Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

Resolution on
the French Question [1]

December 2, 1922

The Crisis in the Party and the Role of Factions

The Fourth Congress of the Communist International takes note that the evolution of our French party from parliamentary socialism to revolutionary Communism is proceeding with extreme sluggishness. The explanation for this can by no means be sought exclusively in the objective conditions, traditions, in the national psychology of the working class, and so forth. On the contrary, it stems principally from the direct and betimes extremely stubborn resistance of non-Communist elements who still remain very strong in the party’s leading circles especially in centre, the faction that has been for the most part in the leadership of the party since the Tours Convention.

The fundamental cause of the present acute party crisis lies in the extremely indecisive, vacillating and dilatory policy of the centre’s leading elements. Confronted with un-postponable organizational needs of the party, they try to gain time and thereby provide a cover for the policy of directly sabotaging the trade-union question, the united front issue, that of party organization, and so on. The time thus gained by the leading elements of the centre has been time lost for the revolutionary development of the French proletariat.

The World Congress instructs the ECCI that its duty is to follow with the utmost attention the internal life of the French Communist Party; and by relying on the party’s unquestionably revolutionary proletarian majority, to rid the party of the influence of those elements who have provoked the crisis and who invariably aggravate it.

The World Congress rejects the very idea of split. There is nothing in the party’s situation to call for split. The party members in their crushing majority are sincerely and profoundly devoted to the cause of Communism. Only a lack of clarity in the party’s consciousness has permitted its conservative centrist and semi-centrist elements to introduce this waspish confusion and to engender factional groupings. A firm and persistent elucidation of the gist of the controversial issues before the whole party will consolidate the overwhelming majority of the party members, and above all its proletarian base, around the decisions of this World Congress. As regards those elements who hold membership in the party while remaining captives to the morals and customs of bourgeois society by their entire mode of thinking and living; and who are incapable of understanding genuine proletarian policy or of submitting to revolutionary discipline, the continued purge of such elements from the party is the necessary condition for preserving its health, cohesiveness and capacity for action.

The Communist vanguard of the working class has, of course, need of those intellectuals who bring to its organization their theoretical knowledge, their agitational or literary gifts. But it needs them on one condition, i.e., provided that these elements break completely and irrevocably with the morals and customs of the bourgeois milieu, burning behind them all the bridges to the camp they left and do not demand any exemptions or privileges for themselves but submit to party discipline on par with its rank and file. The intellectuals, so many of whom in France join the party as amateurs or careerists, have caused the party the greatest harm, distort its revolutionary physiognomy, discredit it in the eyes of the proletarian masses and hinder it from conquering the confidence of the working class. It is necessary at all costs to ruthlessly purge the party of all such elements and to bar their entry in the future.

The best way of accomplishing this is to carry out a re-registration of the party membership under the supervision of a special commission composed of workers of irreproachable party morality.

The congress affirms that the ECCI’s attempt to mitigate the organizational manifestations of the crisis by setting up a leading body on the basis of parity between the two chief factions of the centre and left, was nullified by the centre under the unquestionable influence of its most conservative elements. These invariably gain the upper hand in the centre each time the centre has opposed itself to the left.

The congress deems it necessary to explain to all members of the French Communist Party, that the efforts of the ECCI to obtain a prior agreement among the leaders of the chief factions were designed to facilitate the work of the Paris Convention but did not at all infringe upon the rights of the Convention as the supreme body of the French Communist Party.

The congress deems it necessary to affirm that whatever partial mistakes the left might have committed, it essentially tried, before and during the Paris Convention, to carry out the policy of the Communist International; and that on the most important issues of the revolutionary movement – on the united front question and on the trade-union question – the left held a correct position as against the centre and the Renoult group.

The congress earnestly urges all genuine revolutionary and proletarian elements who undoubtedly constitute the majority of the centre faction to put an end to the obstructive course of the conservative elements and to unite with the left for joint work. The same thing applies to the faction which is the third largest numerically and which has waged the sharpest struggle against the policy of the united front.

The Extreme Left Wing

By liquidating the federalistic character of its organization, the Seine Federation has thereby rejected the crassly erroneous position of the so-called extreme left wing. However, the latter, in the person of Comrades Heine and Lavergne found it possible to give an imperative mandate to Citizen Delplanque [2] – a mandate which obligated him to abstain from voting on all questions and to accept no obligations. This conduct of the above-named representatives of the extreme left testifies to how completely they misconceived the meaning and essence of the Communist International.

The principle of democratic centralism which forms the basis of our organization excludes entirely any possibility of imperative mandates for federal, national or international congresses alike. A convention has meaning only to the extent that the collective decisions of the organizations – local, national or international – are arrived at through a free discussion and decision by all the delegates. It is perfectly obvious that discussion, exchange of experiences and of arguments at conventions becomes devoid of all meaning if the delegates are bound beforehand by imperative mandates.

The violation of the International’s fundamental organizational principles is made worse in the given instance by this group’s refusal to assume any “obligations” whatever toward the International, as if the very fact of adherence to the International did not devolve upon all its members the unconditional duty of discipline and of carrying out in practice all of the adopted decisions.

The congress invites the Central Committee of our French section to investigate this entire incident on the spot and to draw from it all the necessary political and organizational conclusions.

The Trade-Union Question

The decisions adopted by the congress on the trade-union question contain certain organizational and formal concessions which are designed to make it easier for the party to draw closer to the trade-union organizations and the masses of organized workers who do not yet accept the Communist point of view. But the meaning of these decisions would be completely distorted by any attempt to interpret them as an approval of the policy of trade-union abstentionism, syndicalist in origin, which prevailed in the party and which is still being propagated by many of its members.

The tendencies represented in this question by Ernest Lafont are in a complete and irreconcilable contradiction with the revolutionary tasks of the working class and with the entire conception of Communism. The party has neither the intent nor the desire to infringe upon the autonomy of the trade unions, but it is obliged to implacably unmask and punish those of its own members who demand autonomy for their own disorganizing and anarchistic activities inside the trade unions. In this cardinal question the International will tolerate far less than in any other sphere any further deviations from the Communist path, the only one which is correct both from the standpoint of theory as well as from the standpoint of international policy.

The Lessons of the Havre Strike

The Havre strike, despite its local character, is irrefutable evidence of the growing militancy of the French proletariat. The capitalist government answered the strike by murdering four workers, as if it were in a rush to remind the French workers that they will be able to conquer power and overthrow capitalist slavery only through intensest struggle, heroism, self-sacrifice and many victims. If the French proletariat has given a completely inadequate answer to the Havre murders, then the responsibility for this falls not only upon the betrayal, which has long since become the rule with Dissident and reformist trade unionists, but also on the obviously erroneous course of action pursued by the leading bodies of the CGTU and of the (French) Communist Party. The congress deems it necessary to dwell on this question because it offers us a striking example of a radically wrong approach to the tasks of revolutionary action.

By severing, in a manner false in principle, the class struggle of the proletariat into two allegedly independent spheres – economic and political – the party failed to evince, on this occasion too, any independent initiative, confining its activities to backing up the CGTU, as if the murder of four proletarians by the capitalist government were actually an economic act and not a political event of first-rate importance. As regards the CGTU, under the pressure of the Parisian Construction Workers’ Union, it called, on the day after the Havre murders, on Sunday, for a demonstrative general strike set for Tuesday. The workers of France did not have the time in many places to learn not only about the call for a general strike but also about the very fact of the murders. Under these conditions the general strike was doomed in advance to failure. It is beyond doubt that this time, too, the CGTU adjusted its policy to those anarchist elements who are congenitally incapable of understanding revolutionary action nor how to prepare it, and who substitute revolutionary appeals of their little circles for revolutionary struggle, without ever bothering about realizing these appeals in life. The party, in its turn, silently capitulated to the obviously false step of the CGTU, instead of trying in a friendly but firm manner to convince the latter to postpone the protest strike, with a view to launching a large-scale mass agitation campaign.

The first duty of the party and the CGTU alike when confronted by the vile crime of the French bourgeoisie was to mobilize immediately thousands of the best party and union agitators in Paris and in the provinces for the purpose of explaining to the more backward elements of the working class the meaning of the Havre events, and of preparing the popular masses to protest and resist. The party was under obligation on such an occasion to issue an appeal, in millions of copies, concerning the Havre crime to the French working class and the peasantry. The party’s central organ should have daily confronted the conciliationists, the Socialists and the syndicalists with the question: What course of struggle do you propose in answer to the Havre murders? For its part, the party should have, together with the CGTU, advanced the idea of general strike, without fixing beforehand its date or duration, but regulating itself by the course of the agitation and of the movement in the country. Attempts should have been made in each factory and plant or each neighbourhood, district and city to set up provisional protest committees, into which the Communists and the revolutionary syndicalists should have drawn representatives of local conciliationist organizations Only a campaign of this type, systematic, concentrated, all-sided, intense and tireless – could have been, within a week or more, crowned by a major success – crowned by a powerful and imposing movement in the shape of mass protest strikes, street demonstrations and the like. Such a campaign would have brought as its lasting result an increase in the mass connections, prestige and influence of the party and the CGTU alike; it would have drawn them closer together in revolutionary work and it would have drawn both of them closer to those sections of the working class that still follow the conciliators. The so-called general strike of May 1, 1921 which the revolutionary elements did not have the time to prepare and which was criminally broken by the conciliators, marked a turning point in the internal life of France, enfeebling the proletariat and strengthening the bourgeoisie. The demonstrative “general strike” of October 1922 was at bottom another treachery by the right coupled with new mistakes by the left. The International most urgently calls upon the French comrades, whatever branch of the proletarian movement they are working in, to pay the utmost attention to the problems of mass action, to study minutely the conditions and the methods; to submit the mistakes of their organization in each concrete instance to a careful critical analysis; to prepare down to the last detail the very possibility of mass action by means of large-scale and intense agitation: and to fit the slogans to the readiness and ability of the masses to act.

The conciliationist leaders base themselves in their acts of treachery upon the advice, suggestions and directives of bourgeois public opinion as a whole, with which they are indissolubly bound up. Revolutionary trade unionists, who are perforce a minority within the trade-union organizations, will commit all the fewer mistakes, the more the party as such devotes its attention to all the questions of the labour movement, minutely studying the circumstances and the situation, and offering to the trade unions, through the party members, specific proposals in consonance with the entire, situation.

Freemasonry, the League of Rights of Man and Citizen
and the Bourgeois Press

The incompatibility between Freemasonry and Socialism was generally recognized by most of the parties in the Second International. The Italian Socialist Party expelled the Freemasons from its ranks in 1914, and this measure was doubtless one of the reasons why this party was able to conduct an oppositional policy in wartime, inasmuch as the Italian Freemasons functioned as tools of the Entente in favour of Italy’s intervention in the war.

The Second Congress of the Communist International did not include among the conditions of admission to the International a special point on the incompatibility between Communism and Freemasonry solely because this was deemed self-evident. And, as the minutes of this congress show, it rejected the idea that it was possible to hold membership in the party of the proletarian dictatorship while simultaneously belonging to a purely bourgeois organization, which masks its electoral-careerist machinations with the formulas of a mystical brotherhood. The fact – unexpectedly disclosed at the Fourth World Congress – that a considerable number of French Communists belong to Masonic lodges, constitutes in the eyes of the International the most striking evidence that our French party has preserved not merely the psychological heritage of French reformism, parliamentarism and patriotism, but also its connections, purely material and highly compromising to the party leadership, with the secret institutions of the radical bourgeoisie. And, at a time when the Communist vanguard is rallying in the name of the proletarian dictatorship the forces of the proletariat for an implacable struggle against all the groupings and organizations of bourgeois society, a whole slew of prominent party workers – deputies, journalists, right up to members of the Central Committee, retain intimate ties with the secret organizations of the class enemy. Especially deplorable is that neither the party as a whole nor a single one of its tendencies raised this question after the Tours Convention, although it was so clear to the whole International; and that it required a factional struggle inside the party to lay this question bare before the International in its full and dire meaning.

The International considers it urgent to put an end once and for all to these compromising and demoralizing connections between a leadership of the Communist Party and the political organizations of the bourgeoisie. The honour of the revolutionary proletariat demands that all its class organizations be purged of those elements who desire to hold membership simultaneously in the two warring camps.

The congress instructs the Central Committee of the French Communist Party to liquidate prior to January 1, 1923 all the connections between the party, in the person of its individual members or groups, with the Freemasons. Every Communist, belonging to a Masonic lodge who fails prior to January 1 to openly announce to his party and to make public through the party press his complete break with Freemasonry is thereby automatically expelled from the Communist Party and is forever barred from membership in it. Concealment by anyone of his membership in the Masonic order will be regarded as an act of penetration by an enemy agent into the party ranks and will brand the individual involved with ignominy in the eyes of the whole proletariat.

Mere fact of membership in the Masons, whether or not material, careerist or other corrupt aims were pursued in a given case, denotes extreme immaturity in Communist consciousness and in class dignity. The Fourth Congress therefore considers that those comrades who have up till now belonged to the Masons and who have just broken with them cannot hold any responsible party posts for a period of two years. Only through intense activity for the revolutionary cause, as rank-and-file members of the Communist Party, can these comrades regain the full measure of confidence and restore their rights to hold corresponding posts in the party.

Taking cognizance of the fact that the “The League for the Defence of the Rights of Man and Citizen” (Ligue pour la défense des droits de l’homme et du citoyen) is at bottom a radical bourgeois organization; that it utilizes its sporadic actions against particular “injustices” in order to sow illusions and prejudices of bourgeois democracy; and what is most important, that in every decisive and major case, as for example during the war, it throws all its support behind capitalism organized as a political state, the Fourth Congress of the Communist International holds membership in this League to be absolutely incompatible with the calling of a Communist and contrary to the elementary conceptions of the Communist world outlook; and it calls upon all party members who hold membership in the League to leave the League’s ranks before January 1, 1923, informing their organization and making their step public in the press.

The congress proposes to the Central Committee of the French Communist Party:

  1. To issue immediately to the entire party an appeal explaining the meaning and significance of this resolution.
  2. To take all the measures implicit in the resolution which will assure that the party is purged of Freemasonry and all ties are severed with the “League of Rights” without remission or omission by January 1, 1923. The congress expresses its assurance that in this cleansing and salutary work the Central Committee will be supported by the overwhelming majority of party members, whichever faction they may belong to.

The Central Committee must draw up lists of all comrades in Paris or in provinces who while belonging to the Communist Party and occupying various party posts, including the most responsible ones, continued at the same time to collaborate with the bourgeois press; and it must invite these elements to make by January 1, 1923 a definitive and irrevocable choice between the bourgeois vehicles for the corruption of the popular masses and the revolutionary party of the proletarian dictatorship.

Party Candidates

In order to give the party a genuine proletarian character and in order to eliminate from its ranks such elements as regard the party only as an antechamber to the parliament, the municipal councils, the general councils and so on, it is necessary to fix as an inviolable rule that nine out of ten candidates on the slates presented by the party during elections be worker-Communists, still at the bench, and peasants; representatives of the liberal professions must be rigidly restricted in number, allowing them not more than one-tenth of the total number of electoral posts which the party occupies or hopes to occupy through its members; therewith special care must be paid to the selection of candidates belonging to the liberal professions (a minute check-up by special proletarian commissions of their previous political records, their social ties, their loyalty and devotion to the cause of the working class). Only under such a régime will Communist parliamentarians, municipal councillors, general councillors, mayors and the like cease to constitute a professional caste which for the most part has little contact with the working class; and will become instead one of the instruments of the revolutionary mass struggle.

Work in the Colonies

The Fourth Congress once again calls attention to the exceptional importance for the Communist Party to carry on correct and systematic work in the colonies. The congress categorically condemns the position of the Communist section in Sidi-bel-Abbès (Algiers) which employs pseudo-Marxist phraseology in order to cover up a purely slave-holder’s point of view, essentially in support of the imperialist rule of French capitalism over its colonial slaves. In the opinion of the congress our work in the colonies must not be based on elements so completely infected with capitalist and nationalist prejudices, but rather on the best elements among the natives themselves, and in the first place, on the native proletarian youth.

Only an irreconcilable struggle waged by the Communist Party at home against colonial slavery coupled with systematic revolutionary work carried on by the party in the colonies themselves can weaken the influence of ultra-nationalist elements among oppressed colonial peoples over their toiling classes and attract them to the cause of the French proletariat and thereby prevent French capitalism, in the epoch of the revolutionary rise of the proletariat, from making use of colonial natives as the last reserves of the counter-revolution.

The World Congress invites the French party and its Central Committee to pay far more attention and allot far greater forces and resources than it has up till now to the colonial question and to propaganda in the colonies; and, in particular, to set up a permanent bureau attached to the Central Committee, in charge of the work in the colonies, drawing into this bureau representatives of the native Communist organizations.


1. The Fourth Congress resolution on the French question was adopted unanimously at the 29th session of this World Congress, December 2, 1922.

2. Delplanque and Lavergne were members of the extreme left wing inside the French CP in 1922. They, along with Heine, were among the leaders of these ultra-leftists, whose main base of support was in the Seine Federation.

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Last updated on: 18.1.2007