Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4


Yves Dechezelles (1912–2007) [1]

Yves Dechezelles was born in the Vendée, into a family with a strong socialist and trade union tradition. His grandfather had been deported to Algeria for his support of the Paris Commune. His father suffered the inevitable consequences of his early trades union work on the railways. At the age of eight Yves attended the Congress of Tours, with his aunt and uncle who were delegates. In this environment he acquired an admiration for socialism of Jean Jaurès which he was to retain throughout his life. He joined the SFIO at the age of twelve.

After a prize-winning student career he began to teach philosophy. He became a friend of Albert Camus in Algiers, and there met his future wife Myriam Salama. After marrying he moved to Caen where he studied law. There he became increasingly politically active and came into contact with workers and unionists in the metallurgical industries.

In November 1936 he met and became a friend of Marceau Pivert with whom he corresponded and collaborated over the years. Determined to support the struggle of the Spanish republicans, and rejecting the policy on non-intervention he joined the Communist Party in 1937, immediately becoming the Caen district secretary. He set about organising practical solidarity and support. He was, wrongly, accused of Trotskyist deviations, but as he learned more about the Moscow trials and the Stalinist murders of anarchists and democrats in Spain he quickly separated himself from the PCF.

Conscription in 1938 interrupted work on his thesis on Lenin and the Peasants. He saw no actual fighting, and after the Petain armistice was allowed to go to Algeria with his family, where he took up the practice of law. He took part in the daring action of the resistance organisation “Combat” against Admiral Darlan of 7 November 1942 which prevented the fleet from sailing. Dechezelles’s part was to lead the taking of the telephone exchange. The Americans however, on occupying Algiers quickly reached a deal with Darlan. Dechezelles, with many of the resistance, was imprisoned for a time.

On the formation of De Gaulle’s provisional government, he was awarded the Medal of the Resistance, and became private secretary to Tixier, the Minister for Social Affairs, and subsequently the Interior Minister. Declining offers of further advancement in the Government he devoted his energies to the SFIO and became the administrative secretary to its group in the National Assembly. It was here that he first established relationships with the Algerian, Senegalese and Malagasy deputies.

In 1946, he helped Guy Mollet’s left wing to victory within the SFIO and became Assistant General Secretary. He was to become frustrated with the very limited support for the independence struggles within the SFIO, and this became acute following his meeting Ho Chi Minh, and his witnessing massive electoral fraud in Algeria. He resigned from the SFIO in 1947, taking with him a large section of the Socialist Youth.

He turned again to the law for his living, and was engaged in attempts to establish new political formations in the Action Socialiste et Révolutionnaire and the Rassemblement démocratique révolutionnaire (RDR). In 1948 he was one of a group of lawyers who, at considerable risk to themselves, went to Madagascar to attempt the legal defence of the leaders of the nationalist movement MDRM. Many of the accused were condemned to death and a number of the sentences were carried out.

He was to spend increasing amounts of time in defending such figures the North African nationalist leaders Habib Bourghiba and Ben Bella, Ferhat Hached the leading Tunisian trades unionist, and Allal El Fassi, leader of Al Istiqlal (Morocco). His life was again under threat, this time from the right wing extremists of the OAS, when he defended the Algerian nationalist leader Messali Hadj.

After the failure of the RDR initiative, Dechezelles was active in a series of regroupments, some of which involved Trotskyist and syndicalist groupings, as well as the followers of Pivert. There is evidence that Dechezelle’s ASR actively collaborated with the Trotskyists of the PCI at this time. These regroupment efforts eventually created the PSU and for a time Dechezelles was one of its national secretaries. There he argued steadily for a broad movement of the democratic and progressive forces in French politics, but found himself unable to join the Socialist Party under Mitterand.

The focus of his activity shifted and he became a leading member of the League for the Rights of Man, and through its international affiliates he travelled to observe and oppose political repression in many parts of the world. He spoke regularly at public meetings in France, and was a founder member of the International Campaign Against Repression, inspired by the Lambert tendency of the Trotskyist movement. His legal case load continued to grow as his reputation as a defender continued to grow. Until the end of his life, as his children Jean-Jacques and Guy recalled at his funeral “Yves Dechezelles continued to hold public meetings to denounce acts of repression and infringements of basic rights.”

He was a founding member of CERMTRI in 1977 and a member of its first board of directors, remaining a member until his death. As the CERMTRI obituarist put it; his whole life illustrated, in its highest sense, the meaning of the word “defence”: defender of the rights of man, of the oppressed, of the truth, and of justice against the established powers.

For him this fight was inseparable from the fight for socialism. In 2000, in a interview with Informations Ouvrières (No. 450, 2 August 2000) he explained “More than ever today we must fight for socialism i.e. the defence of the rights of man, but in the more general sense that encompasses not only human rights but also social rights. Only in that direction is there hope.” As Dechezelles put it himself:

I was not a Trotskyist, I was never a member of any organisation in the Fourth International, even if, over the years and in the course of shared battles, a bond in fact was established between me and the Trotskyist militants ... any rebirth of a vast socialist movement must draw strength from Leon Trotsky’s contribution. Trotsky’s ideas are living still. I want proof of it in the form of organisations which nationally and internationally claim him. But I would say that the place occupied by Trotsky stands above those who claim him directly. Like other great figures, he belongs to the movement for the emancipation of the workers, and the whole of the people.

Thus Yves Dechezelles defined the importance that CERMTRI had for him and the contribution that he brought to it during his life.

Yves Dechezelles died on the 9 January 2007.

J.J. Plant


1. Based on the obituary appended to the minutes of CERMTRI’s annual general meeting on 3 February 2007, in the Lettre d’Information, No. 30, Feb 2007 and on the extended obituary notice in La Commune of January 2007 which was substantially the work of Dechezelle’s family, as well as the Maitron entry. I am grateful to Ian Birchall for a copy of his article Neither Washington nor Moscow? The rise and fall.of the Rassemblement Démocratique at Révolutionnaire. Interested readers may wish to consult Duncan Hallas’s article Fourth International in Decline: from Trotskyism to Pabloism, 1944–1953 for a view on the significance of the fusion discussions between Dechezelle’s tendency and the PCI.

Updated by ETOL: 31.10.2011