majesty’s-Ministers’ Second International.

The Tours Convention, the resulting split and energetic purge were the necessary and ineluctable products of working-class reaction to and anger against war-socialism and reformism which betrayed the class interests of the workers. But Tours, because it gave birth to the Communist Party, marked at the same time the point of departure for a new epoch in the history of the French revolutionary movement.

A year has elapsed since the Tours Convention. Among the French revolutionists there is no longer to be found anyone who regrets the split that occurred and the purge that followed. It is necessary, however, not only to survey the road traversed by the enemies of Communism but also to review what the Communist Party has accomplished during its first year’s activity. The Comintern hails with joy the results of your efforts directed toward regrouping and reorganizing your federations into a large party numbering 130,000 members, with a widely circulated and flourishing press. Only the Communist Party and its press is capable of organizing resistance against imperialism and reaction, whose strongest citadel in the world is manned by the French bourgeoisie. Last year the party succeeded in effectively increasing its influence over the mass of the French proletariat and small peasantry.

Rejoicing over the achieved results, we nevertheless do not shut our eyes to those weaknesses and shortcomings which became manifest during this first year. Unlike the Second International, the Comintern does not rest content with offering congratulations and greetings to its sections. Being guided solely by the interests of the world revolution, it has the duty to fraternally point out to them their respective weaknesses and to try, in the process of intimate joint and harmonious collaboration, to eliminate these weaknesses. As regards the French party, the Comintern has always taken into consideration the specific peculiarities of its evolution and of the milieu in which it is compelled to struggle. In appraising the work accomplished during this first year, we are likewise not unmindful of the condition in which the party found itself following the split at Tours; we are aware that a party subjected to such deviations as the French party was during the war cannot suddenly turn Communist – by virtue of a resolution adopted by a convention. The vote at Tours was evidence of the party’s will to become Communist. This first year was bound to signalize uninterrupted efforts and unremitting work directed toward investing the party with a Communist character. The party’s efforts were enormous, but they were still inadequate. It is our desire to uncover together with you the reasons for this weakness; we are convinced that the Marseilles Convention sincerely wishes to pursue the work begun so energetically at Tours, and that your Convention will pay the closest attention to the directives of the International in order to strengthen the party’s Communist character and policy.

The party has suffered from a weak leadership. The Central Committee immersed itself in a whole number of current administrative duties and failed to give firm political leadership to the party, failed to give day-to-day direction to the party’s thought and diversified activities, failed to create a collective consciousness. The party has suffered from a lack of policy; it has lacked an agrarian policy, a trade-union policy, an electoral policy. Fearful lest the federations accuse the Central Committee of dictatorial practices if it undertook to solve these questions itself, the Central Committee tabled the review and decision on all these questions until the Marseilles Convention. Yet as every revolutionist clearly understands, the Central Committee of the Communist Party is an elected body, elected by the convention and invested with confidence, and therefore vested with the broadest powers to direct the party’s policy in accordance with the line of the theses and resolutions adopted by the national and international congresses. Beginning with the Marseilles Convention, the Central Committee must steer a much firmer course and become a genuine leading political body, controlling and inspiring the press, guiding the parliamentary work, taking definite positions, day by day, on all the political questions, domestic and foreign. We consider it expedient to effect the transfer of all minor administrative duties to an administrative secretariat, and to select from among the Central Committee a bureau composed of at least five members whose main duty is to give continuous leadership to the thought and activity of the party.

Parallel with the installation of a firmer leadership it is necessary to promote the spirit of firmer discipline in the party. Communists must feel themselves to be, first and foremost, party members and to act as such in their entire social and private life.

The question of, the party’s trade-union policy is undoubtedly the most important and touchy question on the agenda of the Marseilles Convention. The party has been unable to solve it during the first year of its existence. A Communist Party that seeks to become the vanguard and creator of the social revolution cannot ignore the trade-union question. There is not a single labour question that falls outside the party’s purview. And so the party must sketch out its line of conduct on questions pertaining to the trade unions. It must loudly proclaim to the working class its right and its duty to concern itself with these questions. It must demand of its members that they remain Communists inside the trade unions as well as in the party. A Communist Party cannot tolerate the fact that its members support the policy of Jouhaux and of the Amsterdam International. It must tell those who agree with Jouhaux that their place is in the party of Renaudel, Albert Thomas and Longuet. Similarly the party must wage an energetic struggle against the ideas of anarchists and ordinary trade unionists who deny the role of the party in the revolution. It must say in clear and precise language that the aim of both the party and the Comintern is not to subordinate the trade unions to the party but to get all party members to participate in the work and struggle of the trade-union minority. Keeping itself constantly informed about the development of the trade-union movement in France, the party must seek ways and means of establishing the closest collaboration with those syndicalists who have subjected their revolutionary ideas to a profound review on the basis of what has happened in history in recent years. While discussing fraternally all revolutionary problems with them, the party must try to make them render more precise their current conceptions and help them overcome the obsolete vestiges of anarcho-syndicalist thought. We do not doubt that the party, by showing itself to be a genuine, revolutionary Communist Party, will attract not only the sympathy and confidence of broad proletarian masses in France, but also those syndico-Communist comrades who still have an attitude of mistrust toward it. The party will win them over by its resolute policy, entirely alien to opportunism. The draft theses on the trade-union question elaborated by the Central Committee signify only the first step toward clarity on this fundamental issue. Those who maintain that the economic struggle is of no concern to the party are either complete ignoramuses or individuals seeking to make a mockery of Communism. The party must draw into its ranks all the best elements of the working class; and as touches the ideological aspect, it must become the inspirer of all forms of proletarian struggle, including of course the economic struggle as well. The trade union as such is not subordinate to the party as such. In this sense the trade unions remain independent. But the Communists who work in the trade unions must invariably function as disciplined Communists.

Owing to a whole number of circumstances, many valuable revolutionary elements who deem themselves syndicalists still remain outside the ranks of the Communist Party of France. Sooner or later we must reach an agreement with them and unite in the ranks of a single Communist Party. But we cannot and ought not foster syndicalist prejudices on questions relating to the party and to political actions.

During the French delegation’s stay in Moscow on the occasion of the Third World Congress, the ECCI called the attention of the delegates to the need of placing the unofficial party press under the control of the Central Committee. The ECCI had primarily in mind the newspaper La Vague published by Brizon [3], and Journal du Peuple by Fabre. [4] Both Brizon and Fabre were advocating a policy incompatible with the policy of the party and the Communist International. The Second World Congress adopted the principled position that no party member could use the freedom of the press as a flimsy pretext for publishing periodicals not subject to the party’s absolute political control. With the unanimous agreement of the French delegation in Moscow, the ECCI adopted in this connection a resolution which was transmitted to the Central Committee of the French Communist Party. But up to this day the ECCI has not received an official reply on this question from the party’s Central Committee. The ECCI requests the Marseilles Convention to give, in the name of the party, a reply on this question, which we consider to be one of the most rudimentary questions of Communist discipline, subject to enforcement by the party’s Central Committee.

Any delay in solving this problem would be all the more unfortunate in view of the fact that since the adoption of this (ECCI) resolution, an opportunist tendency has crystallized around Journal du Peuple, a tendency which bemoans the split that occurred at Tours, and which to this day sheds tears over the departure of the Dissidents and of Serrati, and which even advocates open collaboration with bourgeois parties in the form of a “left bloc”. It is hardly surprising that those comrades who support a policy hostile to Communist principles should feel hurt by our resolution, and should try to unload responsibility upon the French representatives in the ECCI. We trust the Party Convention assembled at Marseilles will express unambiguously its disapproval of such a policy and will call upon this group of comrades to abide by Communist discipline.

We deem it necessary for the French party to make an effort toward establishing more intimate and stable ties with workers in factories and shops. All too frequently the party press conveys the spirit of contending cliques and of dilettantism rather than genuinely revolutionary and proletarian spirit. Moreover, in the Central Committee there are far too few factory workers. In our opinion the worker-elements must be given greater representation in the election of the Central Committee.

We also wish to point out that somehow the French party seems to have always remained on the side lines, apart from the life of the International. We trust that in the future more intimate ties and more frequent communications will enable the French party to participate more actively and fruitfully in the life of the Comintern as a whole. We consider that all French questions are the concern of the entire International; just so do we trust that the French proletariat will consider as its own all questions pertaining to the proletariat of Germany, Russia, America and elsewhere; and that in the course of discussing these questions the French proletariat will take an active part in the work and struggle of all the sections of the International. All these vital questions, most of which should have been, in our opinion, already decided by the Central Committee in the course of last year, will come up for discussion at the Marseilles Convention.

It is our hope that the work of your Convention will, inspired by the single overpowering desire for and fervent hope in the victory of the social revolution, provide a new and great impulse to your party, placing it on a solid ideological foundation and outlining a clear tactic for it. Following the initial year of stabilization and organization, the Marseilles Convention must mark a new major stage and become the starting point for intense and fruitful work of large-scale Communist education and propaganda of our ideas among the working class and the peasantry, work directed toward a bold penetration of the capitalist army and particularly the army of occupation which may perhaps be destined to play the part of a connecting link between the German proletarian revolution and the French proletariat, which is ready to support and follow this revolution. The Marseilles Convention must become the starting point for internal work directed toward the creation of a firm party leadership and the establishment of discipline, cheerfully and voluntarily accepted by all, as well as of external work directed toward attracting broad masses to our ideals. The current year is likewise destined to be a year of fierce struggle against the reformism of Amsterdam, London, Vienna, Geneva [5]; a struggle against every variety of blocs with the bourgeoisie, whether it be a national bloc or a “left bloc”; a struggle designed to weaken and overthrow the most brazen and the most criminal of imperialist powers. At your convention you must forge the weapons and instruments for the battles and labours that await you. The Comintern trusts that Marseilles will become an even more famous date than Tours in the history of your party. With liveliest interest the Comintern follows your work, convinced that the French party will fulfil its duty in the cause of working-class emancipation.

Long Live the French Communist Party!
Long Live the Communist International!
Long Live the World Revolution!

Executive Committee of the Communist International


1. The Marseilles Convention of the French CP, sometimes referred to as the first convention of this party, took place in December 1921. The main points on the agenda were: The agrarian question; national defense; attitude toward the trade unions; election tactics; organization of women Communists; press and cooperatives. Sharp differences arose which were shortly to lead to the formation of a left wing. At the time of this convention, the CP had 130,000 members and a parliamentary fraction of 13 deputies. The leading role at Marseilles was played by the Frossard group.

2. An Alsatian by birth, Grumbach participated in the German Socialist movement prior to the first World War. When war broke out, he became a rabid “Alsatian patriot,” backing French imperialism and virulently attacking the German Social Democracy. After the split of the French SP (at the Tours Convention) he remained in the ranks of the reformists, then known as the Dissidents.

3. Brizon, a teacher by profession, was a Socialist deputy in the French Parliament during World War 1. In 1915-16, he tended toward an internationalist position, participating in the Kienthal Conference. Essentially a pacifist, his internationalism faded quickly. Shifting more and more to the right, he broke with the French CP, turned to journalism, publishing a small newspaper La Vague which was devoted to attacking Communism.

4. Henri Fabre, merchant and publisher, was one of the bourgeois fellow-travellers of the revolutionary movement in France. With the formation of the French CP Fabre became one of the cleverest and most articulate opponents of the Comintern and enemy of the left wing inside the party, utilizing his newspaper Journal du Peuple for this purpose. His name became widely known in 1921-22 because the then incumbent leadership, headed by Frossard, obstructed the attempts of the ECCI to expel him from Communist ranks.

5. The reference here is to the various international, reformist trade union and political bodies which had their headquarters at Amsterdam, London, Vienna and Geneva.

6. At this Conference in December 1921 Zinoviev delivered the report elaborating the United Front Theses which had just been adopted by the ECCI. The theses and the report were approved unanimously by the 1921 Conference.

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