Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

To Comrade Ker

June 6, 1922. Moscow

Dear Comrade Ker [1],

Your letter of May 27 arrived today on June 3, which is really a record time under the conditions that have persisted since the war of “liberation” Unfortunately I am far from able to solidarize with your appraisal of what is taking place in our French party, and I consider it my duty to reply to your friendly letter with an equally friendly frankness.

1) The lack of definiteness and the equally inadequate ideological and organizational clarity of French Communism does not emanate from below but from above. The French working class in its dual quality of both a working class and a French working class is seeking clarity, definitiveness, perfection and resoluteness. To the extent that it failed to find these in the old party, it created a footing for revolutionary syndicalism. To the extent that the leadership of the Communist Party today divests itself too slowly of the heritage of the past, to that extent the French working class is threatened with a relapse into revolutionary syndicalism. As is always the case with historical relapses, the positive features of pre-war revolutionary syndicalism wane to zero while its negative features wax in the extreme. Let me repeat, the lack of clarity emanates not from below but from above. Its source is constituted by editors, journalists, deputies, whose mutual relations and whose ties are rooted in the past. Hence flows the extreme indecisiveness of the Central Committee on all questions involving newspapers, newspapermen, and so on (the Fabre incident).

2) I am very much surprised by your reproaches in connection with the expulsion of Fabre. The ECCI intended to expel Fabre as far back as its plenary session. It refrained only because the French delegation assumed responsibility for carrying out the expulsion summarily (in the Commission on which I served as chairman, four weeks were definitely set as the maximum). Subsequently, an amendment was inserted into the text of the resolution which was utterly unexpected by us: the phrase “Journal du Peuple is placed outside the party” was altered to read “Journal du Peuple is placed outside the control of the party.” This amendment was obviously designed to palliate the expulsion at a time when the Comintern clearly intended to invest the expulsion with an open, demonstrative and sharp political character. Delays and obstructions thereupon ensued which were in direct and flagrant violation of the obligation which had been assumed by the French delegation in the name of the Central Committee. In her report, Comrade Leiciague declared that she had nothing to say concerning the outcome of the Control Commission’s findings. The party press did not carry a single article in this connection. In particular I cannot conceal from you how surprised I and other comrades were that there appeared no articles by you, Comrade Ker, explaining to the French workers the political meaning behind the expulsion from the party of Fabre and his newspaper as a nest of infection. Isn’t it an astonishing and at the same time an alarming fact that the leading party publications carry no articles explaining and defending the decisions of the Comintern? Doesn’t this convert all speeches about discipline, blood ties, etc., into sheer formality? Modigliani [2] used to say that affiliation with the Comintern meant sending Italian picture post cards from time to time. But precisely for this reason Modigliani has placed himself outside the Communist International. How is it possible to support such conduct as this, that after decisions are adopted with the approval of the French delegation, these decisions are then sabotaged in action and are not even defended formally in the party press?

The Comintern had not only the right but the duty to show the French workers that it is a functioning, centralized organization with a political will of its own. Today the question is posed sharply and clearly. The expulsion of Fabre is a political fact. In spite of the personal insignificance of Fabre, his expulsion is of the greatest significance. The Comintern has by this action signalled to the French party that it confronts internal dangers and that delays in solving internal problems imply heading for ever sharper crises.

3) Nor am I able to discern any progress in the sphere of the trade-union question. On the contrary, we witness here an uninterrupted retreat by the party. Verdier, Quinton [3] and others have exploited the party’s authority in order to entrench themselves in the trade-union movement and then they kicked the party aside. Articles in l’Humanité defend the Jaurèsist tendency in the trade-union question, that is, a tendency directly counter to the tendency which was adopted by the Comintern and which was set down, although not firmly enough, in the resolutions of the Marseilles Convention. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. You are evacuating positions in the trade-union movement at a time when the masses are looking for leadership. For this reason, syndicalists and libertarians are automatically occupying positions to which they have no ideological right whatever. And here we discern a dread of precipitating a crisis among the top circles of the trade-union movement. A few principled, clear and firm leading articles in l’Humanité are a hundred times more important than behind-the-scenes agreements with the CGTU. On such questions as the trade-union question it is impermissible for leading activists to play the role of prima donnas, each with his own point of view. We have the strict and precise decisions of the Comintern and of the French party itself. These decisions must be carried out, and whoever violates these fundamental decisions must be expelled from the party, otherwise we shall unavoidably breed adventurers of the Verdier-Quinton type.

4) I cannot at all accept the appraisal made by Comrade Rosmer as too “pessimistic”. From Paris I received from him a single letter, which reached Moscow – let me note this in passing in order to forestall any false conclusions – ten days after the ECCI adopted its decisions on the French question. Comrade Rosmer thus did not exert the slightest influence upon the adoption of these decisions. But in Rosmer’s letter I found afterwards a supplementary confirmation that the unanimously adopted decisions of the ECCI were unconditionally correct.

Let me say in passing that I see no “pessimism” either in Rosmer’s views or my own. One the contrary, I detect far more pessimism, dear Comrade Ker, in your own attitude toward the French party. You apparently consider that it is necessary to employ the same tactic in relation to the French party as one would in relation to a gravely sick person, namely, speak in whispers, walk only on tiptoe, etc., etc. We, on the other hand, consider that the French party is, in its basic proletarian core, profoundly healthy, revolutionary, and striving eagerly toward greater definiteness and greater decisiveness in leadership.

5) On the question of the united front I cannot, unfortunately, change my appraisal of the situation either. The hue and cry raised over this question by our French party press serves only to distract attention from the truly acute and un-postponable questions of the party’s internal life. I cite living proof: Comrade Daniel Renoult [4] publishes the super-opportunistic pacifist articles of Verfeuil, Pioch and Méric, allows Méric to quote sympathetically from Journal du Peuple, never criticizes the absolutely treacherous line of the Fabre clique, and expresses constant concern lest Frossard conduct negotiations with Scheidemann and Vandervelde, as power to power. [5] We are all of the impression that for his intransigence Comrade Renoult has a broad arena much closer home, above all his own newspaper. But he prefers to transfer his intransigence to Berlin. The International did not impose upon the French Communist Party any kind of concrete agreement with the Dissidents; no danger whatever threatened in this connection, but in the meantime the internal Dissidents (the Fabre clique, the cliques à la Verdier, Quinton, et al) are actually undermining the party, depriving it of its physiognomy, paralysing its will, and not meeting with any rebuffs.

Certain comrades say that we “overestimate” the importance of these phenomena. We reply, the fact that leading comrades fail to estimate properly the menace implicit in these phenomena is a most dangerous fact.

6) In my opinion the situation inside the French party is critical. Two paths of future development are possible:

  1. A firm and clear internal course: ejection of the clique of right-wing strikebreakers in order to demonstrate that the party has no intention of joking about discipline; genuine leadership by the party’s Central Committee, and a genuine fulfilment of the decisions of the Communist International. This is the healthiest and most desirable path.
  2. A continuation of the indefinite policy by the leading centre group, tending toward an isolation of the left wing; boundless tolerance toward all manifestations of pacifism, reformism and nationalism inside the party along with an ostensible and fictitious intransigence on questions of international scope, plus the absence of a firm and resolute line on the trade-union question. This path automatically leads to a repetition of the Italian experience, that is, to a split in which the centre remains with the right wing, while the left wing crystallizes into a Communist Party. In Italy this path was produced by the mighty upheaval of the September revolution and its defeat (1920). In France, on the other hand, enriched by the Italian experience, such a path can be produced only by the continued fatalistic passivity of the central leading group. Naturally, even in this least desirable variant, the party will in the long run emerge onto the highway. The inevitable subsequent “regroupings” among the proletariat (to which our French press refers from time to time, but unfortunately very vaguely) will be oriented to the left and not to the right. Politicians who act under the immediate influence of isolated lags and ebbs are impressionists and not revolutionists, and they will be swept aside by the march of events. The party can and must orient itself only upon the further accumulation of revolutionary contradictions. A selection of individuals and their tempering is urgently needed. Events demand of us maximum assurance, maximum concentration of forces, maximum resoluteness. The decisions of the Comintern are dictated by a desire to assist the French party in attaining these qualities within the shortest time possible.

Let me repeat yet once again. I write with complete frankness because I consider that too much has already been let slip and too much is at stake.

I warmly shake your hand,
L. Trotsky

Moscow, June 6, 1922


1. Ker, elected member of the Central Committee at the Marseilles Convention, was one of the secretaries of the French CP. During the factional struggle he belonged to the Frossard group, but continued loyally to carry out the decisions of the Fourth World Congress which he attended as a delegate. He died suddenly in 1923.

2. Modigliani, a prominent Italian Socialist, who like many other Italian Centrists regarded membership in the Third International as a mere formality, and who quickly returned to the ranks of the reformists.

3. Quinton was one of a group of adventurists who flirted with the French Communist movement in order to make a career in the trade union movement.

4. Daniel Renoult, a journalist, headed one of the many factions in the French CP at the time. He was elected to the Central Committee at the Tours Convention and re-elected at the Marseilles Convention. Attended the 1922 enlarged Plenum of the ECCI as a delegate, and later went to the Fourth World Congress. As editor of the party periodical l’Internationale, Renoult collaborated with the Right Wing, but he did not go with Frossard when the split came.

5. The reference here is to the conference of the representatives of the Second, Two-and-a-Half and Third Internationals which took place in Berlin, April 2-6, 1922. At this conference of the Three Internationals, Frossard participated as a member of the Comintern delegation.

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Last updated on: 17.1.2007