Leon Trotsky

Monatte Crosses the Rubicon

(December 1930)

IT is now ridiculous and out of place to speak of joint action with the Syndicalist League or the Committee for the Independence of Trade Unionism. Monatte has crossed the Rubicon. He has lined up with Dumoulin against Communism, against the October Revolution, against the proletarian revolution in general. For Dumoulin belongs to the camp of the especially dangerous and perfidious enemies of the proletarian revolution. He has demonstrated in action, in the most repugnant manner. For a long time he has prowled around the left wing only to rally at the decisive moment to Jouhaux, that is, to the most servile and most corrupt agent of capital. The task of the honest revolutionist, above all in France where unpunished betrayals are innumerable, consists of reminding the workers of the experiences of the past, of tempering the youth in intransigence, of recounting tirelessly the history of the betrayal of the Second International and of French syndicalism, of unmasking the shameful role played not only by Jouhaux and Company, but above all by the French syndicalists of the “left,” like Merrheim and Dumoulin. Whoever does not carry out this elementary task towards the new generation deprives himself forever of the right to revolutionary confidence. Can one, for instance, preserve a shadow of esteem for the toothless French anarchists when they again play up as an “antimilitarist” the old buffoon Sebastian Faure who trafficked with pacifist phrases in peacetime and flung himself into the arms of Malvy, that is, of the French Bourse, at the beginning of the war? Whoever seeks to drape these facts in the toga of oblivion, who grants amnesty to political traitors, can only be considered by us an incorrigible enemy.

Monatte has crossed the Rubicon. From the uncertain ally, he has become first the hesitant foe in order to become, later on, the direct enemy. We must say this to the workers clearly, aloud, and unsparingly.

To simple people and also to some knaves who put on a simple air, our judgment may appear exaggerated and “unjust.” For Monatte is uniting with Dumoulin solely for the re-establishment of the unity of the “trade union” movement! Solely! The trade unions, you see, are not a party nor a “sect.” The trade unions, you see, must embrace the whole working class, all its tendencies; one can therefore work in the trade union field by Dumoulin’s side without taking responsibility either for his past or for his future. Reflections of this sort constitute a chain of those cheap sophisms with which the French syndicalists and socialists love to juggle when they want to cover up a somewhat odorous job.

If there existed in France united trade unions, the revolutionaries would obviously not have left the organisation because of the presence of traitors, turncoats and licensed agents of imperialism. The revolutionaries would not have taken upon themselves the initiative for the split. But in joining or in remaining in these trade unions, they would have directed all their efforts to unmasking the traitors before the masses as traitors, in order to discredit them on the basis of the experience of the masses, to isolate them, to deprive them of the confidence they enjoy, and in the end, to help the masses run them out. That alone can justify the participation of revolutionaries in the reformist trade unions.

But Monatte does not at all work side by side with Dumoulin within the trade unions, as the Bolsheviks frequently had to with the Mensheviks while conducting a systematic struggle against them. No, Monatte has united with Dumoulin as an ally on a common platform, creating with him a political faction or a “sect” expressing itself in the language of French syndicalism in order later on to lead a political crusade for the conquest of the trade union movement. Monatte does not fight against the traitors on the trade union field; on the contrary, he has associated himself with Dumoulin and takes him under his wing, presenting himself to the masses as Dumoulin’s tutor. Monatte says to the workers that one can go hand in hand with Dumoulin against the Communists, against the Red International of Labour Unions, against the October Revolution, and consequently, against the proletarian revolution in general. This is the unvarnished truth which we must speak aloud to the workers.

When we once defined Monatte as a centrist slipping towards the right, Chambelland sought to transform this entirely correct scientific definition into a feuilleton joke and even to throw the centrist designation back at us, just as a soccer player returns the ball by hitting it with his head. Alas, the head sometimes suffers for it! Yes, Monatte was a centrist, and in his centrism were contained all the elements of his manifest opportunism of today.

Apropos of the execution of the Indo-Chinese revolutionaries in the spring of this year, Monatte developed the following plan of action, in an indirect manner:

“I do not understand why, in such circumstances, the parties and organisations disposing of the necessary means do not send deputies and journalists to investigate on the very spot. Out of the dozen deputies of the Communist Party, and out of the hundred of the Socialist Party, could they not select an investigation commission which would be charged with the elements of a campaign capable of making the colonialists retreat and of saving the condemned?” (Révolution prolétarienne, No.104.)

With the imperious reproaches of a school monitor, Monatte gave the Communists and the social democrats advice on the manner of fighting against the “colonialists.” The social-patriots and the Communists, for him, were six months ago people of the same camp who had only to follow Monatte’s advice in order to carry out a correct policy.

For Monatte there did not even exist the question of knowing in what way the social-patriots can fight against the “colonialists” when they are the partisans and the practical executors of the colonial policy. For can colonies, that is, nations, tribes, races, be governed without shooting down the rebels, the revolutionaries who seek to liberate themselves from the repulsive colonial yoke? Zyromsky and his ilk are not opposed to presenting upon every propitious occasion a drawing-room protest against colonial “bestiality”; but that does not prevent them from be longing to the social-colonialist party which harnessed the French proletariat to a chauvinistic course during the war, one of whose principal aims was to preserve and extend the colonies to the profit of the French bourgeoisie. Monatte has forgotten all this. He reasoned as if there had not been, after this, great revolutionary events in a number of Western and Oriental countries, as if different tendencies had not been revised in action and made clear by experience. Six months ago, Monatte pretended to start all over again. And during this time, history again made game of him. MacDonald, the coreligionist of the French syndicalists, to whom Louzon recently gave some incomparable advice, sends to India not liberating commissions of investigation but armed forces, and comes to grips with the Hindus in a more repulsive manner than would any Curzon. And all the scoundrels of British trade unionism approve this butcher’s work. Is this by chance?

Instead of turning away, under the influence of the new lesson, from hypocritical “neutrality” and “independence,” Monatte, on the contrary, has taken a new step, this time a decisive one, into the arms of the French MacDonalds and Thomases. We have nothing more to discuss with Monatte.

The bloc of the “independent” syndicalists with the avowed agents of the bourgeoisie has great symptomatic significance. In the eyes of philistines, things seem as though the representatives of both camps had taken a step towards each other in the name of unity, of the cessation of the fratricidal struggle, and other sweet phrases. There can be nothing more disgusting, more false, than this phraseology. In reality the meaning of the bloc is entirely different.

In the various circles of the labour bureaucracy and also in part in circles of the workers themselves, Monatte represents those elements who sought to approach the revolution but who lost hope in it through the experience of the last ten or twelve years. Don’t you see that it develops by such complicated and perplexing roads that it leads to internal conflicts, to ever new splits, and after a step forward it takes a half step and sometimes a full step backward? The years of bourgeois stabilisation, the years of the ebbing of the revolutionary tide, have heaped up despair, fatigue, and opportunist moods in a certain part of the working class. All these sentiments have only now matured in the Monatte group and have driven it to pass definitively from one camp to the other. On the way, Monatte met with Louis Sellier, who had his own reasons for turning his back, covered with municipal honours, to the revolution. Monatte and Sellier have quit together. To their meeting, there came no less a one than Dumoulin. This means that at the moment when Monatte shifted from left to right, Dumoulin judged it opportune to shift from right to left. How is this to be explained? It is because Monatte, as an empiricist – and centrists are always empiricists, otherwise they would not be centrists – has expressed his sentiments on the stabilization period at a moment when this period has begun to be transformed into another, much less tranquil and much less stable.

The world crisis has taken on gigantic dimensions and for the moment it is becoming deeper. Nobody can predict where it will stop or what political consequences it will bring in its train. The situation in Germany is extremely strained. The German elections produced acute elements of disturbance, not only in internal relations but also in international relations, showing again on what foundation the edifice of Versailles rests. The economic crisis has inundated the frontiers of France, and we already see there, after along interlude, the beginnings of unemployment. During the years of relative prosperity, the French workers suffered from the policy of the CGT bureaucracy. During the years of crisis, they can remind it of its betrayals and its crimes. Jouhaux cannot but be uneasy. He necessarily requires a left wing, perhaps more necessarily than Blum What purpose then does Dumoulin serve? Obviously it must not be thought that everything is arranged like the notes of a piano and has been formulated in a conversation. That is not necessary. All these people know each other, they know what they are capable of and especially the limits to which one of them can go to the left, with impunity for himself and his bosses. (The fact that the CGT bureaucracy preserves a watchful and critical attitude towards Dumoulin, sometimes even with a nuance of hostility, in no way invalidates what is said above. The reformists must take their measures of precaution and keep an eye upon Dumoulin so that he does not let himself get carried away by the work with which the reformists have charged him and go beyond the limits marked out.)

Dumoulin takes his place in the line of march as the left wing of Jouhaux at the very moment when Monatte, who has shifted constantly to the right, has decided to cross the Rubicon. Dumoulin must re-establish his reputation at least a little – with the aid of Monatte and at his expense. Jouhaux can have no objection when his own Dumoulin compromises Monatte. In this way, everything is in order: Monatte has broken with the left camp at the moment when the CGT bureaucracy has felt the necessity of covering up its uncovered left flank.

We are analysing personal shifts not for Monatte, who was once our friend, and certainly not for Dumoulin, whom we long ago judged as an irreconcilable enemy. What interests us is the symptomatic significance of these personal regroupments, which reflect far more profound processes in the working masses themselves.

This radicalisation which the clamourers proclaimed two years ago is indisputably approaching today. The economic crisis has arrived in France – after a delay, it is true; it is not impossible that it will unfold in a mild manner compared with Germany. Experience alone can establish this. But it is indisputable that the balanced state of passivity in which the French working class existed in the years of the so-called “radicalisation” will give way in a very brief time to a growing activity and a spirit of militancy. It is towards this new period that the revolutionaries must turn.

On the threshold of the new period, Monatte gathers up the fatigued, the disillusioned, the exhausted, and makes them pass into the camp of Jouhaux. So much the worse for Monatte, so much the better for the revolution!

The period opening up before us will not be a period of growing, false neutrality of the trade unions but rather, on the contrary, a period of the reinforcement of the Communist positions in the labour movement. Great tasks present themselves to the Left Opposition. Sure of the successes awaiting it, what must it do to gain them? Nothing but remain faithful to itself. But on this point, next time.

December 15, 1930

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Last updated on: 3.3.2007