Once Again, Whither France?
(March 28, 1935)
Socialism and Armed Struggle
On February 6, 1935, the Fascist leagues prepared to demonstrate on the Place de la Concorde. And what did the United Front and, in particular, the Central Committee of the Communist Party do? It called the workers of Paris to demonstrate at the Place de la Concorde at the same time as the Fascists. Were the Fascists perhaps to be without arms? No. After a year’s time they were armed twofold. Did the Central Committee of the Communist Party propose adequately to arm the defence squads? Oh, no. The Central Committee is against “putschism” and “physical struggle”. How, then, is it possible to throw tens of thousands of workers without arms, without preparation, without defence, against Fascist gangs excellently drilled and armed who bear a bloody hatred towards the revolutionary proletariat?
Let no malicious people tell us that the Central Committee of the Communist Party did not want to place the workers under the guns of the Fascists; that its sole desire was to give Flandin a convenient pretext to prohibit the Fascist demonstration. For that is worse yet. The Central Committee of the Communist Party, it then appears, gambled with the heads of the workers, and the outcome of this gamble depended entirely upon Flandin, more exactly upon the chiefs of police from the school of Chiappe. And what would have been the outcome had the police prefecture decided to profit by the excellent occasion and teach the revolutionary workers a lesson through the medium of the Fascists, moreover making responsibility for the butchery fall upon the leaders of the United Front? It is not difficult to imagine the consequences! While no bloody massacre resulted this particular time, in the event of the continuation of the same policy, it will result inevitably and infallibly upon the next similar occasion.
The conduct of the Central Committee was the purest form of bureaucratic adventurism. Marxists have always taught that opportunism and adventurism are two sides of one and the same coin. February 6, 1935 has shown us with remarkable clarity how easily the coin may be reversed.
“We are against putschism, against insurrectionism!” Otto Bauer used to repeat year after year and spared no effort to rid himself of the Schutzbund (Workers’ Militia) which was left as a heritage by the 1918 revolution. The powerful Austrian Social Democracy retreated in a cowardly manner, it adapted itself to the bourgeoisie, it retreated again, issued foolish “petitions”, created a false appearance of struggle, placed its hopes upon its own Flandin (his name was Dollfuss), surrendered position after position, and when it saw itself at the bottom of abyss it began to shriek hysterically, “Workers, to the rescue!” The best militants, without any contact with the masses who were disoriented, overwhelmed and duped, threw themselves into the struggle and suffered an inevitable defeat. After which, Otto Bauer and Julius Deutsch declared: “We behaved like revolutionaries but the proletariat did not support us!”
The events in Spain unfolded after a similar pattern. The Social-Democratic leaders called the workers to an insurrection after they had surrendered to the bourgeoisie all the conquered revolutionary positions, and after they had exhausted the popular masses by their policy of retreat. The professional “anti-putschists” found themselves compelled to call for armed defence under such conditions as invested it to a large degree with the character of a “putsch”.
February 6, 1935 was a minor repetition in France of the events in Austria and Spain. During the course of several months the Stalinists lulled and demoralized the workers, they ridiculed the slogan for the militia and “rejected” the physical struggle. Then all of a sudden, without the slightest preparation they commanded the proletariat, “To the Place de la Concorde. Forward, march!” This time the good Langeron saved them. But if on the morrow, when the atmosphere will become hotter still, the Fascist thugs should assassinate scores of workers’ leaders or set fire to l’Humanité – who will declare that this is improbable? – the wise Central Committee will infallibly shriek out, “Workers, to arms!” And then, either when committed to a concentration camp, or while promenading along the streets of London, if they get that far, the same leaders will haughtily declare, “We called for the insurrection, but the workers did not support us!”
The secret of success, obviously, is not in the “physical struggle” itself but in correct policies. But we call correct that policy which meets the conditions of the time and place. By itself, the workers’ militia does not solve the problem. But the workers’ militia is an integrally necessary part of the policy which meets the conditions of the time and place. It would be absurd to shoot guns over a ballot box. But it would be still more absurd to defend oneself against Fascist gangs with a ballot.
The initial nuclei of the workers’ militia will inevitably be weak, isolated and inexperienced. Pedants and sceptics shake their heads with scorn. There will be found, cynics who will not be ashamed to poke fun at the idea of workers’ militia in a conversation with the journalists of the Comité des Forges. If they think thus to insure themselves against concentration camps they are fooling themselves. Imperialism has no use for the grovelling of this or that leader; it must annihilate the class.
When Guesde and Lafargue, as youths, began to agitate for Marxism they appeared in the eyes of sage philistines to be impotent, solitary, and naïve utopians. Nevertheless it was they who excavated the channel for that movement which carried along so many parliamentary routinists. Within the literary, trade-union and co-operative spheres, the first steps of the working-class movement were feeble, tottering, very uncertain. But despite its poverty, the proletariat, thanks to its numbers and its spirit of self-sacrifice, has created mighty organizations.
The armed organization of the proletariat, which at the present moment coincides almost entirely with the defence against Fascism, is a new branch of the class struggle. The first steps here too will be inexperienced and maladroit. We must expect mistakes. It is even impossible to escape completely from provocation. The selection of the cadres will be achieved little by little and this all the more surely, all the more solidly, as the militia is closer to the factories where the workers know one another well. But the initiative must necessarily come from above. The party can and must provide the initial cadres. The trade unions must also take to this same road – and they will inevitably take it. The cadres will become fused and strengthened all the more rapidly as they meet with an increasing sympathy and increasing support within the workers’ organizations, and afterwards within the masses of the toilers.
What are we to say about those gentlemen who, in the guise of sympathy and support, vilify and poke fun at or, worse yet, depict to the class enemy the detachments of working-class self-defence as detachments of “insurrection” and of “putsch”? See in particular the Combat (?) Marxiste (!). The witty and half-witted pedants, the theoretical lieutenants of Jouhaux, led by the Russian Mensheviks, ridicule maliciously the first steps of the workers’ militia. It is impossible to give these gentlemen any other name save that of direct enemies of the proletarian revolution.
* * *
But here the conservative routinists interject their final argument: “Do you really think that by means of squads of poorly-armed militia of the proletariat you can conquer power, that is to say, win a victory over the army with its modern technique (with its tanks; aeroplanes! poison gases!!)?” It is difficult to conceive of an argument more hollow and trite, which, moreover, has been a hundred times refuted by theory and by history. Nevertheless it is served up each time as the last word of “realistic” thought.
Even if we allow for a moment that the detachments of militia will tomorrow turn out to be inept in the struggle for power, they are none the less necessary today for the defence of the workers organizations. The leaders of the CGT reject, as every one knows, all struggle for power. This does not at all hinder the Fascists from annihilating the CGT. The trade unionists who do not take timely defence measures commit a crime against the trade unions, regardless of their political orientation.
Let us inspect more closely, however, the chief argument of the pacifists: “The armed detachments of workers are powerless against a contemporary army.” This “argument” is aimed, fundamentally, not against the militia but against the very idea of proletarian revolution. Should one allow for a moment that the army, equipped to its teeth, will under all conditions be found on the side of big capital, then one must renounce not only the workers’ militia but socialism in general. Then capitalism is eternal.
Fortunately, this is not so. The proletarian revolution presupposes the extreme aggravation of the class struggle in city and country and consequently also within the army. The revolution will not gain victory until it has won over to its side, or has at least neutralized, the basic nucleus of the army. This victory, however, cannot be improvised: it must be systematically prepared.
At this point the pacifist doctrinaire will interrupt us in order to express agreement (in words). “Obviously”, he will say, “it is necessary to win over the army by means of sustained propaganda. But that is what we are doing. The struggle against the high death rate in the barracks, against the two-year term, against war – the success of this struggle makes needless the arming of the workers.”
Is this true? No, it is fundamentally false. A peaceful, placid conquest of the army is even less possible than the peaceful winning of a parliamentary majority. Already the very moderate campaigns against the death rate in the barracks and against the two-year term are leading without any question to an understanding between the patriotic leagues and the reactionary officers, to a direct conspiracy on their part and also to a redoubled payment of the subsidies which finance capital gives to the Fascists. The more successful the anti-militarist agitation becomes, the more rapid will be the growth of the Fascist danger. Such is the actual, and not fanciful, dialectic of the struggle. The conclusion is that, in the very process of the propaganda and of the preparation, we must know how to defend ourselves arms in hand, and more and more vigorously.
During the revolution, inevitable oscillations will occur in the army, an internal struggle will take place. Even the most advanced sections will not go over openly and actively to the side of the proletariat unless they see with their own eyes that the workers want to fight and are able to win. The task of the Fascist detachments will be to prevent the rapprochement between the revolutionary proletariat and the army. The Fascists will strive to annihilate the workers’ insurrection at its outset in order to destroy among the best sections of the army any idea of the possibility of supporting the insurgents. At the same time the Fascists will come to the aid of reactionary detachments of the army to disarm the most revolutionary and the least “reliable” regiments.
What will be our task in this case?
It is impossible to tell in advance the concrete course of the revolution in any given country. But we can, on the basis of the entire experience of history, state with certainty that the insurrection in no case and in no country will assume the character of a mere duel between the workers’ militia and the army. The relationship of forces will be much more complex and immeasurably more favourable to the proletariat. The workers’ militia – not by its armaments but by its class consciousness and heroism – will be the vanguard of the revolution. Fascism will be the vanguard of the counter-revolution. The workers’ militia, with the support of the entire class, with the sympathy of all the toilers, will have to smash, disarm and terrorize the bandit gangs of reaction and thus open up the avenue to the workers for revolutionary fraternization with the army. The alliance of workers and soldiers will be victorious over the counter-revolutionary section. Thus victory will be assured.
The sceptics shrug their shoulders with scorn. But the sceptics have made the same gestures in the past on the eve of all victorious revolutions. The proletariat would do well to invite the sceptics to run away before things start. Time is too precious to explain music to the deaf, colours to the blind and the socialist revolution to sceptics.
The Proletariat, the Peasantry, the Army, the Women, the Youth
Jouhaux has borrowed the idea of the plan from de Man. Both of them have the very same goal in mind; to disguise the final collapse of reformism and to instil new hopes in the proletariat, in order to sidetrack it away from revolution.
Neither de Man nor Jouhaux are the inventors of their “plans”. They merely took fundamental demands from the Marxist program of the transition period – the nationalization of banks and key industries, threw overboard the class struggle, and in place of the revolutionary expropriation of the expropriators substituted the financial operation of purchasing.
The power must remain, as previously, in the hands of the “people”, that is to say, of the bourgeoisie. But the state purchases the most important branches of industry (we are not told which ones precisely) from their present proprietors, who become parasitic bond-holders for two or three generations: the pure and simple private-capitalist exploitation is replaced by an indirect exploitation through the medium of state capitalism.
Since Jouhaux understands very well that even this emasculated program of nationalization is absolutely unfeasible without a revolutionary struggle, he announces in advance that he is ready to change his “Plan” into the small change of parliamentary reforms after the manner of planned economy now in fashion. The ideal of Jouhaux would be to scale down the entire operation, by means of arrangements made behind the scenes, to the seating of the trade-union bureaucrats in the different economic and industrial boards without power and without authority but with suitable fees.
It is not without good cause that Jouhaux’s plan – his actual plan, which he hides behind the paper “Plan” – has received the support of the Neo-Socialists and even the approval of Herriot! However, the sober ideal of “independent” trade unionism cannot be materialized unless the working masses submit to bondage. But what if the capitalist decline continues? Then the plan, which was projected to sidetrack the workers away from “evil thoughts”, can become the banner of a revolutionary movement.
Obviously frightened by the Belgian example, Jouhaux made haste to retreat. The most important point on the agenda of the National Committee of the CGT in the middle of March – propaganda for the plan – was unexpectedly shuffled away. If this manoeuvre proved more or less successful, the blame for it falls entirely upon the leadership of the united front.
The leaders of the CGT projected their “Plan” in order to obtain the possibility for competing with the parties of the revolution. Thereby Jouhaux has demonstrated that, following in the wake of his bourgeois inspirers, he estimates the situation as revolutionary (in the wide sense of the word). But the revolutionary adversary has not appeared upon the arena. Jouhaux decided not to involve himself further on a course which is full of risks. He retreated and today he is biding his time.
In January the Central Committee of the Socialist Party proposed to the Communist Party a joint struggle for power under the slogan of the socialization of banks and heavy industry. Had there been revolutionists seated in the Central Committee of the Communist Party, they would have grabbed this proposal with both hands. By opening a large scale campaign for power they would have accelerated the revolutionary mobilization within the SFIO, and at the same time they would have compelled Jouhaux to carry on an agitation of his “Plan”. By following this course the CGT could have been forced to take its place in the United Front. The specific weight of the French proletariat would have increased greatly.
But within the Central Committee of the Communist Party preside not revolutionists but mandarins. “There is no revolutionary situation,” they responded, contemplating their navels. The reformists of the SFIO sighed with relief – the danger was over. Jouhaux made haste to withdraw, from the agenda, the question of propaganda for the plan. The proletariat remains in a great social crisis without any program. The Communist International has played a reactionary role once again.
* * *
The crisis of agriculture provides today the principal reservoir for the Bonapartist and Fascist tendencies. When misery seizes the peasant by the throat he is capable of turning the most unexpected somersaults. He views democracy with a growing distrust.
“The slogan of the defence of democratic liberties”, wrote Monmousseau (Cahiers du bolchevisme, September 1, 1934, page 1017), “perfectly suits the spirit of the peasantry.” This remarkable assertion demonstrates that Monmousseau understands as little concerning the peasant question as he does concerning the trade-union question. The peasants are beginning to turn their backs to the parties of the “left” precisely because the latter are incapable of proposing anything to them except frothy phrases about “the defence of democracy”.
No program of “immediate demands” can give any serious results to the village. The proletariat must speak the language of the revolution to the peasants: it will not find another language in common. The workers must draw up a program of revolutionary measures for the salvation of agriculture jointly with the peasants.
The peasants dread war above all. Should we, perhaps, together with Laval and Litvinov delude them with hopes in a League of Nations and in “disarmament"? The only way to escape war is by overthrowing one’s own bourgeoisie and by sounding the signal for the transformation of Europe into the United States of Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics. Outside of revolution, there is no safety from war.
The toiling peasants are overwhelmed by the usurious terms of credit. There is only one way to change these conditions: expropriate the banks, concentrate them in the hands of the workers’ state and, at the expense of the financial sharks, provide credit to small peasants and to peasant co-operatives in particular. Peasant control must be established over agricultural banks of credit.
The peasants are subjected to the exploitation of the fertilizer and grain trusts. There is no way out other than the nationalization of fertilizer trusts and the big flour mills, and of subordinating them completely to the interests of peasants and consumers.
The various strata of the peasantry (the tenant farmers and the sharecroppers) are crushed beneath the exploitation of the great landed proprietors. There is no method of struggle against landed usury other than the expropriation of the landed usurers by peasants’ committees under the control of the workers’ and peasants’ state.
None of these measures is realizable under the rule of the bourgeoisie. Meagre charity will not save the peasant, he has no use for palliatives. He needs bold revolutionary measures. The peasant will understand them, approve them and support them, if the worker makes him a serious proposal to struggle jointly for power.
We must not wait for the petty bourgeoisie to decide for itself but we must mould its opinions, strengthen its will – that is the task of the working-class party. It is solely in this that the union of workers and peasants can be achieved.
* * *
The mood of the majority of the army officers reflects the reactionary mood of the ruling classes of the country, but in a much more concentrated form. The mood of the mass of the soldiery reflects the mood of the workers and peasants, but in a much weaker form: the bourgeoisie knows much better how to maintain contact with the officers than the proletariat with the soldiers.
Fascism impresses the officers very much because its slogans are resolute and because it is prepared to settle difficult questions by means of pistols and machine guns. We have quite a few disjointed reports regarding the tie-up between the Fascist leagues and the army through the medium of reserve as well as active officers, yet we obtain knowledge only of a minute portion of what is going on in reality. Today the rule of re-enlisted men in the army is growing. In them the reaction will find quite a number of supplementary agents. The Fascist nucleus of the army, under the protection of the general staff, is marching ahead.
The young class-conscious workers in the barracks could put up a successful resistance to the demoralizing Fascist influence. But the great misfortune is that they are themselves politically disarmed: they have no program. The unemployed youth, the son of a small peasant, of a small trader or of a petty functionary, carry into the army the discontent of the social strata from which they come. What will the Communist in the barracks say to them – “the situation is not revolutionary"? The Fascists pillage the Marxist program, successfully transforming certain of its sections into an instrument of social demagogy. The “Communists” (?) as a matter of fact, disown their own program, substituting for it the rotten refuse of reformism. Can one conceive of a more fraudulent bankruptcy?
L’Humanité concentrates upon “the immediate demands” of the soldiers: that is necessary but that is only one one-hundredth of the program. Today more than ever before the army lives a political life. Every social crisis is necessarily a crisis in the army. The French soldier is waiting and seeking for clear answers. There is not and there cannot be a better answer to the questions of the social crisis and a better rejoinder to the demagogy of the Fascists than the program of Socialism. It is necessary to spread it boldly throughout the country, and it will penetrate through a thousand channels into the army!
* * *
The social crisis, with its train of calamities, weighs most heavily upon the toiling women. They are doubly oppressed: by the possessing class and by their own families.
There are to be found “socialists” who dread giving the women the right to vote in view of the influence which the Church has upon them. As if the fate of the people depended upon a lesser or greater number of municipalities of the “left” in 1935, and not upon the moral, social and political position of millions of workers and peasants during the next period!
Every revolutionary crisis is characterized by the awakening of the best qualities in the women of the toiling classes: their passion, their heroism, their devotion. The influence of the Church will be swept away not by the impotent rationalism of the “free thinkers”, not by the insipid bigotry of the Freemasons, but by the revolutionary struggle for the emancipation of humanity and, consequently, first of all, of the working woman.
The program of the socialist revolution must resound in our time as the tocsin for the women of the working class!
* * *
The most terrible condemnation of the leadership of the political and trade-union working-class organizations is the weakness of the youth organizations. In the sphere of philanthropy, amusements and sports, the bourgeoisie and the Church are incomparably stronger than we are. We cannot tear away the working-class youth from them except by means of the socialist program and revolutionary action.
The young generation of the proletariat needs a political leadership but not irksome guardians. The conservative bureaucratism stifles and repels the youth. Had the régime of the Young Communist League existed in 1848, we would not have had the Gavroche. The policies of passivity and adaptation reflect in a particularly disastrous fashion upon the cadres of the youth. The young bureaucrats grow old before their time: they master all sorts of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres, but they do not know the ABC of Marxism. They embrace “convictions” upon this or another occasion, depending upon the exigencies of the manoeuvre. Those among us who participated in the last congress of the Seine Alliance have seen plenty of this type.
It is necessary to pose the problem of the revolution in its full scope before the working-class youth. In addressing ourselves to the younger generation we must know how to appeal to its audacity and its courage without which nothing great has ever been achieved in history. The revolution will open the gates wide for the youth. The youth cannot fail to be for the revolution!
Why the Fourth International?
In its letter to the National Council of the Socialist Party, the Central Committee of the Communist Party proposed as the basis for unification “the program of the Communist International, which has led to the victory of socialism in the USSR, whereas the program of the Second International was unable to stand up to the tragic test of the war and resulted in the disastrous balance sheet of Germany and Austria”. Revolutionary Marxists announced in August 1914, that the Second International had failed. All subsequent events have only confirmed this estimate. But in showing the incontestable bankruptcy of the Social Democracy in Germany and Austria, the Stalinists forgot to reply to one question: what became of the German and Austrian sections of the Communist International? The German Communist Party fell before the test of history as ignominiously as the German Social Democracy. Why? The German workers wanted to struggle, and believed that “Moscow” would lead them to battle; they were moving steadily to the left. The German Communist Party was growing rapidly; in Berlin it was larger than the Social-Democratic Party. But before the hour of test came, it was ravaged from within. The stifling of the interior life of the party, the wish to give orders instead of to convince, the zigzag policies, the appointment of leaders from the top, the system of lies and deception for the masses – all this demoralized the party to its marrow. When danger approached, the party was found to be a corpse. It is impossible to erase this fact from history.
After the shameful capitulation of the Communist International in Germany, the Bolshevik-Leninists, without hesitating a moment, proclaimed: the Third International is dead! There is no need to recall the insults that were thrown at us by the Stalinists in all countries. L’Humanité, even after Hitler’s definitive victory, kept saying in issue after issue: “There has been no defeat in Germany”; “Only renegades will talk about defeat”; “The German Communist Party is growing by the hour”: “The party of Thälmann is getting ready for the seizure of power”. There is nothing surprising in the fact that this criminal bombast in the face of the greatest of historical catastrophes has still further demoralized the other sections of the Communist International. An organization which has lost the capacity of learning from its own defeats is irrevocably condemned.
Proof was not long in coming. The Saar plebiscite was, we might say, an experiment expressly designed to show how much confidence the German proletariat had left in the Second and Third Internationals. The results are known: facing the necessity of choosing between the triumphant violence of Hitler and the rotten impotence of the bankrupt working-class parties, the masses gave Hitler 90 per cent of their votes and (if we leave out the Jewish bourgeoisie, certain interested business men, the pacifists, etc.) probably no more than 7 per cent to the united front of the Second and Third Internationals. This is the combined balance sheet of reformism and Stalinism. Alas for those who have not understood this lesson!
The working masses voted for Hitler because they saw no other road. The parties which for decades had aroused and organized them in the name of socialism, deceived and betrayed them. That is the general conclusion that the workers came to. If the flag of the socialist revolution had been raised higher in France, the Saar proletariat would have turned its eyes to the West and would have put class solidarity above national solidarity. But, unfortunately, the crow of the French cock did not announce a revolutionary dawn to the people of the Saar. Under cover of the United Front in France, there reigned the same policy of feebleness, of indecision, of marking time, of lack of confidence, that lost the cause of the German proletariat. That is why the Saar plebiscite is not merely a test of the results of the German catastrophe, but a formidable warning for the French proletariat. Disaster awaits the parties which slide over the surface of events, lull themselves with words, hope in miracles and allow the mortal enemy to organize without hindrance, to arm, to occupy the advantageous positions and to choose the most favourable moment for launching the decisive blow!
This is the lesson of the Saar.
* * *
Many reformists and centrists (that is, those who hesitate between reformism and a revolutionary position) in turning to the left are now trying to move towards the Communist International: some of them, especially the workers, sincerely hope to find the reflection of the October revolution in Moscow’s program: others, especially bureaucrats, are merely trying to establish friendly ties with the powerful Soviet bureaucracy. Let us leave the careerists to their own fate. But we say to those socialists who sincerely hope to find a revolutionary force in the Communist International: you are cruelly deceived. You do not understand the history of the Communist International, which for the past ten years has been a history of errors, catastrophes, capitulations, and bureaucratic degeneration.
The present program of the Communist International was adopted at the Sixth Congress, in 1928, after the crushing of the Leninist wing. There is an abyss between the present program and that with which Bolshevism achieved victory in 1917. The program of Bolshevism started with the point of view that the fate of the October revolution is inseparable from the fate of the international revolution. The program of 1928, in spite of all its “internationalist” phrases, starts with the perspective of the independent building of socialism in the USSR. The program of Lenin declares: “Without revolution in the West and in the Orient, we are lost.” This program, by its very essence, precludes the possibility of sacrificing the interests of the world workers’ movement for the interests of the USSR. The program of the Communist International means in practice: the interests of the proletarian revolution in France can and ought to be sacrificed to the interests of the USSR (more strictly, to the interests of the diplomatic deals of the Soviet bureaucracy). The program of Lenin warns: Soviet bureaucratism is the worst enemy of socialism: bureaucratism, which reflects the pressure of bourgeois forces and tendencies, can lead to a revival of the bourgeoisie; the success of the struggle against the scourge of bureaucratism can be assured only by the victory of the European and the world proletariat. Contrary to this, the present program of the Communist International states: socialism can be built independently of the successes or defeats of the world proletarian movement, under the guidance of the infallible and all-powerful Soviet bureaucracy; anything directed against the infallibility of the bureaucracy is counter-revolutionary and should be exterminated.
In the present program of the Communist International there are, of course, plenty of expressions, formulas, phrases, etc., borrowed from the program of Lenin (the reactionary bureaucracy of Thermidor and the Consulate in France used Jacobin terminology in the same way) but at bottom the two programs are mutually exclusive. In practice, indeed, the Stalinist bureaucracy long ago replaced the program of the international proletarian revolution with a program of soviet national reforms. Disorienting and enfeebling the world proletariat by its policies, which are a mixture of opportunism and adventurism, the Communist International thereby likewise undermines the fundamental interests of the USSR. We are for the USSR but against the usurping bureaucracy and its blind instrument, the Communist International.
Manuilsky, yesterday head of the Communist International, was submerged without leaving a trace in the “third period” (in which, alas, he had only an insignificant position). Manuilsky was replaced, for no ostensible reason, by Béla Kun. It is necessary to say a few words about this new ruler of the Communist International. As Hungarian prisoner of war in Russia, Béla Kun, like many other prisoners, became a Communist, and on his return to Hungary, head of a small party. The prostration of the government of Count Karolyi before the Entente, ended in the peaceful transfer of power by consent to the workers’ parties without any revolution. The Communists of the party of Béla Kun hurried to unite with the Social Democrats. Inspirer of soviet Hungary, Béla Kun gave evidence of a complete bankruptcy, especially on the peasant question, which led rapidly to the collapse of the soviets. After his return as an émigré in the USSR, Béla Kun always had positions of minor importance, because he did not at all enjoy the political confidence of Lenin. One is aware of the very violent speech of Lenin at the Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, on the eve of the 3rd Congress: almost every sentence recalled the “follies of Béla Kun”. In my booklet on the leadership of the Communist International I have related how Lenin explained his violent attack on Béla Kun to me: “It is necessary to teach people not to have confidence in him”. Since this time, not only did Béla Kun learn nothing, but he even forgot what little he had assimilated in the school of Lenin. One can see to what extent this man was cut out for the role of the head of the Communist International, and in particular of the French proletariat.
We grant that the Communist Party even now is growing. This is not thanks to its policies, but in spite of them. Events push the workers to the left. The Communist Party, in spite of its present opportunist turn, represents in their eyes the “extreme left”. The numerical growth of the Communist Party carries with it no guarantee whatever for the future: the German Communist Party, as we said before, grew up to the moment of its capitulation, and even more rapidly.
In any case, the fact of the existence of two working-class parties, which makes a policy of united front in the face of common danger absolutely necessary, likewise suffices to explain the aspirations of the workers for organic unity. If there were a genuine revolutionary party in France we should be firm opponents of fusion with an opportunist party. Under the conditions of the sharpened social crisis, the revolutionary party, in a struggle against reformism, would unquestionably rally under its banner the overwhelming majority of the workers. The historical problem is not to unite mechanically all the organizations, which continue to exist as representatives of different stages of the class struggle, but to rally the proletariat in struggle and for struggle. There are two absolutely different and even contradictory problems.
But it is a fact that in France there is no revolutionary party. The ease with which the Communist Party – without the least internal discussion – went over from the theory and practice of “social fascism” to a bloc with the Radical Socialists and the repudiation of revolutionary tasks for the sake of “immediate demands”, demonstrates that the apparatus of the party is completely shot through with cynicism, and its membership disoriented and unaccustomed to thinking. It is a diseased party.
We have criticized the position of the SFIO openly enough not to need a repetition of what we have already said more than once. But it is nevertheless unquestionable that the revolutionary left wing of the SFIO little by little is becoming the laboratory in which the slogans and methods of proletarian struggle are forming. If this wing fortifies itself and becomes hardened, it can become the decisive factor in arousing the Communist workers. It is along this road alone that salvation is possible. On the other hand, the situation will be irrevocably lost if the revolutionary wing of the Socialist Party falls into the meshes of the apparatus of the Communist International, which smashes backbones and characters, destroys the power of thinking and teaches blind obedience; this system is frankly disastrous as a means of making revolutionists.
Some comrades will ask us, not without indignation, “Would you be against organic unity?”
No, we are not against unity. But we are against fetishism, superstition and blindness. Unity in itself solves nothing. The Austrian Social Democracy rallied almost the entire proletariat, but only to lead it to ruin. The Belgian Labour Party has the right to call itself the sole party of the proletariat, but that does not prevent it from going from capitulation to capitulation. Only people hopelessly naïve can hope that the Labour Party, which completely dominates the British proletariat, is capable of achieving victory. What decides the issue is not unity in itself but its actual political content.
If the SFIO should unite this very day with the Communist Party, that would not guarantee victory any more than the United Front guarantees it: only correct revolutionary policies can bring victory. But we are ready to grant that unification, under present conditions, would facilitate the regrouping and reorganization of the genuinely revolutionary elements now scattered throughout the two parties. It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that unification would be a step forward.
But unification – let us be clear about this point – would be a step backward, even a step towards the abyss, if in the new party the struggle against opportunism were directed in the channels of the Communist International. The Stalinist apparatus is capable of exploiting a victorious revolution, but it is organically incapable of assuring the victory of a new revolution. It is conservative to its marrow. Let us repeat once again: the Soviet bureaucracy has as much in common with the old Bolshevik Party as the bureaucracy of the Directory and of the Consulate had with Jacobinism.
The unification of the two parties would not lead us forward unless there is a break with illusions, blindness and outright deception. The left Socialists must have a heavy inoculation of Leninism in order not to fall victim of the disease of the Communist International. This, among other reasons, is precisely why we are following the evolution of the left groupings so attentively and so critically. Some feel offended by our attitude. But we believe that in revolutionary matters the rules of responsibility are incomparably more important than the rules of etiquette. Likewise, we accept criticism directed against us, from a revolutionary and not from a sentimental point of view.
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In a series of articles, Zyromsky has tried to indicate the fundamental principles of the future unified party. This is a much more serious matter than repeating general phrases about unity in the manner of Lebas. Unfortunately, Zyromsky, in his articles, has a reformist-centrist tendency whose direction is not towards Leninism but towards bureaucratic centrism (Stalinism). This comes out clearly, as we shall show, in the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
For some reason or other, Zyromsky, in a whole series of articles, repeats with especial insistence the idea (moreover pointing to Stalin as original source) that “the dictatorship of the proletariat can never be considered as an end in itself.” As if there were somewhere in the world insane theoreticians who thought that the dictatorship of the proletariat was an “end in itself”! But in these odd repetitions there lurks an idea: Zyromsky is making his excuses to the workers in advance for wanting a dictatorship. Unfortunately, it is difficult to establish the dictatorship if we begin by apologizing for it.
Much worse, however, is the following idea: “This dictatorship of the proletariat . must be relaxed and progressively transformed into workers’ democracy in proportion to the extent of the development of socialist construction.” In these few lines there are two profound errors in principle. The dictatorship of the proletariat is set up against workers’ democracy. However, the dictatorship of the proletariat by its very essence can and should be the supreme expression of workers’ democracy. In order to bring about a great social revolution, there must be for the proletariat a supreme manifestation of all its forces and all its capacities: the proletariat is organized democratically, precisely in order to put an end to its enemies. The dictatorship, according to Lenin, should “teach every cook to direct the state”. The heavy hand of dictatorship is directed against the class enemies: the foundation of the dictatorship is workers’ democracy.
According to Zyromsky, workers’ democracy will replace the dictatorship “in proportion to the extent of the development of socialist construction”. This is an absolutely false perspective. In proportion to the extent that bourgeois society is transformed into socialist society, the workers’ democracy will wither away together with the dictatorship, for the state itself will wither away. In a socialist society, there will be no place for “workers’ democracy”, first of all, because there will be no working class, and secondly because there will be no need for state repression. This is why the development of socialist society must mean not the transformation of the dictatorship into a democracy, but their common dissolution into the economic and cultural organization of the socialist society.
We should not have spent time on this error if it had a purely theoretic character. As a matter of fact there hides behind it a whole political scheme. Zyromsky tries to adapt the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat (which, according to his own admission, he has borrowed from Dan) to the present régime of the Soviet bureaucracy. Moreover, he deliberately shuts his eyes to the following question: why is it that, in spite of the enormous economic successes of the USSR, the proletarian dictatorship has developed not towards democracy but towards a monstrous bureaucratism which definitely is taking on the character of a personal régime? Why is it that, “in proportion to the extent of the development of socialist construction”, the party, the soviets and the unions are strangled? It is impossible to answer this question without a decisive criticism of Stalinism. But this is exactly what Zyromsky wishes to avoid at all costs.
However, the fact that an independent and uncontrolled bureaucracy has usurped the defence of the socialist conquests of the proletarian revolution testifies that we are confronted with a diseased and degenerating dictatorship which, if left to itself, will end not in “workers’ democracy”, but in the complete collapse of the soviet régime.
Only revolution in the West can save the October revolution from defeat. The theory of “socialism in one country” is false in every root and branch. The whole program of the Communist International is just as false. To adopt this program would be to throw the train of the revolution off the tracks. The first condition for the success of the French proletariat is the complete independence of its vanguard from the nationalist and conservative Soviet bureaucracy. Naturally, the Communist Party has a right to propose the program of the Communist International as the basis for unification: it could hardly offer any other. But revolutionary Marxists, who understand their responsibilities for the fate of the proletariat, must submit the program of Bukharin-Stalin to pitiless criticism. Unity is a magnificent thing, but not on a rotted foundation. The progressive task is to rally the Socialist and Communist workers on the foundation of the international program of Marx and Lenin. The interests of the world proletariat as well as the interests of the USSR (they are not different) demands the same struggle against Stalinism as against reformism.
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The two Internationals, not merely the Second but also the Third, are tainted to the marrow. The proofs of history do not deceive. Great events (China, England, Germany, Austria, Spain) have given their verdict. From this verdict confirmed in the Saar, no further appeal is possible. The preparation for a new international, resting on the tragic lessons of the last ten years, is on the order of the day. This mighty task is closely bound up with the whole progress of the proletarian class struggle, above all with the struggle against Fascism in France. To conquer the enemy, the vanguard of the proletariat must assimilate the methods of revolutionary Marxism, methods incompatible both with opportunism and with Stalinism. Will we succeed in fulfilling this task? Engels once wrote: “The French always take on new life at the approach of battle.” Let us hope that this time we shall fully justify the estimate of our great teacher. But the victory of the French proletariat is conceivable only if, from the fire of struggle, there emerges a truly revolutionary party which will become the keystone of the new international. This road will be the shortest, the most advantageous and the most favourable for the international revolution.
It would be stupid to say that success is assured. If victory is possible, defeat too, unfortunately, is not excluded. The present policies of the United Front, like those of the two trade-union organizations, do not facilitate but jeopardize victory. It is completely clear that in the event of the crushing of the French proletariat its two parties will definitely disappear from the scene, The necessity for a new international, on new foundations, would then become evident to every worker. But it is likewise completely clear in advance that, in the event of the triumph of Fascism in France, the building of the Fourth International would encounter a thousand obstacles and would proceed with extreme slowness; and that the centre of the entire revolutionary movement, from every indication, would be transferred to America.
Thus the two historical alternatives – victory or defeat for the French proletariat – lead equally, though with different rhythms, toward the road to the Fourth International. It is precisely this historical tendency that the Bolshevik-Leninists express. We are strangers to adventurism in any form. We are not talking about “proclaiming” in an artificial manner the existence of the Fourth International, but of preparing for it systematically. By the test of events, we must show and demonstrate to the advanced workers that the programs and methods of the two existing internationals are in insurmountable contradiction to the requirements of the proletarian revolution, and that the contradictions will not grow less but will, on the contrary, continually increase. From this analysis flows the only possible general line: we must, theoretically and practically, prepare for the Fourth International.
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In February there took place an international conference of several organizations belonging neither to the Second nor to the Third Internationals (two Dutch parties, the German SAP, the British ILP, etc.). Except for the Dutch, who have a revolutionary Marxist position, all the other participants represent different varieties – on the whole, conservative varieties – of centrism. J. Doriot, who attended the conference, wrote in his account of it: “At the time when the crisis of capitalism offers startling verification of the Marxist theses. The parties created in the name of Marxism, whether by the Second or by the Third Internationals, have all failed in their mission.” We will not linger over the fact that Doriot himself, in the course of a ten year struggle against the Left Opposition, helped to disintegrate the Communist International. In particular, we will not stop to recall the sad role played by Doriot in the matter of the Chinese revolution. Let us concern ourselves merely with the fact that in February 1935, Doriot understood and recognized the failure of the Second and Third Internationals. Does he conclude from this failure the necessity for preparing the new international? To suppose so would be failing entirely to understand centrism. Doriot writes on the question of the new international: “This Trotskyist idea was formally condemned by the conference.” Doriot lets himself be carried away when he talks about “formal condemnation”, but it is true that, against the two Dutch delegates, the conference rejected the idea of the Fourth International. In this case, what then is the real program of the conference? It is to have no program. In its daily work the participants in the conference put aside the international tasks of the proletarian revolution and think about them very little. But every year or so they hold a congress to soothe their hearts and to say: “The Second and Third Internationals have failed.” After having nodded their heads sadly, they break up. We had better call this “organization” a “Bureau for the annual celebration of a funeral service for the Second and Third Internationals”.
These venerable people believe themselves to be “realists”, “tacticians”, even “Marxists”. They do no more than to scatter around aphorisms: “We must not anticipate events “: “The masses do not yet understand “; etc. But why then do you anticipate events yourselves by declaring the bankruptcy of the two internationals: the “masses” have not yet understood it? And the masses who have understood it – without your help – they vote for Hitler in the Saar. You subordinate the preparation of the Fourth International to a “historical process”. But are you not yourselves part of this process? Marxists must always be at the head of the historical process. Just what part of the process do you represent?
“The masses do not yet understand”. But the masses are not homogeneous. New ideas are first assimilated by the advanced elements, and, through them, penetrate the masses. If you yourselves, lofty, wise men that you are, understand the inescapable necessity for the Fourth International, what right would you have to hide this conclusion from the masses? Worse still: after having recognized the failure of the existing internationals, Doriot “condemns” (!!!) the idea of the new international. What concrete perspective, then, does he give to the revolutionary vanguard? None! But this means to sow confusion, trouble and demoralization.
Such is the nature of centrism. We must understand its nature to its roots. Under the pressure of circumstances, centrism can go far in analysis, evaluation, criticism: in this realm, the leaders of the SAP, who led the conference about which we have been speaking, repeated, scrupulously, much of what the Bolshevik-Leninists said two, three or ten years ago. But the centrist stops short fearfully when faced with revolutionary conclusions. A family celebration of a funeral service for the Communist International? Why not? But preparation for the New International? No, indeed . Much better to “condemn” Trotskyism.
Doriot has no position. And he doesn’t want to have any. After his break with the bureaucracy of the Communist International, he might have played a progressive and weighty role. But up to now he has not even approached it. He casts off revolutionary tasks. He has chosen, for his teacher, the leaders of the SAP. Does he want to be enrolled permanently in the corporation of centrists? Let him understand that a centrist is a knife without a blade!
“Wait”, “Endure”, “Gain Time” – these are the slogans of the reformists, the pacifists, the trade unionists and the Stalinists. This policy thrives upon the idea that time works in our favour. Is this true? This is fundamentally false. If in a pre-revolutionary situation, we do not conduct a revolutionary policy, then time works against us.
Despite the hollow hymns sung in honour of the United Front, the relationship of forces has changed during the last year to the detriment of the proletariat. Why? Marceau Pivert has given a correct answer to this question in his article “All Things Wait”, (Populaire, March 18, 1935.) Directed behind the scenes by finance capital, all the forces and all the detachments of reaction are carrying out an unceasing policy of offence, capturing new positions, strengthening them, and marching forward (industry, agriculture, the schools, the press, the courts, the army). On the part of the proletariat there are only phrases heard about taking the offensive; as a matter of fact, there is not even a defence put up. The positions are not being strengthened, but being surrendered without a battle, or are being prepared for surrender.
The political relationship of forces is determined not solely by the objective factors (the role in the productive process, numerical strength, etc.) but by subjective factors: the consciousness of strength is the most important element of actual strength. While, from one day to the next, Fascism raises the self-confidence of the declassed petty bourgeoisie, the leading groups of the United Front weaken the will of the proletariat. Pacifists, disciples of Buddha and of Gandhi, but not of Marx and Lenin, exercise themselves in preaching against violence, against arming, against physical struggle. The Stalinists preach basically the very same thing, invoking solely the “non-revolutionary situation”. Between the Fascists and the pacifists of all shades, a division of labour has become established: the former strengthen the camp of reaction, the latter debilitate the camp of revolution. Such is the naked truth!
Does this mean that the situation is hopeless? . Not at all!
Two important factors militate against the reformists and the Stalinists. First: the fresh lessons of Germany, Austria and Spain are before the eyes of everybody; the working-class masses are alarmed, the reformists and the Stalinists are embarrassed. Secondly: the Marxists have succeeded in posing in time the problems of the revolution before the proletarian vanguard.
We, Bolshevik-Leninists, are far removed from the desire to exaggerate our numbers. But the power of our slogans flows from the fact that they reflect the logic of the development of the present pre-revolutionary situation. At each stage events confirm our analysis and our criticism. The left wing of the Socialist Party is growing. In the Communist Party, criticism is stifled, as hitherto. But the growth of the revolutionary wing in the SFIO will inevitably open a breach in the deadly, bureaucratic discipline of the Stalinists: the revolutionists of the two parties will extend their hands to one another in joint activities.
Our rule remains what it always was: to say what is. That is the greatest service that one can now perform for the revolutionary cause. The forces of the proletariat have not been expended. The petty bourgeoisie has not made its choice as yet. We have lost a good deal of time, but the last extensions of time have not yet been exhausted.
Victory is possible! Even more: Victory is certain – in so far as victory can be made certain in advance – provided only that: we have the will to victory. We must aspire to victory, we must surmount the obstacles, we must overwhelm the enemy, knock him down and put our knee on his chest.
Comrades, friends, brothers and sisters! The Bolshevik-Leninists summon you to struggle and to victory!