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Pierre Naville

A Step Backward by French Syndicalism

(January 1930)

Throughout the World of Labor, The Militant, Vol. III No. 6, 8 February 1930, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Revolution Proletarienne [1] has just changed its label. Its first number of the year calls itself revolutionary syndicalist and no longer syndicalist-Communist. That makes for clarity. The editors of the R.P. consider moreover “that there can exist no more genuine proletarian revolutionaries, no more real Communists than the genuine revolutionary syndicalists”. The formula would have been correct enough had there been added: before the war. But today, the substitution of the revolutionary-syndicalist label for that of the syndicalist-Communist, implies a very plain retreat, acomplished progressively, and materializing only today.

In the first number, Loriot takes it upon himself to show us that it is not a question of an external formality but rather of a new content, of a final rupture with Communism, that is, with the revolutionary experience of the last fifteen years. The article of Loriot, entitled The Bankruptcy of the Communist International and the Independence of the Trade Union Movement adds nothing essential to the arguments expounded two years ago in his pamphlet on The Problems of the Proletarian Revolution. One finds developed there the same utopia of a single trade union gathering, one class party of the proletariat (of the type of English Laborism). One finds there the same absence of political perspectives (does Loriot trust to the wholly false analyses of Chambelland?) the same errors concerning the course of the Russian revolution and the same appeal to the “politically enlightened” elements of the proletariat opposed to the “social elements whom ignorance and misery bring to consider violence more as an end than a means”. In the meantime, there are in France many C.G.T. members to whom the newly organized minority of the C.G.T.U. has just been added, there is a Communist party and there is also the Communist Opposition. But Loriot does not dwell on these details. At any rate, he does not point out by what processes, thanks to what circumstances, there will issue from all this a single mass trade unionism supplanting all the parties in the accomplishment of the revolution.

However, Loriot has added something to his previous attitude: it is a criticism of the role of the Left Communist faction. He does not believe that “the present position of comrade Trotsky and the small groups of the Communist Opposition, which like him, are devoted to the task of regenerating the C.I., is correct.” He gives only empirical reasons: few Communists come to us, for five years no substantial Communist nucleus has been able to organize outside the C.I., no influence has been obtained over the party from the outside, etc. ... The healthy elements are leaving the party and will be replaced by others “only to the extent that the Opposition groups will entertain the idea of the possible regeneration of the C.I.” Finally, here is the peremptory conclusion:

“The French workers are not content with being liberated from the command of the bureaucrats, who do not think that the party which generates the Communist bureaucracy is capable of ridding itself of this institution, who see the salvation of the proletariat and its revolution in a class and not a sectarian trade union organization, controlling its internal political formations and independent of parties on the outside, will leave the Leninist Opposition to pursue the chimera of the resurrection of a dead past.”

We think quite the contrary, because for us “the resurrection of the dead past” is the resurrection impetus of the proletarian under the new capitalist crisis – and not the perspective or thirty or forty years of relative peace between the classes. The party or the trade union are not, for us, instruments of the working class created by the whim of a few individuals; they are the result of certain class relations in struggle. They arise in certain circumstances against which one cannot act, and live in the same manner. Like the trade unions, the Communist party corresponds to certain needs of the class struggle. In the present epoch, it corresponds to the necessity of accomplishing the proletarian revolution, of working immediately on the basis of the revolutionary post-war struggles in Russia, Germany, Austria and elsewhere.

We are entirely disinterested in the academic character of the discussion: which is the “better” proletarian organization to accomplish the revolution? We do not deny the importance and the role of the trade union. That would be foolish. We know that the reformist trade unions often play an important role in the orientation of the mass. But we also know that the reformist trade unions often play the role of a brake in revolutionary action. We want to base ourselves on the experience resulting from the development and the crisis of the Comunist parties, that is, from the development of the class struggle itself.

The “degeneration” of the parties plays pretty nearly the same role for the pure syndicalists as “petty bourgeois opportunism” for the leadership of the party and the C.G.T.U. It is a hollow phrase. The Left Opposition gives it a precise and concrete sense. It designates by that a false policy. It is not a formal decrepitude, due to old age or disillusions. It is perseverance in a false political line, whose consequences can be fatal, and have in fact been fatal, notably in England and in China. Those who have only disillusions cannot profit by experience; they call everything into question again and admit having deceived themselves in the past. Those who assimilate the objective and subjective reasons that determine this false political line work to reconstitute the nuclei around which will be gathered subsequently the correctly orientated party.

Loriot and the R.P. turn their backs to Communism. That is a fact. They justify those who expelled them. Monatte has written that Sellier was right to expel him from the party. Thus, they also have no interest at all in the fate of the C.I., and consequently of the Russian revolution. It will be said that they have in mind to justify (if not to legitimatize) the attacks of Monmousseau. At the same time, they abandon all political perspective, no matter how small. The speech of Chambelland at the last congress of the C.G.T.U. is lamentably weak in this respect. Louzon recommends the surrender of the Chinese Eastern Railway by Russia at the same time that he underlines the great success of Stalin in the collectivization of agriculture. Repelled by “Russian” Bolshevism, the R.P. retreats into a narrowly “French” attitude. It hardly seems to suspect the existence of millions of foreign-born workers in France and the unity of the international struggle, even with the scattered organizations.

Obviously, we fight on a different path. We do not speak of “regenerating” the C.I. as one re-infuses blood into an old organism. But we have no reason to abandon the general principles of the C.I. We want to make up for it in the revolutionary struggle which it is less and less capable of conducting properly, but which only an organization of its type can conduct. We do not prejudge its developments. It may be, and so far as France is concerned, it is probable, that the Communist organization as it exists today is incapable of recovery. But what is essential is to take a correct position under present circumstances.

The fact that the present cadres of official Communists are not susceptible to regeneration does not at all mean that we are not capable of development. Or development is not bound to the retrogression of the party or to its regeneration. It is bound to a correct revolutionary political line, different from that of the party. We do not address ourselves only to the healthy “nuclei” still existing in the party (they are few) but also and above all to the mass, that stands outside the party. Our activity is bound to that of the workers who are not satisfied by the policy of the party, but who remain Communists, inside or outside the party. Loriot and his friends bind their fate to those who cannot be satisfied by the policy of the party, but who abandon Communism. There is every reason to think that their position will become still plainer in this sense.

Paris, January 17, 1930



1. Organ of the Syndicalist League of France, whose leaders include Monatte, Chambelland, Loriot, Louzon, etc., etc.

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