From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.8, August 1939, pp.8-12. 
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
All the objective conditions making possible the social revolution in France have existed since 1934, except for the most essential, the presence of a real revolutionary party. Towards the end of 1935, when the reaction of the proletariat towards the offensive of the fascist leagues and Laval’s decree laws was at its height, and again in June 1936, the presence of an active revolutionary party would have radically changed the situation. Due to its absence, however, the revolutionary spirit of the French working-class was dissipated by the Popular Front and little by little the working-class has been pushed back to its present disastrous situation.
Towards the end of 1935 the revolutionary Bolshevik Leninist wing in the Socialist Party was growing, the embryo of a workers’ militia was growing within the Socialist Party (the TPPS) counting in Paris a few thousand workers, for which the trotskyists were greatly responsible. When they were expelled from the Socialist Party the possibility of forming a new revolutionary party was missed, due to the disastrous split among the Bolshevik Leninists among other reasons.
Then came the slow recession of the revolutionary tide and under these conditions the turning away of the more advanced workers from the treacherous popular front took the form of the growth of Pivert’s “Gauche Revolutionaire” (Revolutionary Left) within the Social Democracy and its formation after its expulsion in 1935 of the PSOP (Socialist Workers and Peasants Party). The PSOP could by no means be called a revolutionary party (even Pivert has to admit it). It was much too heterogeneous, while the majority of its rank and file were capable of developing on revolutionary lines, the right wing leadership was, and is still, unable to break completely with their old social democratic habits. Pivert even proposed that the PSOP belong to the Popular Front.
Inside the party and within its leadership are a good proportion of freemasons and pure pacifists. In spite of this the great historical importance of the PSOP was that it represented, however deformedly, the development of a certain section of the working class in a Marxist direction and therefore became the potential rallying ground for all the scattered revolutionary forces in France. It is because of this that the two wings of the French Bolshevik Leninists (POI and PCI) entered the PSOP with the perspective of crystallising an important section of the PSOP rank and file around a revolutionary programme to fight against the liquidating and opportunist tendencies within the party. To attempt to prophesy whether the revolutionaries will capture a majority and thus transform the PSOP as a whole into a revolutionary party or whether the desire of Pivert and Co. to liquidate the PSOP into the SP, or whether the disintegration due to opportunist policies will produce a split would be futile. However a serious study of the recent National Conference of the PSOP last Whitsun will enable us to appreciate the relation of forces at the moment existing.
Before we deal with the various debates, note that according to the constitution of the PSOP a delegate to the Conference must have totalled three years membership in the SP and PSOP This measure obviously favours the right wing and old social democratic tendency, and handicaps the two Bolshevik Leninist groups which had not come from the social democracy. However the ex-POI tendency was represented by four voting delegates as these represented federations of the party that had been built up only since 1938. This tendency also had three consultative delegates, Rous, Carton (delegate of the factory groups) and Godelle.
Under the pressure of the rank and file, however, the three years clause was amended and eighteen months is now the membership of the PSOP which one must have before holding responsible positions – a victory for the left although a very small one, most of the POI and ex-PCI members having entered after December 1938 and still have one year to wait.
During the Conference the main points on which the party had to pronounce itself were the freemasonry, the fight against war, revolutionary defeatism, the work for a new international and finally the attitude towards work in the trade unions (CGT). On each of these questions the Two Bolshevik Leninist groups fought for the adoption by the PSOP of firm revolutionary decisions as against the ambiguous and opportunist resolutions put forward by the right wing.
On the question of imperialist war three main currents crystallised at the Conference.
It was these last two tendencies which divided the support of most of the delegates.
Collinet in his resolution calls for the continuation of the class struggle in war-time, for the conquest of power in spite of all risks as a first step towards a just peace without indemnities. If this peace is not possible, the resolution preconceives the waging of the liberating struggle against international capitalism by rallying against them the world’s oppressed peoples. So far, so good, but here Collinet stops; the resolution is silent on the necessity of an international to wage the struggle, he “forgets” to take a position on such important problems as the defence of the USSR and revolutionary defeatism. It is in his articles and speeches in defence of his position, however, that Collinet absolutely contradicts his own resolution and shows up his opportunist position. In these he differentiates between the “democratic” and the fascist imperialisms and states that Hitler is the main enemy. For this reason he condemns revolutionary defeatism (the logical conclusion to the continuation of the class struggle) whose aim he wrongly interprets as being the defeat of French imperialism vis-à-vis its German rival and he does not recognise that revolutionary defeatism has as its sole aim the victory of the proletariat and that the weakening of French imperialism vis-à-vis Germany is only a possible result of this struggle and not its aim (as he thinks it is). This reactionary position arises because he does not believe in the possibility of revolutionary upsurge in Germany as a result of a struggle in France (in complete contradiction with that part of his resolution in which he expresses the hopes of rallying all oppressed peoples). In view of his interpretation of the B-L policy of revolutionary defeatism the following extract from his article in the April number of Cahiers Rouges (PSOP theoretical organ) reveals how close he is to the social patriots; he writes “to wish the military defeat of the latter (French imperialism) is to unconsciously wish the victory of Hitler-Mussolini.” To sum up, Collinet implies the abandonment of the class struggle in war time. The social democrats say it openly, that is the difference.
In opposition to this Rous, Weitz and Guèrin presented a common resolution which comes out unambiguously in favour of revolutionary defeatism, and calls for the turning of the imperialist war into a civil war for the liberation of the masses, and the destruction of the oppression state machinery. The resolution declares that the support of the USSR for one of the imperialist blocs would not change the imperialist character of the war. It proclaims that revolutionary defeatism is not a slogan for popular agitation, but a policy, and that the Russian bolsheviks translated revolutionary defeatism to the masses by the slogan “Bread, Peace and Freedom.” The resolution ends by pointing out the necessity for a revolutionary international.
The confusion of certain elements in the PSOP on the nature of imperialism was revealed by a statement by Spinetta of the leadership that “the causes of war are many, the question of war and peace is also a sentimental one”! The Collinet and the Rous, Weitz, Guèrin resolution each got 59 votes while the pacifist resolution of Modiano received 26 votes. A propositon by Herard (centrist) that a decision on war be postponed so that the party might discuss the question further received 45 votes. We see from this that nearly one third of the Conference took up a revolutionary position.
The building up of a revolutionary international is a logical and necessary part of the revolutionary struggle against war and therefore the PSOP cannot hope to carry out an effective struggle against imperialist war unless it takes up a correct position on the problem of the revolutionary international. Even Pivert and Collinet call for a new international. But to call for one is not enough. One must know how to build it and one must build it up on a correct programme.
When the PSOP was founded last year Pivert had tried to get it to affiliate to the London Bureau but under the pressure of the rank and file abandoned this project. When the “Workers’ International Front” against war was formed last October the PSOP participated. “Workers’ International Front” is not an international; while the parties belonging to it are in agreement on the war question the differences they have on such essential problems as the conquest of power, the USSR etc., remain unsolved. However, a number of parties belonging to the “Workers’ International Front” formed the International Marxist Centre which has called an international conference for next September. Weitz, Rous and Guèrin supported a resolution that the PSOP should take part in this international conference, the latter, Guèrin, who is not a Bolshevik-Leninist, criticised the haste of the International Marxist Centre in setting up its executive committee and issuing bulletins as a manoeuvre against the Fourth International, saying that this was not the way to unify all the revolutionary tendencies. He and Weitz demanded that the Fourth International be asked to participate. Rous of the POI while also supporting the resolution declared that the proposed conference should seek unification with the Fourth International. He said that he did not pose the question of the immediate affiliation of the PSOP to the Fourth International as there were still deep differences to be discussed.
Pivert, faced with these concrete proposals manoeuvred, and while agreeing that the “Workers’ International Front” had failed as an international nucleus, he asked the PSOP Conference to vote 1) The approval of the work done by the “Workers’ International Front.” 2) A united front with all other anti-imperialist organisations. 3) The organisation of international liaisons. Pivert went on to say that the “Workers’ International Front” should reach an agreement with pacifist organisations for a common struggle. At the same time he asked the PSOP to affiliate to the International Marxist Centre. Pivert’s motion got 121 votes and Weitz’s 41 votes. There were 25 abstentions.
Here again a definite line was drawn separating those who wanted to carry on revolutionary work from the reformists. For a Marxist the trade union movement is built by and based on the working class for the defence of its economic interests. Freed from the stranglehold of the reformist and stalinist bureaucrats the CGT can be of great importance in the development of the revolutionary strength of the proletariat although it can never replace the revolutionary party as an instrument for the social revolution. Therefore a double task befalls the revolutionary party. One, organise and support the struggle of the rank and file against the class collaborationist bureaucracy of Jouhaux-Racemond. Two, to give the party a strong base in the factories and trade union branches so as to lead the masses along the road to revolutionary action. For the carrying out of these tasks it is obvious that the party (the PSOP in this case) must ensure the discipline and co-ordinated action of its members in the trade unions, i.e., form trade union factions. The opportunists in the PSOP, blind to these axioms of Marxism, try to divide the economic and political struggle into two water-tight compartments and take up the slogan of the reformists “for the independence of the CGT from political parties.” To which the revolutionaries answer:
“Yes, the CGT must be independent from its class collaborationist leadership; this cannot be achieved without a revolutionary political struggle in the CGT, otherwise we leave the bureaucracy a free hand.”
The resolution of Vaillant against the formation of disciplined factions and leaving each member more or less free in his trade union work from the party’s control got 122 votes. This resolution “advised” its trade union members to join the united front trade union movement, “The Syndicalist Class Struggle” influenced by the anarchists and pure syndicalists. The resolution of the Marxist minority presented by Carton (ex-POI) calling for organised work and national directives in the CGT got 62 votes. On this question Guèrin supported Vaillant’s resolution thus revealing an opportunist trend.
In France the attitude towards the freemasonry has long been a question which has divided marxists from non-marxists. The former hold that the freemasonry is an organisation controlled by the bourgeoisie and in France particularly on the trade union and reformist bureaucrats. The freemasonry is thus a link binding the working class through a considerable number of its misleaders to the bourgeoisie. The petty bourgeois ideology in the freemasonic lodges where local trade union and reformist job holders rub shoulders with small business men and bourgeois lawyers, doctors and men of other “liberal” professions can be gauged by the following extract from the Bulletin of the Grand Lodge of France which was read by Guèrin at the PSOP Conference:
“... It is necessary to understand that if the Freemasonry of the Scottish Rite has always proclaimed the complete freedom of its members to belong to the political party of his choice and has allowed him to practice his own religion, it has always as an organisation demonstrated by its charter and its attitude not only its respect of the law but its attachment to the nation which allows it to exist and its loyalty to the State ... it has and will continue to avoid any participation in any movement whatsoever determined by international ideologies ... To serve and work for the prosperity of the French Nation and the solidity of the French State is for each freemason to work for the success of the Universal Masonic ideal.”
And yet the majority of the leadership such as Jacquier, Rul (national secretary), Suzanne Nicolitch and Pivert himself are known freemasons. How then can the PSOP lead the proletariat against the repressive bourgeois state and fight for its destruction unless it gets rid of leaders who belong to an organisation which “serves and works for ... the solidity of the State.” As Trotsky has put it,
“In the freemasonry are concentrated all the parasitic forms which today give the Second as well as the Third International such a repulsive face. How can one break with the Social Democracy and the Comintern and at the same time remain linked with the worst caricature of these two organisations – the freemasons?”
The struggle of the marxists in the PSOP against the freemasonic relations of the leader-ship had been going on for a long time, even before the entry of the “Trotskyists.” Things had reached such a stage that Rul stated during a meeting of the PSOP members (13.3.39) that if he was forced to choose between the freemasonry and the PSOP he would leave the PSOP. Other right wingers also made similar statements and the right wing took up the cry that “Trotskyists” wanted to split the party by expelling all the freemasons. At the Conference Rouais, a right winger, spoke of sabotage by a handful of “agitators “ and that it was a manoeuvre of the Fourth International to divide the party.
In answer to this Comrades Rous and Bailly of the Left Wing made a declaration in the April number of Cahiers Rouges:
“We shall prove that it is not we who menace the interests of the party. It is harmful to be silent on the fact that certain people who present to us free-masonry as democracy in its pure state, do not hesitate to violate proletarian democracy and free discussion in our party by putting us under this permanent threat. It is this attitude we say that goes against the interests of the party.”
So as not to play the game of the right Rous and Bailly, and also Guèrin, decided to ask the Conference to condemn the freemasonry in principle but not to decree the expulsion of comrades who refuse to leave the freemasonry.
Guèrin’s motion got 76 votes as against 62 for Nicolitch’s motion of “ next business” and 50 for Spinetta’s supporting the freedom of members to be freemasons and deciding to make no exceptions. The Morroccan section of the PSOP had, until now, been allowed to expel freemasons. Thus the pro-freemasons got a small majority, 112 as against 76, most of the centrists supporting Guèrin’s resolution.
The Report of the Political Bureau and the discussions on it was an occasion for the various tendencies to analyse the past history of the movement and draw from it the correct conclusions for an orientation during the coming period. As the report defends the whole political line of the leadership during the past it should be carefully examined.
The report presented by Marceau Pivert retraced the history of the Revolutionary Left in the Socialist Party. Pivert recalled that in the face of the offensive of the fascist leagues in 1934-35 the Revolutionary Left called for direct action (the strike, demonstrations, etc.) They were the driving force of the auto-defence groups in the Socialist Party and responsible for the Co-ordinating Centre of Anti-Fascist Forces, forerunner of the united front between the Communist. Party and Socialist Party.
Coming to the strike wave of 1936 the report explains that in the Drapeau Rouge (Red Flag) they put forward appropriate directives but their transition demands (factory committees, workers control) were fought by the reformists and stalinists.
The reports continues, pointing out that from the very beginning they had fought against the poison of social chauvinism and class collaboration, especially when Blum attempted to form a “National” Government in March 1938 and they had participated in united front work with the “Solidarité International Anti-fascist” (Anarchist influenced) against the repression against the POUM.
Towards the summer of 1938 the Blum-Paul Faure bureaucracy, alarmed at the growth of the Revolutionary Left, who had control of the Seine Federation and had a majority in 15 provincial federations of the Socialist Party, dissolved the Seine Federation and expelled its leaders, thus starting the split of the Revolutionary Left from the Socialist Party to form the PSOP Comrades who have followed events in France will remember how Pivert and the right wingers around him in the Revolutionary Left Wing did everything to remain attached to the social democracy, how at the formation of the PSOP Pivert tried to get it to adhere to the Popular Front and his hope of making the PSOP “a continuation of the Socialist Party” a “second Socialist Party,” etc., and how the pressure of the rank and file workers who had had enough of all this forced the PSOP more to the left. In his report Pivert had to admit that “the bad psychological preparation of our members (you mean leadership!) to a split (from the social democracy) did not permit us to bring them all with us” although at the same time he defends his policy: “we still think that our tactic in spite of these inconveniences was the best adopted ...”
Since we are on the subject of the split of the Revolutionary Left from the Socialist Party it might be well to go back and examine the role of the Revolutionary Left when the Bolshevik Leninists split from the Socialist Party in 1935. This split coincided with the rising revolutionary temper of the masses and under the conditions of tension existing, the split from the social democracy of a revolutionary left wing opened up great possibilities of the crystallisation of certain sections of the proletariat around a new revolutionary party. Pivert, instead of lining up with the expelled and detaching several hundred more workers, voted for the expulsion. Every time that the occasion for a break of a section of the militant workers from the rotting Socialist Party has presented itself, Pivert, in spite of his opposition to social chauvinism (as proclaimed in his report) hesitates to break with the “old home.”
Then came September 1938 and the united front of the PSOP with the pacifist reformists in the CGT (who on November 30th helped betray the general strike) and the petty bourgeois pacifists and the anarchists which Pivert attempts to justify.
As to the general situation the report makes a Marxist analysis of the imperialist rivalries and the position of the USSR stating that the Soviet masses must defend the conquests of October by the overthrow of the bureaucracy; calls for the class struggle against the Daladier dictatorship and the war and proclaims the “internationalism” of the PSOP, but not the need for an international.
The report ends up on the old theme that the PSOP is neither Social Democratic (because it has a revolutionary policy) nor “bolshevik” (as it is a democratic, and not “totalitarian” organisation).
The minority supported a counter report presented by Roos basing itself on a Marxist analysis of the role of the PSOP which got 25 votes as against 162 for Pivert’s report, there being 16 absentees. It is on the basis of this vote that the official minority being a bloc of the ex-POI (Rous) with the Left Centrists Guèrin and Weitz, were supported by the ex-PCI tendency and the youth who did not have representation in the conference in accordance with their strength.
The debate on the political report presented an occasion for the rabid “anti-Trotskyites” such as Jacquier (a freemason) to demand a commission of inquiry into “Trotskyite activities.”
During the conference a Marxist minority crystallised around Rous-Weitz-Guèrin supported by the youth, which on the various questions, war, freemasons, international, etc., rallied varying members of centrists. 59 votes against 130 on war; 73 against 112 on freemasonry; 62 against 122 on the trade unions; 23 against 162 on the political report.
The right wing has started an offensive by reactionary means with the expulsion of six youth comrades (members of the ex-PCI) which aims at liquidating the whole left wing, hoping that, freed from this opposition they can remake the PSOP in the image of a second Socialist Party or even return to it. The Bolshevik-Leninist groups knew when they entered that should a left wing crystallise the leadership would try to break with them. Whether the present offensive of the right wing will result in a split or whether the crisis will be delayed it is difficult to say.
But one thing is certain that a party which is as heterogeneous as the PSOP and which is incapable of ridding itself of freemasons and petty bourgeois pacifists cannot stand up successfully against the repression which a war would impose on it. The non-Marxist and opportunist elements will either go back to the social democracy or disappear altogether from the political scene. The French Bolshevik-Leninists must try to rally the left wing elements of the PSOP, not only on a correct political basis but in a disciplined and serious organisation which will be able to stand up to conditions of illegality. One of the necessary conditions for this regroupment is the unification of the two Bolshevik Leninist groups, the ex-POI and the ex-PCI, the tactical and organisational differences being resolved by free and sincere discussion on the basis of the common day to day struggles in the PSOP.
1. H.R. is Harry Ratner.
Last updated on 11.9.2005