Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

2: How to rewrite history:
The Renault Strike of April-May 1947 as seen and reviewed by Jeune Revolutionnaire

From Lutte Ouvrière, No.142, 18-24 May 1971

Under the signature of François Tarrant, the last issue of Jeune Reolutionnaire published a long article devoted to the Renault strike of April-May 1947.

If it was a question of trying to disentangle the lessons of a strike that was particularly rich in them (above all for the Trotskyist movement) then this project could only be welcomed. But that is clearly not the concern of François Tarrant: the history of the working class movement only appears to interest him to the extent to which, revised and corrected, it can serve not the education but the edification (as they say in the Sunday Schools) of the young people of the OCI-AJS.

His account is therefore concerned with ‘demonstrating’ the leading rô1e played by the OCI in these events. Awkward customers will straightaway object that the OCI did not exist at that time, as it was only one out of the three or four tendencies to emerge from the PCI in the years 1944-52. But that would be reckoning without the historical talent of François Tarrant. See for yourself: on page 3 of his account it is a matter of the “PCI ... the Organisation Communiste Internationaliste today”, on page 4 he talks about “the OCI (the PCI at that time)”, and on page 6 about “the Trotskyists of the OCI”. And so on.

We should clearly be wary of passing judgement on the debate as to which of the tendencies that came from the PCI is best placed to lay claim to the inheritance of the opportunist errors of the ‘French Section of the Fourth International’ of the ‘Liberation’. But we await with great interest the exhaustive study that Tarrant will no doubt one day provide on the part played by the “Trotskyists of the OCI” in the Paris Commune or the formation of the First International.

As regards the course of the Renault strike the historical ‘method’ is much the same. He starts by telling us that two revolutionary organisations were represented in the factory: the PCI and the Union Communiste, “which survives today in the journal Lutte Ouvrière” – a happy expression that we owe to the author’s incomparable pen. Then we are told that the strike began in the Collas sector, but he takes good care not to reveal the leading rô1e played by the militants of the UC in its outbreak.

The strike of the Collas sector was not like that at all: Tarrant the critic is unyielding. Let us allow him to speak:

‘The strike in the Collas sector was not instrumental in extending the strike to Boulogne-Billancourt. It was still only a strike like any other at this stage, partial, fragmented and isolated. Some even went so far as to construct a theory about this. Because the Collas sector made gearboxes, it was enough to halt production there for a while in order to make the factory ‘seize up’. This was obviously an erroneous calculation, but that was the calculation of the UC.

From the first day of the strike in the Collas sector, on Friday 25 April, the Strike Committee, led by the militants of the UC, did everything to extend it to the rest of the factory, arid a leaflet was distributed throughout the factory from Monday 28th, saying: “We have started off the movement. We appeal to all workers to join us and to nominate their representatives to come and join our Strike Committee which meets continuously in Department 6 (the Collas sector).” But why go on about this as it manifestly contradicts the thesis to which François Tarrant wishes to lend credence?

But this is where the OCI-PCI intervened:

At a meeting in the Place Nationale on Monday 28th, Comrade Lambert launched the slogan “Uncouple the Machines”. Closing down Renault meant concentrating the entire strength of the working class against the political power, the power of the bourgeoisie.

It was no doubt a minor factor that between the speech of Lambert in the Place Nationale – at a meeting organised by the Collas Strike Committee, let it be said – and the complete shut-down of Renault, the CGT, desperate to avoid being bypassed, had issued the strike call. But that information might detract somewhat from the importance of the intervention of Lambert, the Superman of the class struggle.

But moving on to the end of the strike and the following events, Tarrant becomes even more severe:

It was then that the leadership of the Union Communiste ... went on to make the Stalinist bureaucracy the most magnificent present of which it could have dreamed ... and there, 25 years ago, the rotten ultra-leftism which we know today, provided the first indication of its political blindness by creating the Renault Democratic Union (SDR).

Francois Tarrant has the right to interpret the creation of the SDR, an organisation which included hundreds of Renault workers who had broken with the CGT apparatus, as a present to the bureaucracy. But he takes good care not to tell us what the leadership of the PCI proposed to the workers who were in open conflict with the Stalinist apparatus. This is for two reasons: the first is that they proposed nothing to them and the second is that these workers did not expect anything from the PCI. That it might have been a tiny grouplet, the Union Communiste, and not the Parti Communiste Internationaliste – French section of the Fourth International – which was an infinitely larger national organisation, that acted as a pole of attraction for all those working class militants at Renault who had understood the role of the apparatus, is not considered by François Tarrant, and there was never any question of François Tarrant considering it.

But what, you might say, did the PCI really do inside the factory? Carefully rereading François Tarrant’s article, this sole concrete detail occurs: “the only Trotskyist metalworker at Renault celebrated his 22nd birthday on 28 April 1947.” We are quite sure that everyone will be moved by this little human touch. But elsewhere in the article we have been told of “the Trotskyists of the OCI”. Was there only one of them? What a giant of a militant, to justify this plural all to himself!

The joke, or the tragedy, of all this is that François Tarrant’s article is published as part of a collection entitled Stalin? Learn More. Perhaps François Tarrant has forgotten Stalin, but assuredly not his school of historical falsification.

What he will also discover is that inventing a past does not guarantee a future. And when this is done in the name of Trotskyism, even to the extent of an exclusive claim to that word, using such methods only reduces his own efforts to nothing.

For such a result was it necessary to treat ‘Young Revolutionaries’ like children?

PS. We are shortly publishing a pamphlet on this strike for those of our readers who might be interested.

It will include details and documents [2] that Tarrant would be incapable of producing – understandably so.


Translator’s Footnotes

1. The PCI member to whom they refer was Daniel Renard, the writer of our seventh article below.

2. Not reproduced in this series.

Updated by ETOL: 6.7.2003