Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

From the ECCI to the Seine Federation
of the French Communist Party

Summer 1922

Dear Comrades,

During the last session of the enlarged Plenum of the ECCI, the International devoted a considerable part of its labours to analysing the situation in the French party and especially in its important organization, the Seine Federation.

Several months earlier, in February, the enlarged Plenum had already discussed this question jointly with a large delegation of the French party and pointed out to the latter the dangers to which the Seine Federation and the party are being subjected owing to the acceptance of the federalist principle as a basis for a Communist organization.

Because of the tenacity of federalist prejudices and the failure to straighten out the line of the Paris Communist organization, in consonance with the general structure of the International and all its affiliated Communist parties, the ECCI has been compelled to submit the question of the Seine Federation to a special discussion. In complete agreement with the General Secretary of the French CP and the attending French delegates, the ECCI has, after an exhaustive discussion in the French Commission and in plenary sessions, adopted unanimously a resolution inviting the Seine Federation to set up its organizational structure in accordance with the rules set down by the International in the statutes relating to the structure and organization of Communist parties.

The International is convinced that this resolution will be well received by the overwhelming majority of the French comrades who have been convinced both by the theoretical conclusions drawn by perspicacious Communists and by practical experience whose lessons are reinforced by the existing condition of the Seine Federation. In harmony with the spirit of fraternal revolutionary frankness, which must be the rule among the Communists of various sections, the International insists that this resolution be widely published so that all party members are given an opportunity to discuss and appraise it.

The organizational principles and regulations set down by the International are not the product of intellectual fancy, but are the conclusions drawn from the experience of three-quarters of a century of proletarian liberationist struggles in both hemispheres. In traversing the first stages of its revolutionary road, the working class did not fight and suffer in vain. Both defeats and victories have convinced the working class how indispensable it is for the fighting proletarians to keep their ranks welded together, to preserve the discipline of class organization, and to have a unified leadership. That is why the World Communist Congresses have – in their theses and special resolutions, summarizing succinctly the sum total of the knowledge and experience gained by workers’ parties of all countries – advanced the principle of democratic centralism as the main foundation of proletarian political organization.

Centralism – because it is imperative to assure unity in action of all sections of the proletariat and the simultaneity of demonstrations under a single common slogan; this can be achieved only if there is a genuine concentration of leadership in the hands of responsible central and local bodies, stable in their composition and in their attitude to their political line. Democracy – because these leading central and local bodies, which under certain conditions may be very small, must be elected by all party members, controlled by them and accountable to them.

Centralized concentration of leadership is sometimes opposed on the ground that it presumably leads to arbitrary rule by the leaders; that the membership becomes insufficiently active and an oligarchic régime is created. It is self-understood that centralism, applied falsely, can degenerate into a system of oligarchy. The fault, however, lies not in centralism but precisely in a wrong application of its methods and advantages. But by its very nature a strictly centralized organization promotes the activity of the masses to the highest degree, to the extent that it assures a systematic, stable and continuous political leadership. Those who claim that the working class has no need at all of leaders are simply misleading the workers. Without a careful selection of leaders on a local and national scale, without a constant testing of these leaders in action, the working class can never be victorious. A party organization along federalist lines leads to a turnover in the leadership, an amorphousness in leadership, and an absence of any definite personal responsibility. Exactly under such circumstances, groups crystallize within the organization, which are under no one’s control, but which have actually gained leadership behind the backs of the membership, lulled by the fictitious superiorities of the federalist structure.

Arguments from the federalist structure of the soviet republic must be regarded in this connection as sheer I misunderstanding. Federalism in state organization is applied by the soviet republic in the measure that it is necessary to coalesce enormous territories, populated by different national and tribal groups (Belorussians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, etc.). This type of organization is made necessary by certain national-state functions (state language, national school and so on). But we never applied this federalist principle to the building of the proletarian party. Nor are we doing so now. Ukrainian, Georgian, Armenian and other Communist organizations enter into the framework of the unified party not on federalist principles but on rigidly centralist ones. Failing this party centralism, the working class of Russia would have never succeeded in defending the soviet republic, or even attaining the conquest of power.

To every class conscious worker it is clear that in the face of the strictly centralized and disciplined power of the bourgeoisie there must be a no less centralized and disciplined power of the proletariat. That is why those who oppose the idea of democratic centralism, proclaimed by the International, thereby show that they are alien to the spirit reigning among the enlightened sections of the proletariat and are involuntarily doing harm to the interests of the revolution.

Communist parties are not academic discussion clubs, nor propaganda societies. They are combat organizations and must be built as such. The workers’ revolutions in modern times, the proletariat’s tragic struggle against capitalist oppression, the countless sacrifices made by the best sections of the proletariat – all this is a never-to-be-forgotten lesson for the embattled vanguard of the social revolution. The Seine Federation, the spiritual heir of the Paris Commune, ought to be the last one to ignore the most important reasons for the defeat of the Commune, namely, petty-bourgeois, democratic and federalist principles, the absence of a strong hand to guide the revolution, to unify, discipline and centralize it.

The International is convinced that it has outlined the best path of organization, in consonance with the revolutionary interests of the Seine Federation. It notes with satisfaction that there exists within the French party a broad tendency inspired by the ideas of the International and capable of unifying all the healthy forces at the coming conference of the Federation.

The ECCI is pleased that the question of Article 9 of the International statutes has been placed on the agenda of the next convention. A discussion of this issue will throw into the limelight the basic distinction between the Third International and the Second, a distinction to which the Comintern largely owes the confidence of broad working masses.

Like each of its component Communist parties, the International is a centralized organization whose leadership is concentrated in the Executive Committee, invested with full powers by a World Congress which convenes annually. In contrast to all other international organizations, steeped in national prejudices, the Comintern is thus not a federation of independent national parties, but a unified and great World Communist Party. The International has the unquestionable right to reject applications for membership and to expel previously admitted parties. In the intervals between World Congresses this right is exercised by the ECCI. That is the meaning of Article 9 of the statutes.

This means that the foregoing Article was not drafted in the heat of a battle, nor under the sway of impressions arising from accidental and temporary circumstances. It flows logically from the organic principle of democratic centralism and can be cancelled out only with cancellation of the very concept of a combat organization, with the proletariat’s renunciation of gaining emancipation through intense struggles.

To place a question mark over Article 9 or to interpret it by discarding its revolutionary content, is to place a question mark over the organic principle of the Communist International. Each national section has the right and the duty to demand a reconsideration of any principle which experience shows to be invalid or poorly applied; and the French section is free to exercise this right at the Fourth World Congress. But the Seine Federation will agree that such an important question must be posed in its full scope and on a correct plane. If it is found necessary to review the very foundations of the International organization, then the question ought to be raised without quibbling over an incident of a disciplinary character.

The International found it necessary to invoke the right granted it by Article 9 in order to expel from its ranks citizen Fabre and all those who solidarize with him. In this decision the ECCI was guided by considerations of revolutionary expediency. In an old bourgeois parliamentarian country such as France the pressure of bourgeois public opinion is especially powerful. This public opinion seeks for instruments by means of which to penetrate inside the revolutionary party in order to split, weaken and poison it. Fabre’s periodical is one such instrument of bourgeois public opinion. To ignore manifestations of this kind is to incur the greatest risk for the revolutionary party. For this reason the ECCI deemed it its duty to call the attention of the entire party to the Fabre group. The Dissidents and the bourgeoisie immediately made Fabre’s cause their own, precisely because Fabre had previously defended inside the party the cause of the bourgeoisie. The hue and cry over Fabre invests him with a semblance of importance. But the moment the bourgeoisie finds that the Communist Party has drastically purged itself of Fabreism, then Fabre and his publication will be of no value whatever to it, and this ideologically barren and parasitic group will burst like a bubble.

The interests of the revolution thus demanded the ejection of Fabre and his co-thinkers from the party ranks. Political interests have priority over any and all formal and juridical considerations. But it is self-understood that attention must be paid to considerations of a formal character which are of secondary importance. However, it is precisely from a purely formal standpoint that Article 9, at the disposal of the Comintern, revealed its full effectiveness in the given instance. The Central Committee of the French Communist Party, whose overwhelming majority recognized the need of expelling Fabre, proved unable to carry out this expulsion owing to certain peculiarities of the French party’s statutes. The Committee on Conflicts and Grievances which plays a very important role in the party’s organism is essentially entrusted with the task of reviewing carefully, thoroughly and impartially all individual cases involving the moral character and honour of individual members, specific cases of violations of party discipline, infractions of party morality and so on. But the Fabre case involved not a complex procedural investigation, but a political evaluation of a group completely hostile in spirit to Communism. Such a question must naturally be referred for decision not to a control commission but to the party’s Central Committee, the highest leading body in between conventions. Insofar as the Central Committee deemed itself, on the basis of existing statutes, without power to expel the Fabre clique, it was the duty of the ECCI to invoke Article 9 of the International statutes. The conclusion to be drawn from this highly instructive experience is not that Article 9 of the International statutes ought to be eliminated or restricted, but that the statutes of the French Communist Party ought to be amended to fully empower its Central Committee to safeguard the ideological purity and the discipline of the proletarian party.

The experience of all parties shows that unstable, politically shaky and semi-opportunist elements give expression to their tendency as a rule not in open struggle with the revolutionary tendency but in opposing the latter on secondary, formal, legalistic and similar issues. The Seine Federation will teach these vacillating and unstable elements a proper lesson by instructing them to submit to Communist discipline; and to participate in a merciless political struggle against the remnants of Fabreism in the party, instead of indirectly supporting Fabre on formal and obviously false grounds.

The program of the coming Seine Conference must be the consolidation of all the genuinely revolutionary elements. This will meet with the unlimited support of the mass of the worker-members. It is necessary to assure a firm revolutionary leadership in the most important organization of the French proletariat. The Seine Conference must be a worthy prelude to the next party convention scheduled for October which will likewise have the task of consolidating the revolutionary Communist elements, of annihilating the centrist and pacifist tendencies, of instituting a régime of revolutionary discipline in the party, of putting an end to factional struggles inside the party, and assuring a genuine political leadership in the hands of a homogeneous Central Committee.

The process of building a Communist Party is a difficult and complex one, indissolubly bound up with self-criticism and an internal purge. The ECCI is confident that the vanguard of the French proletariat will be able to cope with this task and that in this work the Seine Federation will take the first place which rightfully belongs to it.

The Executive Committee of the Communist International

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

History of the Communist International Section

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