Source: The Communist Review, December 1922, Vol. 3, No. 8.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
NO one studying French politics, even those following it in the closest detail, need trouble to read Le Populaire, the organ of the French reformists and social patriots. The paper offers neither facts nor ideas, and it is a true reflection of its Party. Its articles are written as a general rule by people who devote at least, nine-tenths of their attention to questions and affairs which have nothing in common with Socialism. Some of these gentlemen are associated with the socialist movement merely by old habits, others are merely disgruntled over blighted hopes in other spheres, and the third section is associated with it for purely careerist motives. There is not a hint in the paper of socialist thought which from a single standpoint analyses conditions, estimates contending forces and draws revolutionary deductions. It is written in a conventional style, representing a jumble of casually memorised passages from the old speeches of Jaures and Guesdes embellished by the petty culinary talent of a filthy political kitchen. On reading the latest number of the paper, it seems to us that we have read it several times before. Notwithstanding the fact that among the contributors to the paper are people, many of whom enjoy a reputation for cleverness in their own way, and who understand a thing or two, the paper as a whole bears as it were a polish of stupidity which, however, is quite expedient from the standpoint of the principles that Le Populaire advocates.
It is not necessary to read this paper, but to glance through it once in a while will do no harm, because in it we find in its purest form the germ which—alas!—is infecting quite a number of wellknown representatives and leaders of the French Communist Party. Thus, it is precisely in the pages of Le Populaire that you will learn best to appreciate the reason why all these gentlemen, lawyers, journalists and freemason careerists who at labour meetings masquerade as Socialists, attribute so much importance to “liberty of opinion” to “free criticism” and all other higher values indispensably required for the politicians who magnanimously consent to make use of the lever of the proletarian organisation, but absolutely refuse to submit their sublime individuality to its discipline.
Just now we would like to deal with what might be considered a classical artice written by M. Leon Blum, the actual leader of the dissidents—on the policy of the Russian Communists towards France and the French Communist Party. Basing himself on reports in the bourgeois press of M. Heriot’s visit to Russia, Leon Blum proceeds to draw conclusions and make generalisations which excellently reveal, not the policy of the Russian Communists, but the unprecedented confusion reigning in the heads not only of M. Blum, but the members of his party. Blum states that the Soviet Government offers France “everything or nearly everything”; not only the recognition of the pre-war debts, but even more—“an alliance: an economic, intellectual, moral and even, if necessary, political and diplomatic alliance.” Much as M. Blum considers peaceful relations between France and Russia desirable, he emphatically protests—in anticipation, i.e., very timely and sagaciously—against the restoration . . . of the old Franco-Russian alliance which would be directed against Germany. Nobody, of course, doubted for a moment that the Party of Renaudel, Boncour and Blum would be at its post as soon as the security of Germany was endangered by a new Franco-Russian alliance. Yesterday’s actions of this party are a sufficient guarantee of this!
But is it really proven—you may ask—that Soviet Russia is ready to help capitalist France to strangle Germany? But can there be any doubt about it?
“M. Heriot was cordially received as an honoured guest, while Verfeuil and his friends were expelled from the Communist Party, and the same fate awaits others. M. Poincaré and the French capitalists are offered all kinds of alliances, but the adherents of Tours are censured for not submitting to absolute discipline, and refusing to be absolutely orthodox. Concessions are to be given to capitalists while social-revolutionaries are kept in prison.” . . . These words fully embrace the philosophy not only of Blum, and of the expelled Verfeuil, but also of those of his bashful sympathisers who remain in the French Communist Party.
But, is it not a howling contradiction to cordially receive M. Heriot and unceremoniously expel Verfeuil from the party; to grant concessions to capitalists and at the same time to insist upon the carrying out of communist resolutions in their entirety? It is an obvious and monstrous contradiction! It is quite useless to tell Blum that the Council of People’s Commissaries and the Comintern are two different institutions; he knows that the leading Russian Communists are members of the one and the other, and, therefore, he exposes their duplicity: their extreme practical opportunism which goes hand in hand with an extreme theoretical irresponsibility.
Difficult as our position is, we shall still attempt to explain it. We shall endeavour to write as simply as possible, since the charges against us emanate from lawyers, journalists, deputies, freemasons, i.e., from a most hidebound, narrow-minded and politically stupid crowd. It is necessary, therefore, to begin with the plainest facts and nail the lies to the counter.
At the Reno Works two workers are employed side by side; one is a revolutionary, a Communist, the other is a catholic. But the Communist submits to the same rules of the factory routine as the catholic, executes the orders of the foreman and observes the regulations of the management. Is not the practical “opporturtism” of this worker in monstrous contradiction with his theoretical irreconcilability? Here is a theme to ponder over. We confess that to our mind there is no contradiction here, the worker voluntarily joined the Communist Party; he voluntarily undertook to submit to its discipline; he uses all the strength of his will power and consciousness to make his party the medium for the overthrow of capitalist slavery. But this slavery still exists; the Communist is compelled to sell his labour power in order not to die of starvation; he must submit to the rules laid down by his exploiters. The more hostile he is to this régime, the more irreconcilability does he demand of his party.
When Manuilsky bought some tobacco in one of M. Poincaré’s tobacco stores, he, a delegate of the Comintern, furnished a definite profit to the bourgeois republic and thus defrayed to some extent its expenditure on militarism. Is not this practical “concession” of Manuilsky in contradiction with his theoretical irreconcilability? Moreover, if the lady who owns the tobacco store were told that the gentleman who a moment ago so politely said “merci, Madame,” is no other than the Bolshevik Manuilsky, she would immediately write an editorial on the subject of: “Why this polite gentleman demanded the expulsion of Verfeuil from the Party.”
So far we have quoted individual examples. We shall now attempt with the utmost caution—bearing in mind the character of our opponents—to widen the scope of our analysis.
In order to issue l’Humanité the French Communist Party is forced to buy paper from a capitalist firm and thus facilitate capitalist accumulation. Is not this a monstrous contradiction to the avowed revolutionary aims of the party? We think not. If it were possible not to submit to the laws of capitalist relations—market, legislature, international and other—there would be no need for a proletarian revolution.
After these preliminary remarks, we shall pass directly to the contradictions which have aroused the sensitive socialist conscience of M. Blum. The Bolsheviks received M. Heriot as a guest. At the same time they voted for the expulsion of Verfeuil from the party. But M. Heriot was not admitted to the party, nor did he apply for membership. He came to Russia as an unofficial but authoritative representative of that section of the ruling class of France which is in favour of resuming normal trade and diplomatic relations with us. We did everything in our power to help M. Heriot gain a most accurate knowledge of the true position of the country. M. Heriot appeared to us as a possible bourgeois business agent. By way of analogy we might compare our negotiations with M. Heriot, a prominent political representative of the country which during five years opposed us with arms and blockaded us, to the negotiations carried on by locked-out workmen with the representatives of that section of the capitalists willing to discuss terms. Such negotiations between the workers and capitalist magnates are only an episode in the class struggle, just as any strike or lock-out is. But Verfeuil is in our ranks as a member of the party which should maintain unity and discipline under all conditions, either in civil war or, during the respite; during attack or retreat; during a strike, a lock-out, negotiations or compromise. Verfeuil in our ranks was in the position of a strike breaker. He weakened us from within during our struggle with the class enemy. Is there any contradiction in the workers, forced to effect a compromise with the capitalists, not hesitating to drive all strike breakers from their ranks? The Russian workers carry on negotiations with the capitalists not through the medium of the labour unions or the party, but through the Soviet Government. This is the result of the fact that five years ago the Russian workers seized political power.
Following the methods of M. Blum, we could say of him:—“Here is a Socialist who obeys the bell of the President of the Chamber, Paul Peret, pays taxes to the capitalist republic, submits to its laws, its courts and police, and at the same time refuses to obey the bell of the President of the Comintern, Zinoviev, pays no dues to the funds of the Communist International, and violates its rules.
But no! We would not lay the charge of inconsistency against M. Blum. He could not choose what parliament or republic he could belong to, but he chose his party, which is to his own heart.
Just as the Communist workmen at the Reno works cannot ignore the conditions of capitalist production, of the market and the sale of labour power, so the Russian Workers’ Republic cannot artificially isolate itself from the International conditions of capitalist production. The capitalist foremen at the Reno works and the bourgeois governments the world over still represent an important and indispotable fact. We are compelled to reckon with this fact, i.e., to enter into relations with the existing governments, conclude agreements with the capitalists, and buy and sell. Of the individual Communist working at the Reno works we should demand that in his dealings with the capitalists he shall not undermine the solidaity of the working class, shall not act as a strike breaker, but, on the contrary, that he combat all forms of strike-breaking. The same is required of the Soviet Government in its dealings with the bourgeois governments. In this respect we can offer no guarantees, other than those inherent in the nature of our party and of the Communist International of which it forms a part. In our opinion this is sufficient. As for the solemn declaration of Leon Blum, Renaudel and Boncourt, of their intention to uphold the interests of oppressed Germany against the aggression of a Franco-Russian alliance—we shall remain silent. This theme is worthy of the pen of Gassier. His arguments will be incomparably more convincing than ours.
Parallel with the hypothesis of the imperialist Franco-Soviet alliance, M. Blum constructs another hypothesis which is not less brilliant: that the Russian Soviet Government joining hands, through M. Heriot, with the left bloc in France, will on the next day exhort the French Communists to support the French radicals, and even to conclude an alliance with them. To our knowledge, this hypothesis, had some influence upon certain elements in the Communist Party. It was from this point of view that some French comrades attempted to judge the policy of the United Front. On this point, too, we will attempt to explain ourselves in the plainest possible manner.
We believe that the substitution of the national bloc, increasingly less capable of supporting the domination of the French bourgeoisie, by the left bloc will signify a step forward, provided that at the same time the party of the working class maintains an absolutely independent, critical, and irreconcilably revolutionary line of policy. The new epoch of reformist pacific illusions, after the illusions of the war and of victory, is inevitably arriving in France, and this should be the prologue of the proletarian revolution. The triumph of the revolution will be achieved by the party which is not in the least guilty of desseminating reformist-pacifist illusions; for the disappointment of the working class with the illusions of the left bloc will be converted, above all, into hatred and contempt for democratic-pacifist socialism. Only the Party which, while recognising the historically, relatively “progressive” character (in the sense outlined above) of the left bloc as compared with the nationalist bloc, carries an unremitting struggle against it and strives to array the proletariat as a class against all bourgeois parties—only such a party, no matter what temporary vacillations may occur in the workers’ ranks, will at the critical moment, gain a controlling influence upon the working class and consequently in the life of the country. We have no reason to doubt for a moment that when M. Heriot and his friends will be at the helm of State, M. Blum and his friends will be wholly at the disposal of the left bloc and at the decisive moment will, as formerly, support all international alliances of their bourgeoisie—of course, under the mask of reformist-pacifist phrases, deluding a certain section of the working class and partially even themselves.
The entrance of Renaudel, Boncourt and Blum into the Heriot ministry is a greater probability than a bloc of the radicals with the Communists. We admit that such a prospect does not frighten us. M. Blum in the capacity of “socialist” minister of bourgeois France would be incomparably more in his place than as a publicist defending socialist principles of international policy against Soviet Russia. At any rate, he would render a more valuable service to the cause of Socialism by showing what a minister should not be, as Tseretelly and Kerensky did in their time. All this will be possible on the condition that the Communist Party maintains its fighting spirit, and purges its ranks of the followers of Blum.
There have been radical ministers in France before now. Their disappearance from the scene and substitution by other bourgeois combinations, was caused by the fact that at the time the power of the bourgeois state was much stronger, whereas the proletariat had not yet organised a truly revolutionary party. Now, in the post-bellum France a left bloc should appear on the scene as the last political standard-bearer of a shattered régime. The policy of the International in regard to the French Communist Party is dictated by the desire that the left bloc, whose star is rising over France, shall be inscribed in the annals of history as the last Government of the French bourgeoisie.
Even after M. Blum’s accusations, we shall continue to politely receive every French bourgeois who approaches us, for establishing normal relations, and to arrange for the exportation of hog bristles—either now or after the triumph of the left bloc.
At the same time the Comintern will as heretofore expel from its ranks every renegade who attempts to preach Left Blocism to the French workers. Will the adherents of M. Blum fail to grasp the logic of this policy? All the more inexorable will the consequences be for them.
1. At the Tours Congress in 1920 the majority of the old French Socialist Party joined the III. International.
2. A French Communist Cartoonist.