French Trotskyists under the Occupation
Source: Bulletin interne of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, 1944;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2012.
The party must clearly take into account the approach of decisive events and the rapid rise in the social temperature in France. Consequently, it must raise its activity to this level in order to be ready to intervene in events, not as a phonograph but as an active factor (however weak it might be) in their unfurling. It must henceforth work to render such an intervention possible. We must strengthen the party, establish it in a few important factories in each region, appear capable in them of seriously leading the workers, realize in them the worker’s front of all tendencies against the common capitalist enemy. At the same time, we must develop ties with those avoiding mandatory labor service and prepare common actions with the German soldiers. These tasks demand the systematic reinforcement of our rigor of organization and in the formation of our cadres.
Since the congress these directives have begun to be carried out. New regions have been constituted. Existing regions have developed ties with factories and construction sites. At the same time important work has been undertaken with the German comrades. None of this occurred without serious lacunae and harsh repression, made easier by our insufficiencies. The party cannot advance further and fulfill the tasks the situation imposes on it if it doesn’t attentively analyze its recent experience and draw lessons from it.
Whenever the congress’ directives have been followed we have obtained good results. Notably, it is insofar as the regions developed our watchword of the Worker’s Front (WF) and assured the policy of the WF that they have developed ties with the workers. On the other hand, at the last conference of the Bordeaux region the region’s reporter was able to give his political report without mentioning a single word concerning the struggles of the workers of the region. The region wasn’t lacking in ties with the workers, but it didn’t know how to put them to use. And three months after the national congress the policy of the WF appeared to them to be a revelation. As a result that region’s newspaper “Octobre” could just as well be published in Carpentras or Rio de Janeiro. The same thing can be said about the newspaper of the Parisian region, “La Lutte Ouvrière,” which is incapable of reflecting the real activity of the WF in the region, not to mention its political and editorial content.
Let us compare to these organs – which appear in the name of the party but gain it no sympathy – the Breton and Nantais organs, “Front Ouvrier.” They are tied to their region from the design of the title to their theoretical articles, not to mention their rich harvest of workplace articles. These papers are published in the name of the WF. But most importantly they are serious weapons, not only for the working class, but for the party. They are establishing themselves a thousand times better than the Bordelais and Parisian newspapers.
And yet, if they have perfectly utilized the watchword of the Worker’s Front the Bretons weren’t capable of organizing WF groups. More precisely, they allowed the few groups they formed to be dispersed. They weren’t able to hook up with the various regional currents capable of marching with them. In these conditions, while recognizing the watchword of the WF a majority of the Breton comrades during their last conference pronounced themselves in favor of the transformation of the newspaper “Front Ouvrier” into a party organ. It is obvious that doing so means considering the problem in a false light. It would be excellent if the party were to dispose of its own organ, tied to the factories, and also drawing lessons from every action in the factories, construction sites and the region. And the party’s militants will only be able to assume the near total editing of the newspaper of the worker’s front in a short while. All of this is true, but this constitutes only the formal and editorial side of things. What is important is seeing why our comrades, who are all in agreement concerning the popularity of the watchword of the WF have not succeeded in organizing, why they have not been able to attach to them the currents in the region capable of marching with them. It’s not so much a question of the headline of a newspaper. It’s above all a matter of the organization and leadership of the struggle. It is during the course of struggle that the unity of the workers is sealed, notably with communist workers. Carefully organized, such struggles would be a hundred times more important that discussing a headline or even publishing a newspaper. But this demands much more perseverance and consistency.
It is precisely the events that are occurring that allow us to play an important role in the direction of the struggles, because only our strategy for struggle corresponds to the workers’state of mind. The P.C.F. neglects struggles that are strictly for day to day demands. It strives to drag the workers into adventures lacking in perspective, like the strikes “for the anniversary of Valmy” of last September. It sometimes occurs, as in Clermont, that they carry out a “union sacrèe’ strike, in support of the arrested Michelin and regional Communist leaders, the former as a Gaullist (the interests of Michelin and Ford are one), the latter as a communist. The call for this strike followed was followed virtually nowhere. Our path is clearly laid out for us: work with the Communist workers to organize movements truly useful to the working class and on the class level.
Nevertheless, in certain cases the workers have laid down their tools: the temperature in the factory was such that we could have them lay down their tools without the order being given. But even in the best of cases this kind of strike cannot but be sterile. The comrades of SIGMA in Lyon have showed how to act. The responsible member there took the lead of the movement and turned it from the sterile nationalist level to the level of demands. The strike then took place in support of the demands already presented on May , and it ended in a partial victory. There can be no doubt that such an attitude considerably increased the prestige of the comrades. We must still solidify this success by on the one hand connecting this tactical attitude to our strategy and principles (“class against class!” “Worker’s Front!”), and also by organizing the best militants in Worker’s Front groups.
The very aspect of these struggles underlines the importance of the union movement for us. In fact, it is in those places where important unions exist, like Lyon, where the struggle can assume breadth and continuity.
On the contrary, it is in those places where the comrades do not have unions behind them that the WF groups are ephemeral, at the mercy of the least police accident, as is the case in Brittany. On this point the facts have confirmed what we wrote in “Le Front Ouvrier: Why? How?” Today the union struggle has taken on another aspect. A few months ago we communicated to the regions the greater part of the report the relations between the delegates of the Communist central committee with the Jouhautists. The CGT is reconstituting itself, now within the framework of the legal unions, now on the margins of these unions. It is very important that we be present in this union in order to prevent the unions from paralyzing the working class and that we, on the contrary, pressure them wherever possible to give a working class riposte and fight for soviets. The conditions of this reconstruction allow us to play a role in it if we work as militants of the workers; struggle without empty phraseology or sectarianism. And so we everywhere join up with militants of the PCF so that they work with us at applying the directives of their central committee, so that they reconstitute the legal unions with us, etc... An the same time we must second this legal apparatus with an illegal WF apparatus.
In this domain our comrades must demonstrate the greatest initiative. Whoever allows the possibility of reconstituting a local union as a union to escape commits an unpardonable error. (We're speaking of legal unions. But wherever the local unit is reconstituted by men from the shop floor or “at work” we must, if we can, reconstitute an underground union with the militants of the PCF and the Jouhautists).
Our action can take on various forms. Thus, in C. there exists the Mouvement Ouvrier Français. It’s a movement, not a union or a party and approximately mid-way between the Stalinists and the reformists. The PCF is offering unity with this movement and proposes that the Gaullist military groupings (probably at the very least its straw men) join in this union. Due to personality reasons the MOF refuses to commit itself to military groupings. Should our comrades remain passive? Not in the least. They should take the initiative of a united front with the PCF and pose the problem of objectives: unity of action without personal considerations and unity of action, not to militarily support the Allies, but in support of worker’s demands and for proletarian action now and in the case of debarkation. On these bases the MOF can become the regional center of organization of the Worker’s Front. This is the policy that our party must defend. It must make this known in the region by the publication of an open letter. It must persevere, orchestrate a propaganda movement, utilize every working class movement and the situation in each factory to illustrate its policy. At the same time, without any further delay, our comrades must take advantage of this campaign to organize WF groups with the comrades of the MOF. In this way the propaganda for the WF will cease to be theoretical and will pass into action.
The last congress stressed the importance to the revolution... or the counter-revolution of the movement of those refusing mandatory labor service. It’s no longer a question of a few hundred overexcited nationalists participating in isolated actions. It’s a question of thousands of men driven from civic life by the STO and who have joined the maquis in order not to be shipped out, in order to protect their freedom. We must support them with all our forces. It is essential that these young men be prevented from becoming a Hitler-type free corps. On the contrary, we must make them the embryo of the red army. To be sure, this task is well beyond our means, but we can realize it in a few camps which could serve as examples.
What is more, the camps should be a kind of military school for us. We are approaching civil war. We cannot play any role in it if we don’t at least have the embryo of a military apparatus. Every region must actively see to the development of a specialized military apparatus, even an embryonic one, even one limiting itself to the elementary tasks of developing cadres and protection. Here too the camps holding those refusing service can provide us with precious assistance. In the camps our comrades will be initiated in the usage of arms and street warfare. And it is above all the leaders of the WF that we can form as military cadres.
For the moment we have barely begun to execute the directives of the congress in this area. All possibilities, all realizations must be analyzed, centralized, and systematized.
The politicization of young people offers us a remarkable field for propaganda. We must integrate ourselves in this current of politicization of the young, turn it from the path of chauvinism and push it in the direction of internationalism and revolution. Taking into account our forces it is to the extent which we realize this task that we will lay the foundations for a veritable youth movement of the IVth. A central committee text summarized our tasks in this area.
The actions undertaken towards German soldiers, reinforced since the congress, have demonstrated that the soldiers very favorably receive our propaganda, that the Nazis see in it a mortal danger for them, and that consequently we can’t follow so dangerous a path without having taken all organizational guarantees. The violence of the Gestapo cannot turn us from this path. This very repression shows the danger this work presents to the Hitlerites. Himmler and Hitler have proclaimed the need to safeguard the morale of the German people, not to mention that of the army. The reception given our campaign of fraternization (in those places where we were struck by the Gestapo several dozen soldiers were organized and published their own literature) sufficiently demonstrates the importance this propaganda would have if it as the act not of a small minoritarian organization but rather that of an organization disposing of the resources of the PCF. Of course we don’t imagine that we will transform the state of mind of the entire army. But in setting this example we acquire inestimable support for the decisive moment. The dozens of soldiers won over to the IVth (more precisely, the dozens of internationalist IVth soldiers organized by us) can constitute the armature of the soldier’s councils in the region. Not only will they serve the revolution in Germany, but it is through them that we will here have weapons and arm the factories. If we could succeed in this, even at only one point, we will have done more to attract attention than we would by the publishing of millions of tracts. But the harsh experience of the recent repression (which struck several dozen party members, sympathizers, and former militants) reminds us that such action is not compatible with a relaxed attitude towards organization. German work and French work must be carefully separated. The comrades responsible for this work in a region or section must be cut off from any other activity, from any other connection with the party other than with the leader designated with the agreement of the central committee. It is impossible to prevent the interference of the Gestapo, and so we must take all possible precautions to limit the dangers: not give an address, carefully compartmentalize the German comrades won over into groups of three, the groups linked together by non-German comrades or by German comrades who we know for some time.
But in order to confront such difficult tasks it is the entire party’s structure that must be strengthened. The police are perfecting their methods. We should remember that it carried out its roundups in the southern zone two years ago only after seven months of tailing, during which our comrades allowed themselves to be followed and photographed with no difficulty. The Gestapo is not a novice either! We can only survive by ceaselessly perfecting our defense methods. Every other consideration must be subordinated to this one. Every militant must seriously think about the directives given, notably by the Central Committee in its circular concerning the repression. Everyone must closely examine his conscience and ask himself if he has truly taken every possible precaution and if this is also the case for the work he is responsible for. If this isn’t the case, even if it costs him time he must ensure the necessary security measures. Any militant who fails to inform his superior of irresponsible acts he is aware of is subject to sanctions. It goes without saying that these security measures demand more of each of our militants. Every region, every cell, every comrade must be capable of guiding himself. In order to do this we must politically strengthen our cadres and politicize the whole of our organization. The Parisian region is the one that suffers the most from this lack of political life, because most political dissidents have withdrawn from its organization. For this reason the central committee has decided to place at its disposal several of the militants reserved for essential tasks. But this is only a partial solution. The party’s policies must be discussed on the basis of our experiences, we must again publish the internal bulletin, organize schools, form our cadres.
Above all the party must understand that routine is not acceptable. Every militant must know that he has been mobilized. All must be placed at a disciplined and active point of combat. We must be up to our crushing and intoxicating responsibilities. Repression is violently striking us because we are at the breach, in the front ranks. Every one of our militants knew this and accepted his post with this knowledge. But many young people thought that we were inoffensive as far as Hitler was concerned because we don’t toss bombs in workshops and don’t set fire to hay ricks. Today they see that we are in the front ranks. They will join us in our combat.