From New International, Vol.5 No.8, August 1939, pp.252-253.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
THE first congress of the Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party, commonly known as the PSOP) held in Paris on May 28-29, met under circumstances which should have caused the leadership of the party to examine carefully the course that it has followed since it broke with the Socialist party a little over a year ago. At the time when it was first constituted, the PSOP claimed a membership of 20,000 and at the present moment even the leadership does not claim that there are more than 7,000 members of the party, while more realistic estimates place the membership at about 5,000.
What is the cause of this terrific drop in membership and is there anything that can be done to have the old members return and gain new ones in addition? Most of the leaders had two explanations for the woeful situation in the party: the retreat of the French working class and the activities of the Trotskyists.
It is certainly true that the general discouragement and apathy now prevailing in the ranks of the French workers are important factors contributing to the loss of a large portion of the PSOP membership. The members of a working-class party, even of a revolutionary Marxian party, cannot be immunized against the moods that grip the working masses and such a party must necessarily suffer in a period of retreat. It would be folly, however, to attribute the loss of such a large proportion of the membership merely to the depressed state of mind of the working class. A large part of the blame can be placed on the important leaders who, by their failure to give the party members a clear revolutionary perspective based on a revolutionary Marxian program, failed to evoke the enthusiasm and devotion which are so essential to keep working-class members in a period of retreat.
At the top, there was hesitation, wavering and indecision. During the September crisis ending in the Munich pact, the PSOP, in place of a revolutionary agitation against war, adopted a pacifist attitude. The work in the trade unions has been exceedingly weak and on the international front Pivert and his collaborators insist on joining hands with the heroes of the defunct London Bureau.
The rank and file, given no revolutionary orientation and naturally affected by the general weakness of the labor movement, dropped out of the party in great numbers.
An attempt was made by some of the right-wing leaders to attribute the loss of membership to the activities of the Fourth Internationalists (Trotskyists) who entered the PSOP last January. That fell flat for the obvious reason that the drop in membership began long before the entry of the Trotskyists who, if anything, brought new members into the party. Many non-Trotskyists and even anti-Trotskyists offered proof, in concrete cases, that the disappearance of certain branches were not at all due to the activities of the Fourth Internationalists.
The inordinate amount of time devoted by the right wing to attacking the Trotskyists gave the congress an anti-Trotskyist coloration. Almost every issue was seized upon by the bitter anti-Trotskyists to attack the concepts and activities of that wing of the party. The general report of Marceau Pivert, although moderate in tone, still contained many veiled and not-so-veiled hostile allusions to the Trotskyists as well as some vague threats. It is clear that the right wing, unwilling to explain the real causes of the loss in membership, used the Trotskyist issue to turn the attention of the delegates away from the essential issues. A resolution was actually introduced which would have placed the PSOP on record as being against Trotskyism but the resolution never came up for a vote.
The general report of Pivert was adopted by a vote of 120 to 38 who voted for the motion of comrade Rous, the leading Fourth Internationalist. In his motion Rous pointed out that the report contained no real explanation for the drop in membership and contained nothing positive to offer the party at the present moment. It can be seen from an analysis of the votes on other important issues that many who voted for Pivert’s report did so not because they favored his policies but for sentimental reasons of attachment to their leadership.
Strange as it may seem to American Marxists, the most bitter and most extensive debate took place on the question of Freemasonry. Many of the leading figures in the PSOP are Masons who include in their membership almost all of the big bourgeois liberal politicians. The rank and file is hostile to Freemasonry but unwilling to make a splitting issue of the question. The motion of Guérin, prominent “native” left winger, declaring that membership in the Freemasons is incompatible with membership in the party actually received a plurality (76 votes) but two other motions holding the contrary received 62 and 50 votes respectively and the Guérin motion was therefore defeated.
Next to the question of Freemasonry the different resolutions on war aroused the most animated discussion. Originally the right wing introduced a resolution against revolutionary defeatism in so many words. The resolution introduced by Rous, Guérin and Weitz, another prominent “native” left winger, came out flatly for revolutionary defeatism. There was a third resolution which was, or rather claimed to be, for revolutionary defeatism in practise but against the use of the term. The Guérin-Weitz-Rous resolution obtained 69 votes against 120 for a combined resolution of the other two positions.
On the International question Pivert’s motion to adhere to the “International Marxist Center”, (the London Bureau reorganized) was carried by 121 against 41, with the proviso that the Marxist Center should invite the Fourth International to its conference in September. The motion of Weitz against joining the Marxist Center but for a new conference including the Fourth International was given critical support by the Trotskyists and received 41 votes.
As can be seen from the foregoing the bloc of the “native” left wingers, represented by Guérin and Weitz, and the Trotskyists who entered the PSOP, controlled approximately 30% of the delegates when it came to voting on the various important questions. When one takes into account that about 14 Trotskyist delegates were not seated because the PSOP leaders accepted the rule existing in the Socialist party that one has to be in the party three years before being permitted to be a delegate, it can be truthfully asserted that within the ranks there is a much greater left-wing sentiment than is shown by the votes at the congress.
With the liquidation of the Parti Ouvrière Internationaliste (the French party belonging to the Fourth International) and the entry of a new group of revolutionary Marxists into the PSOP there is great hope that a block of the various left-wing elements will succeed in turning the party on a revolutionary path and building it into an effective revolutionary instrument.
Last updated: 25.6.2005