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P. Naville

Barbusse-Stalin Congress

The Barbusse “Charter”

(September 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 39 (Whole No. 135), 24 September 1932, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Amsterdam Congress came to an end on August 29 with the vote for a scandalous manifesto which is to serve as the “charter” of action for those who adopted it. The fourth of September, that is, a week afterwards, this manifesto has not yet been published anywhere, (in the United States, it has not yet been published! – Ed.). Why?

L’Humanité (central organ of the French Communist Party) of September 4 speaks of the “putting into effect of the Congress decisions”. Which decisions? It is eight days since the reports of the Congress have been made, but the essential part of them – the “charter”, the manifesto, the “decisions” – has not been made public.

Can it be that the text, after the vote, is still being retouched?

However that may be, a text was submitted to the Congress (in four languages: French, German, English and Dutch). A few changes of detail were made in the text distributed through the Congress, changes known from the reading of the final text bv Barbusse.

On the vote the floor was refused to us in spite of our vehement insistence. It was accorded, however, to Mr. Patel, the former president of the Indian National Congress, who explained his objections at length even though he had voted, for the “charter”. The presidium refused to put our text, regularly proposed, to a vote. It even refused to take the negative, to ask who was opposed to the Barbusse manifesto. We had to intervene violently to record our vote Against.

In l’Humanité of September 1, Cachin, speaking of the manifesto, writes: “On this program of revolutionary action, so capital for us, no reservations were formulated by a single Congress delegate. Quite the contrary.” He lied deliberately. The delegates of the Left Opposition refused to make themselves accomplices in the criminal confusion of this manifesto, they refused to grant their confidence for the permanent struggle against war to a committee composed of Gandhists, Barbussists, Pacifists and Stalinists. The Official Bulletin of the Congress records our vote as follows: “The manifesto is adopted amid delirious enthusiasm of the Congress by more than 2,100 votes against 6 votes of the French Trotskyists.” And further: “In the same way, the list of the members for the Permanent Committee of the Congress against War was adopted by more than 2,000 votes against the 6 votes of the French Trotskyists.”

Let us now examine briefly this character on which the Centrists at least made no reservations.

The idea of class is totally absent from this manifesto. In our view, in the view of the Marxists, the question of war is a class question, and the role of the proletariat in war is determined by the class character of this war. We are against the imperialist war, for the civil war. We support certain national wars. Each case requires a specific analysis. In the manifesto, nothing of the sort is to be found. Its language is vulgarly democratic.

The Congress, it says there, “does not deny the existence of ideological and political nuances which may divide the elements composing it” ... Thus, between the Indian bourgeoisie, between the Western petty bourgeoisie and the revolutionary proletariat (all represented at the Congress), there are nothing but ... ideological nuances! After that, nothing stands in the way of unanimity for hollow generalities, devoid of any class sense.

Precisely, the whole of the manifesto is a laborious assembling of paragraphs carefully doctored to give satisfaction to everybody, and they bear the indelible mark of Centrism.

The Indelible Stamp of Centrism

One finds a very vague analysis of capitalist disorder and of the way in which it engenders war, which concludes as follows:

“The Congress proclaims that out of this whole state of affairs it is the human (?) masses who are and who will be its victims. By the effect of the crisis of over-production and the defective (!) distribution of production, derived by the action of an increasing unemployment, etc. ... the multitudes of labor are crushed, those who were cut down by the last war and who for the last fourteen years still bear the sorrows and wounds of it.”

Then the manifesto comes out against “the maintenance of artificial (sic) frontiers imposed by the peace treaties”, it asserts that “article 217 of the Treaty of Versailles incriminating Germany with the sole responsibility, constitutes a crying untruth (sic) which, exploited by a play of demagogic mysticism has in part provoked the Fascist reactions of Germany” ...

It is not possible for us to dwell upon each of these phrases. They contain a whole world of confusion. Let us mark out simply the passage that for the Congress the frontiers of Versailles are “artificial”. Are there, then, “natural” frontiers? According to the manifesto, there are; that is it sinks fully into petty bourgeois nationalism which simply reproaches the Versailles negotiators with having “badly cut up” the map of Europe!

Finally, the manifesto takes up its tactic of struggle against an imperialist war. Here is literally what it says on the subject: “Determined to stand up as much as it is humanly possible against this march to the abyss which involves all living beings, the Congress sees salvation only in the concerted action of the workers, the peasants and all the exploited and oppressed of the world.” And that is all. Immediately afterwards, is added: the Congress “declares that no other means of struggle against war is sufficient.”

What does this mean to say? We defy any sincere comrade, whoever he may be, to explain this paragraph. Is there in it the slightest serious explanation of the methods of struggle against war? Isn’t it a purely social democratic hollow phrase? “Concerted action”? – What action? Concerted among whom and whom? By means of which organizations and to what end? etc. ... All these questions must be answered!

After this, the manifesto adjures the “conscientious objectors” to renounce their tactics. It speaks of “noble dreams”, of “unfortunately useless sacrifice”, of “splendid moral attitude”, of “heroic methods”. Who can explain the meaning of this phrase:

“To the men of character and courage who preach heroic methods and by accepting for themselves the very grave consequences, it asks to be also (!) with the others (?) in order to build up, stone by stone, from the bottom, a massive and collective barrier”? ...

Finally, the last paragraphs must be quoted:

“The Congress turns towards the innumerable proletariat whose sovereignty depends only upon conscious organization (and not upon the overthrow of the bourgeoisie – a purely social democratic thesis).

“Strong with the mandate confided to it by a multitude of persons risen from all the horizons of the universe and different tendencies, but united in the sincere and ardent desire for peace: strong with the profound conviction that the struggle against war is not upright except to the extent that it is effective -and weighs down on affairs.

“It urges the mass, the only invincible power in the tragical disorder of our times, to enter with disciplined ranks into this disorder and make its voice heard there loudly!”

And right after that, is added:

“It is in this sense (but what sense? has any of it any sense?) that it intends to have the Committee of Struggle against War, which it has formed, work: to extend this labor front throughout the world.”

Here comes the grandiloquent oath that was taken in common, without the least reservation, by the Patels, the Fontenys, the Monnets and Bergerys, the General von Schoenaichs, the Muenzenbergs and the Cachins:

Cachin’s Pledge and ... Patel’s

“Each of us here takes a pledge and we take it all together:

“We pledge that we will never allow the formidable unity which has been established here among the exploited and victimized multitudes to be broken up.

“We pledge to fight with all our force and with all our resources against capitalism, purveyor to slaughter-houses.

“We pledge to dedicate ourselves with all our strength and all our resources to the immediate and urgent tasks, standing up against ...”

Here follow the general slogans:

Against armaments, against the preparation of war by the “public powers which rule us”, against chauvinism, against Fascism “which organizes the civil war”, against war budgets and loans to Fascist states, against the campaign of incitement against the U.S.S.R., against the dismemberment of China, against the exploitation and oppression of the masses of colonial peoples, for the struggle for national and social liberation, for the support of the Japanese workers, for the support of the transport and munitions workers, for the struggle by “all means” against the “impending cataclysm.”

This is the substance of the manifesto which was adopted unanimously save for 6 votes, amidst general confusion and without a SINGLE COMMUNIST SPEAKER HAVING EXPRESSED THE SLIGHTEST RESERVATION OR AMENDMENT ON THE SUBJECT:

And now, let us put these questions:

  1. Why hasn’t this manifesto, this “charter”, this “basis for action”, which is to “orient” the struggle of the party against war, been published to this day? What does this silence conceal? What alterations, after the fact, are being prepared for it?
  2. What organizations, what Communist meetings, gave a mandate to and authorized the Communist leaders to vote for such a text without reservations? How should the vote without reservations for the Barbusse platform be designated except as a swindle against the ranks of the party?
  3. This confused text was adopted by the licensed representatives of the big bourgeoisie, of the “social Fascist” LEADERS, of the petty bourgeois pacifists, etc., who find nothing in it different from the resolutions of their own parties. To vote jointly with them without reservations, doesn’t that mean to make an UNPRINCIPLED BLOC from above, in the dark of the moon?

In the whole manifesto, one single paragraph makes allusion to revolutionary methods of struggle. It is the following: the Congress “asserts that the Japanese workers have already showed by heroic examples how the struggle against the imperialist war should be conducted, by standing up against their own bourgeoisie, by endeavoring to oppose the production and transportation of munitions, and by opening the eyes of the soldiers themselves as to the rapacious character of this war.” Naturally, this paragraph was inserted to “satisfy” the Communists. But in spite of this, it sows confusion for it does not say that it is a question of utilizing the war to beat the bourgeoisie, to overthrow the capitalist regime, to substitute the proletarian dictatorship for the bourgeois dictatorship. As it stands, the paragraph may lead to the belief that it is simply a matter of a “pressure” upon the national bourgeoisie to bring the war to a halt. And it is just for that reason that Monnet and Planche, who vote for the war budget of Herriot-Boncour, also voted for this resolution in all tranquility!

Take the text of the recent resolutions of the Second International in Zurich. Do we not also find there the slogan of the defense of the U.S.S.R., of the sabotage of munitions transportation, etc.? ... Don’t we know that those are hollow phrases which only serve, in the last analysis to dupe the masses?

How could the Communist party rally to these hollow phrases without a word of reservation, of amendment, of criticism! At the inevitable moment when the Patels, the Fontenys, the Monnets, etc. will show that they stand in the long run for the interests of bourgeois democracy rather than those of the proletarian, revolutionary struggle against war, what will be the attitude of the Centrists who united with them on the same platform?

The bloc, without conditions or limitations, without clarity, serves only confusion, opportunism, that is, in the last analysis, the social democratic and treacherous petty bourgeois leadership.

Against that, the party must be warned, as well as the revolutionary vanguard who have been caught in the snare of ambiguity and confusion.

It must be asserted loudly; this manifesto, this “charter”, this platform, will be an obstacle to the struggle against war. The party, the trade unions, the various committees, will be unable to engage in a real struggle against war except by trampling upon this text, by rejecting the advice of the International Committee, by fighting fiercely to put through in every meeting a precise, limited program of action of the united front with all the workers’ organizations. There is no other way.

For where in this “charter” is there anything precise and serious about the methods of struggle, on the revolutionary struggle, on the tactic and strategy of the struggle against imperialism? Now-where. You find nothing but badly bloated literature!

The party leaders refuse the honest united front, that is, one based upon limited, precise proposals, made by the party with full independence, discussed by the party and responsibly adopted by it, addressed to the responsible reformist organizations which embrace hundreds of thousands of workers. Instead of this, they camouflage themselves behind pseudo-united front committees, in confusion, and they are led to make a bloc from above with the enemies of Communism! These are the facts which no insults, no quibbling, will conceal from the eyes of the vanguard. And the inevitable conclusion is this: for the moment, Centrism profits by this indefinite current started and exploited by it; but in the long run, it is opportunism, the social democracy, which will profit by it, in the hour when the proletarian Communist wing will be obliged to extricate itself from the morass of the Patels and the Monnets, and when the social democrats will exclaim: “There you see how insincere they were; they are now breaking up a bloc which they made without expressing any reservations, without outlining the limitations, without foreseeing the future!” And at that moment, the workers will feel the brutal effects of Centrist confusion. They will see that the Left Opposition was right.

Still another feature of the manifesto should be emphasized. The text reviews the international situation and the war danger spots, but NOTHING IS SAID ABOUT THE GERMAN SITUATION! You do find this enormity, that it is Article 217 of the Versailles Treaty which is responsible for the rise of German Fascism, but not a line can be read which denounces the Hitlerite Fascist reaction as the greatest war menace to the U.S.S.R. The whole manifesto is vague in this respect. In spite of the war which is tearing up the Far East, the decisive threat, the knife which is being wielded over the throat of the German, Russian and international proletariat, is the Fascism of Hitler, the crushing boot of bloody capitalism which is writhing in convulsions. The mute Stalin compels his international apparatus to remain silent about this fact. That is why the Congress directed by Münzenberg, one of the leaders of the German Communist Party, was able to adopt a manifesto which passes over in silence the critical hour through which the capitalist universe and the international proletariat are passing in the class struggle in Germany, a struggle which today entirely dominates the problem of peace and war.

Not a minute was granted the Opposition to say this. And yet, we do not want to see socialist deputies, who vote the war budgets of Boncour, who approve the tactic of treachery of Severing and Braun, applaud Münzenberg when he evokes the sacrifices of the proletarians of Germany – we want positions to be taken on this point, clear engagements, so that everyone knows where he is going and how he will get there.

Such a manifesto we rejected with indignation. We deposited with the presidium our own declaration, demanding that it be put to the vote. They refused. Yet it substituted for the pacifist-Centrist hotch-potch the clear thoughts of Marxism. It concretized the limited, definite program upon which a temporary united front (and not a permanent bloc) could be offered and pressed before the responsible reformist workers’ organizations.

Let every party comrade reflect upon it. Let those who greeted the speech of the social democrat, Nicole, with cries of “Unity”!, who acclaimed Rolland, Barbusse, Fonteny, Patel and Co. as their leaders in the struggle against war, ponder again: the facts will open their eyes. They must demand in the party the repudiation of this manifesto. They must force the apparatus to uncover its double game. They must demand an independent declaration of the party. Let them adopt the position of the Left Opposition, contained in our manifesto. Right now, the best elements will understand us. And tomorrow, it is the whole party that we will succeed in snatching out of the Centrist combinations which ruin the Marxian doctrine of the proletariat in the vital question of war and peace.

Paris, September 1932

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