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Joseph Redman

The Case of André Marty

(November 1957)

From Labour Review, Vol. 2 No. 6, November–December 1957, pp. 171–175.
Joseph Redman was a pseudonym of Brian Pearce.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘Demands to return home sounded ever more loudly in the armies of the interventionists and cases of refusal to fight against Soviet Russia grew more and more frequent. The French sailors in the Black Sea rose in revolt against intevention.’
Theses of the Soviet Communist Party on the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution.

’For thirty-one years we have watched with passionate sympathy the struggles of our comrades in the Soviet Union. And we have not merely watched – to the utmost extent of our ability we have, answering Lenin’s call, fought to ensure our people’s solidarity with the Soviet Union. The living evidence of this solidarity, our glory and our honour, is André Marty.’
Maurice Thorez, March 1949.

One year ago this November died André Marty, aged 70. The last four years of his life had been spent in isolation from the party he had helped to build and from which he had been expelled with ignominy, in circumstances that deserve now to be recalled and examined anew. Besides Rajk, Kostov, Slansky etc., there was Marty – an outstanding communist leader victimized, slandered, persecuted by his former comrades, not in a country under MVD control, but in capitalist France. While the action taken against Marty had much in common with the drive in the same period against ‘Titoists’ in eastern Europe and seems, indeed, to have been linked with it in some way that is still obscure, the circumstance of his being outside the physical control of the Stalinists enabled Marty to survive his expulsion long enough to write a book about it and to publish this book before his death.

Apart from some valuable short articles by Eric Heffer in Socialist Revolt and Tribune, little has been done to explain the Marty case to the British public. Developments since the death of Marty – notably the repercussions of the Hungarian and Polish revolts and of the political crisis in the Soviet leadership – have greatly increased the number of socialists in this country who appreciate the importance of studying the history of the international communist movement as a means of understanding some of the problems that face us to-day. The modest task of this article is to summarize what we can learn from l’affaire Marty. [1]

First, to recall who Marty was. The son of a Communard condemned to death, he was a leading participant in the mutiny of the French fleet in the Black Sea in 1919, and was built up over many years of communist propaganda as its ‘leader’. (An abridged edition of his book about the mutiny, Les Heures glorieuses de la Mer Noire, was published here by the Communist Party in 1941 as The Epic of the Black Sea.) He joined the French Communist Party on his discharge from prison in 1923. Marty had been a successful candidate in some fifty elections while still imprisoned, and soon became a member of the central committee and a Parliamentary deputy. Later he served on the executive committee of the Communist International. During the Spanish Civil War, Marty was chief political commissar of the International Brigades (Ernest Hemingway depicts him in this role in For Whom The Bell Tolls). He functioned as the French communists’ chief representative in negotiations with De Gaulle and the Allied High Command in North Africa towards the end of the second world war. After the war, though he was still prominent in public life, his importance as a communist leader seemed somewhat diminished, even after the party’s sharp turn to the Left, with the intensification of the ‘cold war’, had led to republication of his book in 1949 and occasional evocation of his example in connexion with the danger of war with the USSR. Then, in September 1952, Marty was suddenly attacked by the French communist headquarters as an enemy of the party and within a few months he was being given the full treatment, with accusations of having been a police agent since 1919, his wife forced to break with him, and life made so difficult that he had to retire to a village in the Pyrenees.

The astonishment with which the charges against Marty were received by all outside the circle of dedicated Stalinists can be understood if it be realized that this man had always been the arch-symbol of incorruptible Stalinist rectitude and a most ferocious enemy of all deviators. Marty was the French bourgeoisie’s bête noire among communist leaders – his was for them the ‘face of the party’ at its most militant and uncompromising. An official communist biography of him declared: ‘There is nobody whom the men of the Fifth Column have pursued with greater hatred and calumny.’ Trotsky, for whom political antagonism never served as an excuse for not giving credit where credit was due, wrote in his Letter to the French Workers on leaving France in 1935: ‘Only one [of the French communist leaders], André Marty, has shown in his time the qualities of a real revolutionary; his past deserves respect.’ That ‘the environment of the Comintern’ had ‘managed to demoralize him too’ was indeed a striking example of the evil power of Stalinism.

The indictment of Marty appeared in English in World News and Views of September 27, October 18 and December 20, 1952. He was accused of having opposed party policy in a ‘Leftist’, ‘sectarian’ spirit, especially of having reproached the party for not taking power in 1944, and at the same time of criticizing the Paris demonstration against General Ridgway on May 28, 1952, as an adventure. He had belittled the role of Maurice Thorez. He had been in contact with persons connected with the police, such as his brother (a doctor who carried out autopsies for the French equivalent of the Home Office). And not only that: in a declaration to the political bureau he had spoken ‘not of the “Trotskyist gang” or “group of Trotskyist police agents” – which is the language we ordinarily and naturally use in relation to these people – but referring to the “Trotsykist International” and even to “a party (Trotskyist) said to be an opposition party to our French Communist Party”.’ Articles by Leon Mauvais in For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy! in January and February 1953, after Marty had been expelled, associated his criticisms of the French Communist Party leadership with those lodged by Tito and announced that André Marty had been in the service of the police since 1919 ...

In his reply to the charges brought against him, Marty points out that the ultimate source for the accusation about ‘selling out’ to the police in 1919 was an article by the royalist Maurras in his Action Française in 1922, and that certain anonymous anti-communist articles in Figaro which he was said to have written were admitted in 1954, during the investigation of the leakage of information in connexion with the war in Indo-China, to have been written by a journalist named Baranès. He examines all the other allegations of this order and has little difficulty in showing their lack of foundation. The bulk of the book is devoted, however, to the politics of the affair, and in the first place to his alleged views about what ought to have been done in 1944 and the immediately following years.

Marty denies that he ever advocated a seizure of power by the Communist Party in this period. What he did fight for in the top councils of the Party, he explains, was unrelenting development of mass action by the workers against the capitalists, to enforce application of the anti-capitalist demands of the Resistance movement. He gives a number of interesting details and quotations to show how the French Communist Party faded out the more ‘awkward’ demands of the Resistance (notably that for the confiscation of the property of traitors) in order not to rock the boat of collaboration with De Gaulle and the British and American imperialists. Initiatives from below that threatened to disturb this combination were studiously damped down – e.g.. the militant demands of the Congress of the Liberation Committees of Southern France, held at Avignon in October 1944, were ignored and so far as possible concealed by the party leadership. In Marty’s view, had the line of this Congress been taken up by the party nationally, a movement could rapidly have developed that could have produced a socialist-communist government in France without any insurrection being necessary. Instead, the party tolerated the most outrageous acts by De Gaulle, designed to break the wave of revolution and ensure that post-war France should be as little unlike pre-war as possible. Partisan units were sent westward to besiege the pockets of Nazi resistance along the Atlantic coasts, so as to separate them from the regular army and keep the latter free of their ‘contagion’ the arrest was ordered of Colonel Fabien, the famous communist partisan leader, when he defied these instructions and attached his brigade to the American forces moving eastward. In November 1944, without any explanation, the party’s demand for an armed local ‘Patriotic Guard’. to be controlled by the Liberation Committees, was suddenly dropped, and on December 2, the day after his return from Moscow, Thorez gave out the slogan: ‘One State, one police force, one army’, which was soon followed by the break-up of the partisan forces and the suppression of the Liberation Committees.

According to Marty’s account, he was fighting from the beginning of the Communist Party’s entry into the De Gaulle Government in April 1944 for clear recognition, in theory and practice, that formation of a ‘united front’ government must in no circumstances restrict the independent activity of the working class, that entry into the Government constituted only an auxiliary means of struggle and that it increased rather than decreased the party’s responsibility for developing popular mass action. He was not against the principle of communist participation in the French Government in 1944–47, but he did repeatedly criticize the way this participation was actually carried out and the practical conclusions drawn from it. The only measure of nationalization implemented in accordance with the Resistance programme was that of the aircraft industry. True, the coal-mines were nationalized, but with heavy compensation and without the by-products enterprises being touched, though that was where the big profits from coal were being made. These measures were misrepresented as being instalments of socialism, and France was said to be ‘on the road to socialism’. Strikes were discouraged as ‘embarrassing the communist Ministers’. A more-production campaign was launched which resulted in the profits of the largest concerns in France being in 1946 six times what they had been in 1945. When Marty protested in the central committee that the workers were being swindled and the Resistance martyrs betrayed, he was rebuked for his ‘anti-party’ attitude. The result of all this so far as the Communist Party’s political standing was concerned was that in the Paris regional elections of 1946, the party did worse than in 1936, and in 1947 the capitalists were able to get rid of the communist Ministers with no trouble at all.

In his review of this period, Marty does not omit to point out that people who talk so freely as Thorez and Co. do about other people’s police connexions ought to explain why, during the rising in Paris in August 1944, no attempt was made to seize the secret archives of the police, or why, when the communists were participating in the Government, they never put forward any demand to have revealed the names of the agents sent into the party by previous governments ...

On the years between 1947 and 1952, Marty admits that he did argue in the political bureau against the excessive sub-division of party branches in Paris which was carried out in 1946, because this broke up the arrondissements which were real social and political units (a question which will remind some British readers of disputes in the British Communist Party regarding the fate of ‘borough’ organizations). This tended, he thought, to atomize the party membership. He had also criticized the undue concentration of party leaders and functionaries in Paris, and called for as many as possible to be sent into the provinces. It was true that he had not concealed his dislike of the ‘cult’ of Thorez and related phenomena. He did not think it was right that Party education should be based on Thorez’s autobiography, Son of the People. The actual circumstances of the party’s origin in the fight against French imperialism during the first world war were played down, as were the campaigns waged by the party in the period before Thorez emerged to his present prominence, such as the anti-chauvinist campaign in connexion with the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 and the campaign against the war in Morocco in 1925-26. The building up of Thorez contradicted the basic communist idea that ‘no saviours from on high deliver’ and tended to transform the party into a mere ‘executive mechanism’ for carrying out the instructions of Thorez. The presentation of all sorts of gifts to Thorez and the appointment of his wife, Jeannette Vermeersch, to various high positions just because of her relationship to him, were examples of an unhealthy trend. Marty records that he was rebuked in 1950 for having mentioned Thorez’s name only three times during a speech on the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of the party. He had on a previous occasion been ticked off for criticizing expenditure incurred for the annual banquet for communist deputies and their wives, instituted in 1936; when he said that the money so spent was needed for leaflets, Thorez had called him a demagogue.

Marty’s own explanation of his expulsion starts from the fact that the drive against him began at the same meeting of the central committee where the project was launched for a ‘United National Front’ embracing Right-wing political groups, on the single basis of opposition to German rearmament. Thorez, Duclos and the others foresaw difficulties with Marty, since he was known to hold the view that the French working class had ‘missed the bus’ in 1936 and 1944 and might well jib at a third phase of opportunist [man, could not but improve the party’s chances in &ndash: transposed lines (ETOL)] As recently as February he had criticized the weakness of the party’s anti-imperialist activity; and in any case a public repudiation of Marty, the bourgeoisie’s bogy-man, could not but improve the party’s chances in approaching Right-wing groups. Perhaps the most valuable parts of the book are those devoted to criticizing the ‘national front’ tendency in French communist policy.

Marty links together the opportunism shown in connexion with German rearmament and the opportunism shown in connexion with the war in Indo-China. After September 1952 amazingly little was done by the Communist Party to impede this war. Even the campaign for the release of Henri Martin was dropped. In the main, activity was reduced to a signatures campaign. In June 1953, 60,000 signatures were obtained ‘for peace’ in the department of which Marseilles is the centre – but ships continued to leave Marseilles for the Far East without even a call for action to stop them. Only the dockers in the Algerian ports did anything. Marty contrasts the half-heartedness of the struggle against the war in Indo-China with what had been done in 1925–26 against the war in Morocco – then, the crews of a dozen warships had been persuaded to refuse to sail for Morocco, and strike involving a million and a half workers had been called. The crisis caused by the fall of Dien Bien Phu presented the party with a wonderful opportunity to lead a movement against the whole gang of discredited bourgeois politicians, but it would not take this opportunity. Instead of actions being organized in the ports, a delegation of French dockers was sent to wait upon the statesmen assembled at Geneva. The absence of a real fight inside France matching the gallant struggle of the Vietnamese people enabled Mendès-France to bring off his extraordinary diplomatic triumph of the armistice of July 20, 1954. The Vietnamese people had been on the point of mastering the whole country and the French expeditionary force was utterly demoralized. Yet Mendès was allowed to win his political victory, retaining South Vietnam for imperialism, and set himself up as a great statesman; while the Communist Party held a mass meeting in the Vélodrome d’Hiver to proclaim that the armistice had resulted from the resistance put up by the French people under their leadership!

Particularly from September 1952 onward, the communist ‘campaign’ against the Indo-China war was focused on the achievement of a bloc with bourgeois politicians inside France which should lead to a coming together internationally of heads of States who would sign a Pact of Peace. Marty repeatedly criticizes this conception of the fight for peace as one which leads first to neglect of the independent struggle of the working class and the winning of a united front of the workers’ organizations, and then to direct discouragement of these activities. Only a movement rooted in the masses and advancing to revolutionary action could effectively check capitalist war-making. Perhaps the denigration of himself and the pulping of stocks of his book on the Black Sea mutiny were measures undertaken to remove a dangerous example of genuine anti-war struggle, offensive to the bourgeois allies being sought by the Communist Party leaders and therefore embarrassing to the latter? [2]

Regarding the campaign against German rearmament, Marty makes two main criticisms: first, the backing and building-up of totally unreliable bourgeois politicians because they agreed, or pretended to agree, with the Communist Party on this particular point: second, the restraining of the workers front any kind of struggle that could give offence to these politicians. The slogan of the United National Front, coupled with the expulsion of Marty, brought confusion and doubt into the ranks of the party, and the consequences were at once seen in the poor results of the Paris by-elections of December 1952. On July 14, 1953 the police opened fire on Algerian workers demonstrating in Paris, killing six and wounding 300. The communist leaders Mauvais, Servin and Feix, who were nearby, hastily left the area, and their example prevented the clash between French communist demonstrators and the police that would otherwise certainly have occurred. Twenty-five years earlier, Marty writes, a government that allowed its police to fire on the people on Bastille Day would have been swept from power. Now, however, there was only a formal protest in Parliament. ‘On the pretext of agreement or alleged agreement to oppose the ratification of the treaties of Bonn and Paris they are allowed to get away with it.’ When there were skirmishes in the Quartier Latin between socialist students and sellers of the quasi-fascist Rivarol, communist students declined to come to the aid of the socialists on the ground that Rivarol was ‘against German rearmament’!

That the passivity of the Communist Party was not to be blamed on ‘apathy’ on the workers’ part was vividly demonstrated by the great strike of railway and postal workers in August 1953. This sprang from below and spread all over France in forty-eight hours, four million workers being involved. The bourgeois papers wrote of it as the biggest threat since 1936. Solidarity actions were spontaneously organized by workers in other enterprises – but not where the Communist Party held decisive control, and conspicuously not at the great Renault works. L’Humanité suppressed news about the remarkable developments at Nantes, where the strike committee, composed of workers of all political views and trade union affiliations virtually took over the town, undertaking the supply of foodstuffs, maintenance of order, etc. Bold leadership by the communists could have led to the formation of a socialist-communist government, Marty considers. Instead, there was not even any attempt to get the Belgians and other neighbours to give financial aid or stop trains coming into France. All was sacrificed to the hope of a deal with the bourgeois parties that would stop German rearmament – a deal which, needless to say, failed to come off. Long afterwards, in l’Humanité of June 5, 1954, Duclos admitted that ‘the strikes of 1953 had been on the way to bringing down the Government’. On the whole episode and its implications, Marty writes that the party leaders’ attitude was: ‘Speak – merely speak – against German rearmament, and we will hold back strikes’, and he comments: ‘It is treason to lead the workers to suppose that they can without danger ally themselves, on the basis of a phrase, with their own implacable exploiters and the Ministers and politicians of these latter, even if named Mendes ... Because I have declared that, instead of chumming up with the worst enemies of the workers on the pretext of their claptrap against the European Defence Community. it is necessary first and foremost to undertake the defence of the working class. and that the prospect of revolution must always be kept before the eyes of the workers, I have been expelled. It is the entire direction to be taken by the French Labour movement that is being challenged in my humble person.’

Marty’s second criticism of the conduct of the campaign against German rearmament relates to the chauvinist line of the propaganda undertaken – a necessary consequence of the abandonment of the class basis and the striving to find a common language with the bourgeoisie. He instances the holding of a demonstration on November 11, 1953, at the foot of Clémenceau’s statue. It was Clemenceau, he recalls, who helped the German militarists to suppress the German workers in 1919. To link the campaign with the tradition of Clémenceau not only helps the German reactionaries by offending the German workers, it also helps the French reactionaries to strengthen their influence over the French workers. On this question of anti-German chauvinism, Marty mentions that as early as 1950 he had made a point of correcting in his speeches and writings a certain tendency that had appeared in Party propaganda to attribute all the atrocities in Indo-China to Germans in the Foreign Legion, silence being maintained about the contribution made by French troops!

So far we have seen Marty as a critic of the ‘Right-opportunist’ trend in French communist policy and practice. What of the charge that he opposed the demonstration of May 28, 1952? He claims that he did not oppose it, but that he did question certain features of it and, more particularly, he did disapprove of the frenzied tone adopted by l’Humanité immediately after it, with its call, out of the blue, for an ‘unlimited strike’ to secure the release of Duclos. His remarks of the party’s attempt in this entire period to manipulate the working class from above and outside, in accordance with the requirements of ‘high diplomacy’ – trying to throw them into action (unsuccessfully) in May-June 1952, trying to hold them back in August 1953 – link up with his general observations on French communist trade union policy. Trade unions, he declares, should not be subordinated to any party. Once they become stooge organizations of a particular party the workers grow suspicious of them. The workers found that they were being discouraged from fighting for economic demands common to all of them, on the grounds that this might interfere with the ‘fight for peace’, and then were suddenly called on to fight on political issues on which they were not all agreed. Marty only adumbrates a critique of the sophisticated combination of opportunism with sectarianism characteristic of the French communist leadership; it is instructive to compare what he writes with the views of another prominent expellee from the same party, Pierre Hervé, whose books La Revolution et les Fetiches and Lettre à Sartre (both published by La Table Ronde, 1956), though written from a markedly different standpoint, leave a remarkably similar impression of the atmosphere in the leading circles of the party.

Marty wrote his book as a loyal Stalinist, criticizing Thorez and Co. entirely from within the framework of Stalinist ideas e.g., he criticizes the line taken by the communist Ministers in 1944–47 on the basis of Dimitrov’s speech to the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern. He never seeks the ultimate source of the policies and changes of policy he condemns, and his remarks on the cult of Thorez’s personality are strictly confined to this specific case. Nor does he carry his critical analysis of communist policy in France back beyond the war years. Marty was no theoretician, and had been enclosed in the Stalinist milieu for nearly thirty years; he began his reassessment of his own part and that of his party on an empirical basis, forced to do it by his expulsion and the filthy slanders hurled at him. He had not got very far when he wrote this book. There is evidence, however, that during the last years of his life he took further steps along the road to revolutionary Marxism. The October 1956 events in Poland filled him with enthusiasm and he sent a letter of congratulation to Gomulka. In an interview with Eric Heffer he said that what happened in Spain in 1936-39 had been a political defeat for the working class, and that the leaders of the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) had been framed and murdered. To Heffer I also owe the information that Marty was reading Felix Morrow’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain towards the end of his life, as well as studying the works of Rosa Luxemburg and other non-Stalinist Marxist thinkers.

André Marty was an elderly man when circumstances compelled him to examine the foundations of his political position. That he made as much progress as he did in the political reassessment he had begun – in conditions of isolation, poverty and terrible emotional strain – must serve as an example to young communists, fit to rank beside the example he set in April 1919 when he persuaded the crew of the cruiser Waldeck-Rousseau, sent to bombard Odessa, to hoist the red flag of international socialism.

* * *


1. André Marty, L’Affaire Marty (Paris, Editions des Deux Rives, 1955).

2. Marty was removed from the presidency of the Association of Black Sea Veterans and his place taken by a certain Le Ramey, who had been acquitted by a court-martial in 1919 and held aloof from the left-wing movement until 1945, when he joined the Communist Party.

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