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New Militant, 7 September 1935


A Letter from M. Pivert

To the Comrades Expelled by the National Congress
of the Socialist Youth of France at Lille: July 30, 1935

(August 1935)


From New Militant, Vol. I No. 37, 7 September 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Editor’s Note

Because of their extraordinary importance for the revolutionary movement of France as well as their educational value everywhere we publish herewith the letter of Marceau Pivert to the expelled Socialist Youth of the Seine District of France and a reply to some of his comments by comrade Leon Trotsky. Comrade Pivert is the leader of an influential left wing group called “Bataille Socialiste” in the Socialist Party of France (S.F.I.O.). As previously reported in the New Militant the ousted revolutionary youth leaders are gaining support everywhere. In a recent issue of La Verité, organ of the Bolshevik-Leninist group in the S.F.I.O., just arrived from Paris, there appears a whole series of protests against the expulsions and greetings of solidarity with the expelled.

Through Populaire (Organ of the S.P. of France – Ed.) I learned of the decision on your expulsion and the circumstances preceding it. I regret not being able to return to Paris to aid you in securing reparation of this injustice. I am in solidarity because this is the first time in the party that they have expelled comrades only for serving socialist ideals, with faults to be sure, but also with tangible results: the development of their organization. I am in solidarity because 1 believe there is revealed in this procedure an extremely serious political significance which must bring to your side all those who sincerely and not in phrases stand for revolutionary unity.

Revolutionary unity without comrades like Fred Zeller or Makarovsky (leaders of the Seine District of the Socialist Youth – Ed.), members of my group is a fraud. The splitting action perpetrated by comrades who have been artificially lined up against you and who do not understand its import (or who have utilized your errors) may have disastrous repercussions not only for the Party but for the entire labor movement.

The first thing I request of you is to do nothing to aggravate matters: to demand of your comrades remaining in the organization that despite what has happened they devote themselves to the development of the Youth (organization – Ed.). You have the right to defend those conceptions which you hold dear. For that, the doors of the Party are immediately open to you. Do not be discouraged, you will not be alone in defending the right of minorities to live in a democratic Party like ours. Issue an appeal to the Party at once – this ought to bring the Party to revoke an impermissible decision if it is true to its structure. This appeal must be tentative and must allow you to continue your practical work without interruption inside the Seine Federation, if at the same time, and I strongly hope so, the majority which you have won remains loyal to you.

It is in order to aid you, if you believe it useful in your defense, whether by utilizing these lines or by using them in helping you address your appeal to the Federal Bureau and the Bureau of the Party that I occupy myself in discussing the grievances concerning you which you have written me.

The Problem of Factions

Lagorgette (Right wing leader of the Socialist Youth – Ed.) condemned factions and proposed to dissolve them. There is nothing new in that. At a certain Federal Congress at Montrouge the adults launched an extremely heavy and vicious attack on us because of our faction, the “Bataille Socialiste.” ... Does that mean that they did not belong to any faction in the Party? I do not want here either to examine or analyze such a position. I say merely that it is the undeniable right for comrades of the Party and the Youth who think in this or that way to meet together, to act in concert for the development of the propaganda of their tendency, to visit groups, to seek votes on the eve of a Congress, to designate their representatives for Party functions. You have the right to demand this option, and no more: it is impossible to go any further, that is to say, up to official exteriorization (although in fact it is difficult to conceal ones group preferences in public action). But that, that is what we have always done in the whole life of the Party That is what we have always done in eases of decisive battles against ministerialism and we have practised it with Paul Faure, with Zyromsky, with Louis Levy, with Severac, without ever thinking that one day that would be a motive for expulsion ... against another faction than ours.

I also read with regret the demand of Mireille Osmin: “Renounce factional activity,” and that individually. What is the meaning of this? As for myself I would never sign it. More precisely I say: in the hour when complete unification approaches, the right of minorities becomes most precious with the single condition that the factions do not hinder the regular work of the Party. I have always seen confused comrades – who have no strong principled position and are often embarrassed by the choice which the existence of factions imposes on them – struggle against tendencies and factions.

You have therefore the right to justify your appeal to the Party by referring to the constant practise of the internal life of the Party.

From this point of view the “dissolution of the Bolshevik-Leninists” has no meaning, if they do not at the same time dissolve the other official and secret factions ... but then it is impossible to apply such a decision.

As to the especial quality of the Bolshevik-Leninists, and here I will say quite clearly that a psychological error has been committed by those among you who assume this name. Incontestably there is confusion here, and those who expelled you have utilized the weapon which has been given them; if you are loyal to original Bolshevism, you do not accept the democratic structure of the Party, equality for all tendencies and for all members. They therefore impute to you the intention, which has long been that of the Communist Party, “to bore from within,” to demolish the socialist organization, in order to win the leadership, but with another structure. All the confusion exploited against you arises from that ... And it is necessary to dispel this notion (as the adult Bolshevik-Leninists must also do) under pain of driving the present conflict into a blind alley. The Socialist Party has, in fact, victoriously struggled against all attempts of the C.P. to bore from within. It is instinctively levelled against all attempts at renewing such methods. But I never understood your return to the Party as a method of this kind. You would certainly have avoided the exploitation of your label against yourselves, if you had proclaimed your will to submit to the rules of internal propaganda in the same degree and with the same rights as the other ideological currents in the Party. This is one of the points you must insist upon. And even if, in the aim of obtaining satisfaction, the label Bolshevik-Leninist or Trotskyist has to disappear from circulation, I am certain that you would not hesitate to change it ... The essential thing is not to wear the label of an enchanting name but to apply oneself in following the teachings it implies.

But all this does not apply to comrades like Fred (Zeller – Ed.) who are not in the Bolshevik-Leninist group, at least to my knowledge! For the latter the measure is even more unreal and takes on such significance that all minorities threatened by the same token must band together in solidarity!

On the “Illegal” Nature of the Expulsions

I maintain now that the expulsions decided on by the National Conference of the Youth are incompatible with the statutes of the Party. It is not within the province of a congress to transform itself into a High Court and to condemn (since they have neither instruction nor defense, and the delegates to a congress are not judges). From top to bottom in the Party there are control commissions which judge. That is the juridical argument which has always been made against our demands to expel the traitors from the Party. That is why the Federal Bureau of the Seine, which demanded the expulsion of Poggioli ... but which permitted him to remain at the head of socialist municipalities despite serious breaches of discipline in electoral action, against which I revolted in advance, cannot impartially apply an inadmissible decision in your case. After a control commission hands down its verdict there is still the possibility to appeal to a higher body. Such an appeal was made in the case of a notoriously disqualified gentleman, like Duchanel, who still has his party card. Therefore one cannot consider your expulsion as final for it is Impossible to imagine different disciplinary rules for the Youth and the Party. Then the latter is particularly lenient with renegades and traitors. Marquet was not expelled, nor was Bouisson, nor was Compere-Morel (he is even going to enter. I hope in this connection, that Lagorgette will press the demand of expulsion against this gentleman which he accepted with Perigaud and myself).

For comrades careful in keeping the Youth in their place, I think that the action perpetrated lacks deliberation. It would have been necessary to begin by declaring the motion of expulsion unacceptable for one never knows where that will lead to. If in a group, if in a Federation, a Bolshevik-Leninist majority declared, as a reprisal, the expulsion of this or that minority as counter-revolutionists and disloyal to the real fundamental bases of socialist action, where would we be then? In the same way I set myself against this sectarian conception and I rise with indignation against the sectarianism of the majority of the Conference: this or that opponent is in the way? I disdain to answer this (it is too easy!) I believe that many of the young comrades who voted for your expulsion (or whose mandates were utilized in this aim) will regret the deplorable action which has just been perpetrated. As to the editor of Populaire, Daniel Mayer, I consider his contemptuous comments as an infamy. No! This is not the way we treat young comrades like those whom I know well and whom I have seen at work in direct action and this is not the way to answer them. It is a bad internal regime which we will surely be in, I am certain, if everyone does as he wishes.

The Motives for the Expulsion

In the motion of expulsion there are certain unacceptable considerations and others which might be justifiable but I persist in believing are unacceptable in your case.

To come out in favor of the 4th International? It is the right of the Youth and the Party to appreciate the present situation of the two Internationals and to hope for a better one, with or without changing the number. Did not the Spanish Young Socialists consider leaving the Second International? Does anyone believe that formal discipline and expulsions can add luster to the prestige of the Second International? Or does it prevent the workers from wanting complete unity? I myself am also a member of the Second International on paper, but no one will prevent me from believing that it no longer has any real existence ... and from saying it. I am not the only one who thinks this way. Are they going to expel me?

Systematic denigration, that is, criticism of the point of view of those who think that everything is going well. The right of internal criticism. The right of free choice of the best solutions to the problems posed by events and which the Congresses of the Party have not foreseen, much less resolved. You must proudly demand all of this in your own field, in our activity in the Youth with the care of winning the young generation for socialism. What you must add, is that you have never had the intention of having any other policy than the Party’s on essential questions; that is not possible (even though the Belgian Young Socialist Guards have obtained a hundred times more freedom than you on this subject). But certain questions are still being debated in the Party ... and it is delaying in taking a position, the question of the struggle against war, for example. We demand the right to examine them as “practises,” one might say, and to make our position known. If this is the main grievance they have against you, then I reproach the framers of the motion of expulsion for lack of courage. Would they be expelled if the Youth defended to the letter the position of Blum or Zyromsky on the problem of national defense, that is to say, “in case of aggression by Hitler we will shoulder arms”? No, they would not! Now, I declare that this position does not conform to the regular decisions of the Tours Congress with which I am well acquainted and which Lagorgette has undoubtedly not forgotten. No, under no pretext, consequently, even the pretext of aggression, must the Party lend itself to the propagation of the acceptance of war. If that is the real motive for your expulsion, then it should be said frankly, openly. We will draw from that – we adults who have maintained an attitude of courtesy, even of comradeliness which we do not regret, in our discussions – the inevitable consequences. We understand that it would be necessary to struggle by other means than silken words against the opponents of factions who want to expel us from the socialist community, before perhaps dragooning the proletariat, into a new 1914 ... And if this is not the question, then what is at the bottom of your expulsion ? And if it is not the problem, then all the rest has only a mediocre importance and provided you emphasize your will to serve the Party, with your methods and your doctrinal preferences, developing them as you have done in the Seine, certainly your reinstatement must be speedy.

Finally I do not believe that they can seriously prove that your position or your action is “anti-unity” or responsible for “intolerable confusionism” in the ranks of the organization. But in any case, there is no impartial arbiter who can judge that this or that responsible comrade must be expelled. And if it is a question of a political line, then all those who have voted for you should be expelled (and are we to suppose that these people really believe that your followers would desert you!). If it is a question of precise facts, of propaganda contrary to the interests of the party, then a control commission must study the documents and decide.

In summary, nothing justifies a measure so fraught with dangers. In the degree that you are able to follow my suggestions, appeal, remain solidly organized, expelled or not. The Party must be consulted. In the last analysis it is it which must straighten matters out or aggravate them. Give it confidence!


Fraternally yours,
Marceau Pivert

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