G. Zinoviev


The Birth of a Communist Party

(1 August 1922)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 63, 1 August 1922, pp. 473–474.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, May 2020.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

To the French Communists:

Maxim Gorki has a wonderful story entitled, The Birth of Man. In it, with remarkable realism and joyous virility, he pictures the birth of a child. The event takes place on the. shores of the sea. The mother is a good and robust woman of the laboring class. The child is immediately bathed in the briny water of the sea; it is affectionately caressed, and its first cries are heard. Altogether, it is a perfectly easy and normal delivery, but yet, naturally, not without a certain amount of pain.

The delivery of the French Communist Party, although produced under extremely favorable conditions, is incomparably more painful. I cannot help but think of this when I reflect on what is now happening in our French Party.

For, that which is now happening in France, is precisely the birth of the Communist Party. The delivery is rather difficult. But there is ample reason to believe that it will end happily.

Those who are aiding, for the first time, in the birth of a Communist Party, and who do not fully realize the situation, are somewhat fearful of a catastrophe. Naturally, we are not now speaking of our enemies, who have a definite interest in picturing the present condition of the French Party as the height of chaos and confusion. But there are even some of our most sincere triends who, seeing merely the surface of things, are sometimes seized with despair. In this respect, we cannot refrain from the friendly reproval of one of the best militants in the French Party, our friend Vaillant-Couturier. In an article of July 12, entitled, The Only Remedy: Organization, in which he calls for organizers, to prevent the crumbling of the edifice of the French Party, we believe him to be expressing an exaggerrated pessimism.

Yes, Comrade Vaillant-Couturier! The birth of the Communist Party is infinitely mere difficult than that of the child described by Gorki. That is what we must realize, once for all.

Tendencies, groups, fractions, sub-fractions, insensate combats, personal conflicts bitter controversies, furious discussions – all this we find in the French Party. But that does not mean that the Party is about to perish or decay. It has been the same with other Communist Parties; before their definite consolidation. There is therefore no reason for despair in this case. In spite of all, the child will be born; he will grow up and become the terror of ins enemies!

But, it will be said, the French Communist Party was born at Tours.

That is not quite true. The Tours congress was the rupture with the avowed social traitors. The majority at Tours wanted to be, but had not yet become Communists. Towards the end of 1920, when I was at Halle, Comrade Daniel Renoult, representing the majority group of the French Central Committee, came to see me in order to enter into negotiations. He accepted the greater part of the 21 points -- which have now attained worldwide fame – but he firmly insisted that the Party should retain, for a while, its old name; that is to say, that it should not yet call itself a Communist Party. Renoult, was then right in a certain sense. In fact, if it be desirable that a name should correspond exactly with reality, the French Party should have been called, not a Communist Party, but a Party desirous of becoming Communist.

Between a wish and its realization the road is often long. For example, when at St. Etienne, the members of the French Party warmly congratulated themselves on having succeeded, for the first time, in organizing a preliminary conference of Communists working within the unions, what did it really mean? Always the same thing: that the Party wanted to be Communist, but that it had not been so up to that time. That which in any other party, however poorly organized, is considered as the matter of fact process of growth, is for our French Party quite an event, giving occasion for mutual congratulation.

Yet, we repeat, there is no reason whatever for yielding to despair. The first step is the hardest. Comrades, as long as you have a firm and sincere desire to become a Communist Party, you will become such.

Let us remember how the Communist Parties were started and fronted in the other great countries.


At first, the old Social Democracy divided into two parties. On the one side were the Right Social Democrats (Scheidemannists) and on the other, within the limits of one party, the Independents and the Communists. Then, after some time, a new division took place. The Communists separated from the Independents. Thus, three parties were formed. Later, at the Halle Congress, the Independents became sub-divided into two equal sections, one of which took its place with the Communists. And finally, the group adhering to Levy, Däumig, Geyer and consorts left the Communists and returned to the Independents. And it was not until all this had happened that the German Communist Party was definitely formed.


Here, things happened a little differently. The first important split took place along another line of difference. Two parties were formed. But one of them was composed more of the Right than of the Centre. This was the Italian Socialist Party. On the other side, were the Communists. Now a second split is being prepared; the Centre seems to be disposed to break with the Kight and to form a party of its own, similar to the German Independents. So that, instead of a two-party division, we shall also have in Italy a three-party division: the Right, the Centre and the Communists. A part of the Centre will then pass over to the Communists, and we shall then be able to consider the Italian Communist Party as definitely formed.

There were certain defections of groups which took place before all this, both in Germany and Italy. The Spartacus group was formed before the official split in the old German Social Democracy. In Italy, Mussolini’s group – now the Fascisti – broke away from the organization before the first big division in the Italian Party. But these were merely episodes. The principal divisions were along the following lines:

  1. The Centre and the Communists against the Right;
  2. the Right and the Centre against the Communists.

The working class movement in France appears to have followed an intermediate path, between those of the Germans and the Italians. The followers of Longuet have joined with the Right against the Communists. So far, the evolution of the French Party appears to resemble that of the Italian Party. It would appear that the Communists stand alone against an alliance of the Right and Centre. But one soon notes that this delineation is not definite. In the heart of the French Communist Party, certain elements – not numerous, it is true, but influential in “high places” – have remained, which are not far removed from the Longuet faction. One would be blind indeed, if one could not perceive that Raoul Verfeuil or Latent, for example, are fundamentally very close to the political position of Longuet. We should not be at all astonished, if we were to hear, in the very near future, that the Centrist elements among the Socialist dissenters, and in the Communist Party itself, have abandoned their respective parties in order to come together and form a third party, Centrist in character, and analogous to that of the German independents. We shall not deplore this fact. The Centrist elements which will leave the French Communist Party will not be numerous; and they will be, for the most part, intellectuals. The workers will not follow them. The French Communist Party can but gain by being rid of these elements. If, from any given quantity a negative quantity he deducted, the sum resulting from this operation will represent a quantity superior to the original.

That there are Centrists in the French Party, no one will deny. One must not confuse the Centrists in France with that which we. in this country, call the Centre of the Party. The French Centrists are the Right of the actual Party. But, by the Centre of the Party, we refer to the existing majority which sincerely desires to become Communist and which, we are convinced, will eventually form, with the Left, a compact Communist Party.

And it is precisely because the French Party is still in the state of “becoming”, that it is essential that the Communist kernel show firmness, energy, clearness and cohesion. The least concession to the Right might considerably retard the formation of the French Communist Party, and would deal the French movement a terrible blow. And if the leaders of the Centre took it into their minds to form a “bloc” with the Right against the Left of the Party – as they did quite recently – it is certain that they would paralyze the French Party for some time, just as Serrati has paralyzed the Italian Socialist Party. That is what Comrade Frossard appears to have realized when, in his report on the Moscow conference, he was decided never to play the part of a French Serrati. Nevertheless, that does not mean that other Serratis will not arise in the French Party. From all we know of the activities of Comrade Daniel Renoult during recent months, we cannot help fearing that if he persists in his errors, he will become a French Serrati. Let Comrade Renoult not forget that, at the outset of his conflict with the Communist International, Serrati also endeavoured to criticise the International from the “Left” point of view. The logical development of his struggle has compelled Mr. Serrati to gather against the Communist International, the malcontents of every shade, the “Rights” as well as the “Lefts”. Is Serrati’s fate so enviable that he can still find imitators? Serrati, who has literally shattered his party, is the fit example to make all comrades who are sincerely devoted to Communism, recoil with horror.

The French Party has not yet rid itself of all its Centrist elements. That is the crux of the real situation in France. Another fact to be remembered is that anarcho-syndicalist traditions are still extremely virile in France. Thus we have a species of arc, of which the Centrists from one segment, and the anarcho-syndicalists the other. It is by combatting these two deviations that we can assuage the birth pangs of the French Communist Party.

The Centrists would not be Centrists if they did not have a foot in each camp. But we, as Communists, should prefer that they frankly join our adversaries.

Centrism as an international tendency in the working class movement, is crumbling before our eyes. Never has this been so obvious as at present. While the German Independent Party is striving by every means to enter the bourgeois coalition government, and is even prepared, for this purpose, to ally its organization with that of the Right Social Democrats, that is, with the Scheidemannists, a rupture is about to take place in Italy between the Reformists and the Centrists, as the latter still fear open participation in a bourgeois government. In short, the international working class movement is divided into three currents: the Right, the Centre and Communism It would be more exact to say: two currents and – one Centrist bog. Our task as Communists, is to keep a hundred leagues away from this Centrist marsh, and to drain it off, if we find the faintest traces of it in our own Party. The Communist International tells you this frankly. Comrades of the French Party. In your party, there are diseased areas. Do not fear to look the truth in the face, and you will then soon be able to restore your Party to health.

The union of the actual majority (that is to say, of the Centre of the Party, and not of the Centrists) with the Left, will soon save the French Party and set it firmly on the path towards the conquest of the majority of the proletariat. But the vacillation of the Centrists would cause irreparable harm to the Party in a very short time.

The choice is not hard. A few months of collaboration between the Centre and the Left; a few decisive efforts to render impossible our betrayal by the Right; an explanation of the meaning of these happenings to the broad working masses; a little energy and perseverance; and the French Party will definitely become a Communist Party, surmounting, as the German Party has recently done, the final obstacles, and will occupy one of the most honorable places in that great international working class family called the Communist International.

With all our heart, we trust that our French comrades will, as soon as possible, set out along the path which we have indicated.

Last updated: 5 May 2020