Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

French Communism and the
Position of Comrade Rappoport

May 23, 1922

Today the most important question before the entire Communist International is undoubtedly the internal situation in our French party. Processes that demand the greatest possible attention are taking place within it. Future historians will relate how difficult it was for the proletarian party of an old “republican” and “cultured” country, weighed down by traditions of a parliamentary and opportunist past, to adjust itself to a new historical situation. Those are utterly mistaken who believe or say that because France is a victorious country, no revolutionary situation allegedly exists there and that this is precisely the explanation for the signs of crisis in the French Communist movement. In reality the situation, if one probes deeply enough, is profoundly revolutionary in character. The international position of France is extremely unstable and packed with contradictions. This is the source of inescapable and ever-sharper crises. The country’s financial condition is catastrophic and this financial catastrophe cannot be averted except through measures of a sweeping social character, which are positively beyond the powers of the ruling class. France’s entire post-war state régime, first and foremost, her militarism and her colonial ambitions, do not correspond to her economic base. One can say that France’s position as a great power threatens to crush the country under its weight. The toiling masses are disenchanted in their national illusions; they are discouraged, discontented, angry. The National Bloc, which skimmed the political cream of victory, is running to waste before our very eyes. French Radicalism as well as social-patriotism squandered their basic resources as far back as the war. Should the Radical-Reformist régime (Caillaux-Thomas-Blum) supersede the régime of the National Bloc, it would hardly be for a longer span than that required by the Communist Party for definitively preparing itself to fulfil its basic task. The objective premises for the revolution and the subjective premises for revolutionary policy are thus at hand, and if anything does lag behind, it is the internal evolution of the party.

In this sense the case of Fabre is profoundly symptomatic. Having broken in principle with nationalistic and reformistic ideology, the Communist Party keeps extending hospitality in its ranks to one of the vulgar condottieres of journalism who sets up at his own risk and for his private profit an unprincipled newspaper enterprise and after affixing a Communist emblem over his door, he, in turn, extends the broadest hospitality to reformists, nationalists, pacifists, anarchists, on this sole condition: that they wage war against the Communist International. This incredible scandal dates back to the day the Communist Party was founded, and has assumed increasingly open and demoralizing forms. More than this, the most influential members of the party’s Central Committee have collaborated with Fabre’s newspaper; and when the International urged them to cease and desist from collaboration, they did so in tenderest lyrical terms. There are of course oracles who have informed us that we “exaggerate” the importance of this fact. We consider these oracles to be simpletons and dawdlers, if not something worse, and that is, the conscious promoters of Fabre’s clique as a “useful” counterweight to the left wing. The ECCI has shown on this, as on all other internal questions of French Communism, the greatest caution, offering advice, patiently waiting for answers and actions, formulating proposals jointly with the French comrades, waiting for the fulfilment of these proposals, sending new reminders, and waiting some more, until it finally saw itself compelled to invoke Article 9 of the statutes and to expel Fabre from the International. Let us hope that Comrade Rappoport [1], who is now in Moscow, does not challenge the right and the duty of the International to decide who can and who cannot hold membership in its ranks. Fabre is not one of us; Fabre has nothing in common with us; he is an out-and-out enemy. For this very simple reason, which will be excellently understood by every French worker, Fabre has been expelled from the International. And anyone who supports Fabre or solidarizes with him is by this very token automatically liable to expulsion from our ranks. Or does Comrade Rappoport perhaps doubt the expediency of this decision or its timeliness?

Comrade Rappoport demands in Izvestia a prudent attitude toward the French labour movement. What does this mean? Anyone in the know will perceive a hint in these, words. Unfortunately, only a hint. We would prefer an open criticism and clear statements of just what Comrade Rappoport wants and what he does not want. Assuredly this is not the season for hints and circumlocutions, especially if we take into account the fact that Comrade Rappoport is a member of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party.

A few sentences earlier, Rappoport states that it would be incorrect to draw excessively “pessimistic conclusions” about the French labour movement. “The revolutionary masses of France”, he says, “are healthy.” Again there is a hint. Who is it that draws these pessimistic conclusions and has doubts about the health of the French revolutionary masses? And who is it that approaches the French labour movement without sufficient prudence?

The French movement, it must be recognized, has “a right to a certain independence”, says Rappoport. Again, something is left unsaid. Why only the French movement? Doesn’t this apply to all the national sections of the International as well? Can it really be that the International illegally impinges – when and where – upon the independence of the French labour movement? Why hint? Why make half-statements? Why not better say clearly and positively wherein the International fails to evince a sufficiently prudent attitude toward the French labour movement and just where it violated the necessary independence of French Communism? It is possible to arrive at agreement only if all the disputed questions are posed candidly and clearly.

The whole trouble, however, is that Comrade Rappoport’s approach to the question is too sweeping. The rather specific responsibility of specific party bodies, of specific newspapers, individuals, editors and leaders is transferred by him to the party as a whole and, finally, to the labour movement as a whole. No one disputes that the party has its roots in the movement, while the Central Committee has its roots in the party. But this does not in the least free the Central Committee and its individual members from responsibility for their own policies. No one else but the Central Committee of the party has up to recently evinced an absolutely incomprehensible tolerance toward a hostile publication, imbedded in the party’s body. The responsibility for this falls upon that very core of the Central Committee of which Comrade Rappoport is a member. In our opinion – and we want to say this candidly – it is precisely Rappoport and his co-thinkers who evince an insufficiently prudent attitude toward French Communism and the labour movement as a whole by permitting irresponsible groups to engage in artificially grafting opportunism onto the Communist Party and preparing for the latter’s drawing closer to and merging with the opportunist-Dissidents, through the manoeuvre of isolating its left wing. The revolutionary masses of France are healthy; but this does not at all mean that their health remains unaffected by the errors of the Central Committee, of which Comrade Rappoport is a member. Once again it is necessary to say flatly: Rappoport and his co-thinkers pause irresolutely before Fabre’s enterprise not because they deem it too insignificant but, on the contrary, because they fear lest Fabre’s expulsion precipitate an unavoidable “crisis” among the leading party circles. But thereby they reveal an extremely pessimistic attitude toward the party; they assume that the source of and the condition for the party’s successes is the preservation of the status quo at the top, and not the liberation of the rank and file from cliques they have no need for and which only act as a deterrent.

That the French Communist Party requires independence – on this score the International, to tell the truth, needs no reminders. But this independence is required for action. Yet Comrade Rappoport and his co-thinkers are artificially propping up among the party tops a combination of forces that excludes the possibility of action. Or to put it more accurately, the line of the policy which runs between Rappoport and Verfeuil [2] is not the line of Communist action. Herein is the nub of the matter. Hence the ailments, hence the symptoms of a grave crisis.

The blow dealt by the Communist International to the Fabre clique means that the Central Committee must seek to orient itself not through adapting itself to the right wing, but through harmonious collaboration with the left wing. The combination of forces which will give the resultant for party policy must pass not to the right of Comrade Rappoport but to his left, and moreover, if our guest will permit us, considerably, very considerably to his left. The sooner and more decisively the necessary change of course is achieved at the top, all the more easily will the crisis be overcome, all the less will the rank and file pay for the recovery and consolidation of the party. All the efforts of the ECCI are now being directed to this end. The representatives of all the Communist parties are following the developments in the French party very closely and in full awareness of their responsibility for each of their steps. And we do not for a moment doubt that the International will succeed in shifting the line of the party leadership to the left, in complete accord with the needs, thoughts and feelings of the party’s rank and file. Moreover, we do not doubt that the majority of the leading comrades among the grouping to which Comrade Rappoport himself belongs will support all the latest steps of the International designed to protect the French labour movement against far graver and malignant crises in the future. The revolutionary French working masses are healthy. The party is straightening out its line, entirely and exclusively to be in accord with them.

The Executive Committee of the Communist International

May 23, 1922


1. C. Rappoport was an old Russian revolutionist who went to France toward the close of the last century. He worked for several decades in the French labor movement gaining prominence as a talented publicist. In 1921-23 Rappoport supported the position of the Center (the Frossard group) in the French Party, but broke with Frossard when the split came. Rappoport remained in the Comintern until the late Thirties. He broke with Stalinism only to break with revolutionary Marxism.

2. Verfeuil – one of the many French opportunists who sought for a while to remain in the Communist ranks. A journalist by profession, he was with Longuet during World War I. At the Tours Convention Verfeuil first left with the Dissidents, but afterwards returned to the French CP. At the Marseilles Convention he was elected to the Central Committee and used his post to collaborate with Fabre, writing for Fabre’s paper Journal du Peuple. He was expelled from the French CP in the autumn of 1922.

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.2) Index

History of the Communist International Section

return return return return return

Last updated on: 16.1.2007