Source: La Voix des Travailleurs de chez Renault, No 8, 3 June 1947
Transcription\HTML Markup: Ted Crawford and David Walters
Translation: Socialist Platform Ltd & Ted Crawford
This letter, sent to Editions Spartacus and published in its book devoted to Rudolf Rocker, concerns its previous volume, Les Enfants du Prophéte , published in January 1972. This latter is a useful little source and, when published, was even more valuable as there was not a great deal else which attempted to describe all the groups honestly—if critically. Contrary to the impression given by Barta it is amusing and somewhat ironical in tone about everyone, though perhaps rather kinder to Lutte Ouvriére. Surprisingly, the book seemed, in 1972, to be much disliked by LO as the author was an ex-member of theirs who wished to be, in the words of a then member of their central committee, ’un pére de famille’! If Roussel was incorrect on the events of 1947 it was almost certainly because he was repeating what he had been told when inside the organisation. (See Revolutionary History , Vol.2 No.1. pp. 1-29 for translations of the documents of both PCI and UC on the Renault strike in 1947.) David Korner (Barta) died in 1976. (See Revolutionary History Vol.3 No.1. p.19 for biographical details.) His widow, Louise, is still alive.
Paris August 1972
Dear Comrade Lefeuvre,
In the booklet Les Enfants du Prophéte, which you published, Jacques Roussel presents my action in a manner so far from reality that I must break the silence which I would have preferred to keep. Especially so as from Roussel’s pen there flows a version of the past which is that of the leaders of Lutte Ouvriére who claim to continue without Barta (while appropriating his deeds and writings) what Barta has, they say, taught them. I will keep to the essential in spite of numerous factual inaccuracies which, if they are to be corrected, call for a much longer reply.
Roussel writes: “What became of the Barta group during the same period (1945-50)? It published a journal Lutte de Classes. The handful of activists of which it was composed bound themselves to obscure and patient work in a number of factories in the Paris region, notably Renault and Citroen. .... They intended that their activities would demonstrate the correctness of their organisational ideas and that their practice would trigger off a new awareness among the revolutionary elements of the PCI. ” But “contrary to what the group had hoped, their demonstration (the Renault strike) had no effect on the PCI .”!
Thus in a period when we thought that the main danger was the coming to power of a strong Gaullist regime, (On the Pretext of a Constitution, De Gaulle Attempts a Coup d’etat” in Lutte de Classes of 11.6.1945) at a time when we hoped that the anti-colonial struggle would play a decisive role in the overthrow of world capitalism (“The Sun Shines From The East” in Lutte de Classes 24.10.1945) and when we were convinced that, without a socialist revolution, a third world war was inevitable after a more or less brief delay, our action had, as its only aim, to demonstrate to the other Trotskyist organisations how to do “Working class work”. Just pilot fish: it is really difficult to present things in a more naive way!
In reality if we found ourselves at the head of the Renault strike in April 1947 it was because the whole of our orientation (both trade union and political ) had led us there. In fact from October 1945 we had challenged the PCI. “The question is .. if the PCI ... has decided to put a general strike on the agenda (a political one against De Gaulle) for the defence of workers rights especially as this will be easier as, on the other hand, the economic situation puts this sort of struggle on the agenda ”. (Lutte de Classes 24.10.1945). But the PCI, even though it had a larger number of activists in the factories than us (and not confined to the Paris region), was incapable of leading strikes in opposition to the Stalinist leaders of the CGT. In the same way they had followed in the footsteps of the Socialist and Communist Parties in calling, like them, for participation in De Gaulle’s plebiscitary referendum and in the same way had completely capitulated to the CGT apparatus which, at that time was the main chain-gang overseer in the factories and bitterly opposed to all wage claims. (“Produce now, wage claims later” Thus saith Thorez.) And while we called on the workers to rise up against the CGT apparatus to defend their living standards the PCI was content to be an “internal opposition” with the aim of winning over the machine, or part of the machine, to take the workers’ side at a time when both the Socialist and Communist parties were in the government !
To properly understand how implausible the Roussel version (that is to say the Lutte Ouvriére one) is, it is enough to understand how we led the Renault strike. We thought it to be the start of a general strike . As soon as the strike spread to the whole factory (29th April) I drew up a leaflet (30th April) in the name of the strike committee calling on engineering workers everywhere to follow the example of Renault. With this perspective I put forward a new claim, the sliding scale of wages, at that time the bete-noire of the CGT and the government. So, for us, any extension of the strike would develop by deepening the demands.1 Thus, in the course of their own struggles, the workers would acquire a broader and broader consciousness, which in the case of a general strike would reach the political level, without which, we thought, they could do nothing decisive. But our efforts at Citroen, where we no longer had activists, were blocked by the CGT and the Renault strike was temporarily isolated. Temporarily because, if the Stalinists were strong enough to prevent a general strike, in the months that followed these conflicts broke out anyway in decisive sectors, (notably the railways) thus proving the seriousness of our orientation.
I hope that this brief analysis will make those people reflect, for whom to act is to understand . In everything that we undertook we never looked at the navel of the organisations which claimed to be Trotskyist but only at the great national and international problems: we had to act at the level of history . And History made the Revolution not into a theme to arouse excitement at meetings and in rustic fàtes but into a question of life or death not only for Asia, Africa and Latin America but also for the whole of Europe including the west where the situation for the overwhelming majority of workers was miserable and hopeless.
Roussel (that is to say LO) gives an equally false version when he writes that the conduct of the strike was a “veritable masterpiece of organisation”. In reality, after a fortnight’s strike, we committed, I committed, the grave error of agreeing to a second vote demanded by the CGT when in the previous week the workers had voted by a strong majority to continue the struggle until they got their main demand: 10 francs an hour for everyone. Naturally this second vote gave a majority to end the strike. And these were the workers in departments 16 and 18, who, not at our call but spontaneously , refused to go back to work and thus gained the great success which was payment for time lost during the strike.
On the other hand the exploit of the SDR, about which Roussel has nothing to say, was indeed led by the hand of a master. For three years the SDR was the decisive factor in the factory: faced with the totalitarianism of the CGT leaders we imposed freedom of expression, we forced the management and work inspectors to legally recognise the SDR, we prevented the CGT from calling a strike simply to enhance its prestige and—to crown all—we forced the Stalinists to an unprecedented unity of action: a joint meeting where on the same platform, each organisation freely expressed its point of view on the strike then going on. And this was on the 24th November 1949 at the height of Stalinism!
And the SDR did not succumb2—as, following the legend spread by LO, Roussel innocently writes—because it was too much for our forces, because we got discouraged: it disappeared after a split provoked by Pierre Bois. In an extremely complicated political situation the disproportion was far too great between our tasks and the inexperience of our young activists. Our politics from 1945 to 1950 needed much more than the courage and devotion of which Pierre Bois and other members of the organisation gave proof before and during the strike. Such politics needed a broader view on a national and international scale while their experience did not go beyond the factory. It must be noted (for that clarifies the situation better than anything) that our trade union work had not been developed by the members of the organisation who worked in the factory but was created and directed by Barta, an intellectual of petty-bourgeois origin! Furthermore none of the activists working in the factory were of working class origin—least of all Pierre Bois.
And when on top of all this, the needs of the struggle made me sign articles as Pierre Bois, a name which became the symbol of the organisation (ordinary workers always personalise things) and that the rapid change and flux of events forced me to take decisions which were not always understood (I could not confine our action to those things which Pierre Bois could, or could not, understand3) that meant that in the long run the situation became insufferable for him.
Of course the inadequacy of individuals does not prevent an organisation from developing and carrying out its historical role if these efforts find a favourable response among those to whom they are addressed. New people will replace those overtaken by events. But at no time during our enterprise had the workers shown the least wish to play the historical role for which we had cast them. There was a complete contrast between the considerable audience for our slogans in relation to wages and other demands and the indifference, if not hostility when it came to our anti-racist, anti-colonialist and internationalist politics. This was the real reason why, from the time of the strike to the disappearance of the organisation, our forces were neither strengthened or replaced: the proletarian tree rejected the revolutionary graft. And, in the end, this was what condemned us and not the attitude of this or that revolutionary .
And if since 1951 Barta has been totally isolated despite his repeated approaches in every direction, it is quite simply that the different Trotskyist and other organisations have never shown the least interest in the ideas and experience he embodied—Lutte Ouvrière no more than anyone else. Owners of revolutionary cure-all recipes, the leaders of these groups are acting outside history (and May 1968 quite confirmed this) following formulas and attitudes that, if valid thirty years ago, will still be so in the year 2,000: when the revolution dries up at its source, its shadow is only reflected in revolutionary shams.
BARTA, (A. MATHIEU)
Having played an important role in the French Trotskyist movement, today Barta is practically unknown. It is not then without interest to say who he was and what became of him.
Born in Roumania in 1914, David Korner [Barta, Albert or Mathieu] was a sympathiser of the Roumanian Communist party at the beginning of the thirties. He came to France in the autumn of 1933 and joined the Ligue Communiste Internationaliste (LCI). He spent his time between Paris and Bucharest where he helped create a Roumanian Bolshevik-Leninist group. Little is known of him save a report to the LCI in 1935 and two letters to Trotsky. At the end of the summer of 1936 he left Roumania with three comrades, one of whom was Louise (Iréne), to help the Spanish revolution. Prevented from leaving France he was active in the POI, the tendency which stayed faithful to Trotsky. At the beginning of 1939 he rejoined the PSOP and took part in the leadership of its Rous-Craipeau faction. He broke with The Committees for the 4th in September 1939. With Louise he edited three issues of a clandestine internationalist paper, L’Ouvrier , until January 1940.
In November 1940 he put out his pamphlet La Lutte contre la deuxiéme Guerre imperialiste mondiale (The Struggle Against The Second Imperialist War) the only genuine internationalist manifesto in France at that time. From 1942 to 1944 he published 34 issues of Luttes de Classes (Class Struggles) and built a little group which dismissed reunification because the PCI refused to analyses the causes of its nationalist deviations at the start of the war. In September 1944, a leading member of the group, Mathieu Bucholtz, was murdered by the Stalinists.
From 1944 to 1947 the work of systematic implantation in the working class became even more vital as, for the first time, there appeared a lasting break between working class consciousness and the Communist Party, whose government ministers and militants, in their enthusiasm for productivity, harried the working class. This activity led to the Renault stroke of April-May 1947, led for Union Communiste by the Pierre Bois, of whom Barta said “he was the soul of the strike”.4 This movement was the harvest of long and patient work: “In reality if we found ourselves at the head of the Renault strike in April 1947 it was because the whole of our orientation (both trade union and political ) had led us there.”5 So it was a success but also a setback in the sense that the general strike that they had hoped to unloose did not follow it. Or at any rate not immediately. The PCF succeeded in sealing them off and transforming it into the still-born general strike at the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1948.
Expelled from the CGT several hundred workers from Renault were involved in the SDR, (Syndicat Democratique Renault or Renault Democratic Union). This union, which had very few political militants outside the UC, took all their efforts and became practically their only organisation. But in addition to the climate of liberty which the strike and the creation of this union had forced on the union, the SDR enjoyed a certain number of successes such as the legal recognition of its representatives and, during the most triumphant Stalinism, political recognition by the CGT which, in 1949, had to accept the presence of open Trotskyists on a common platform.
Nevertheless in 1949 a split occurred and the organisation. which had never had more that two dozen members did not survive it. According to Barta’s analysis the working class vanguard was not able to create the necessary cadres.
1 Inversely when, after two weeks the Renault strike was reduced to departments 16 and 18, I limited its objective to payment for the time lost on strike.
2 The SDR was in fact the Union Communiste (Trotskyist). We had to give up all other activity, publications etc, to do the jobs that arose after the Renault strike. That is why the disappearance of the SDR meant the disappearance of the organisation.
3 In his recent pamphlet dealing with the Renault strike of 1947 P.Bois shows that he has no more undestanding of these events than he had at the time. He falsifies—and not only by omission!—the real history of that strike. And if nothing is more childish than to claim the ability to foretell the future, which you cannot do, nothing is more stupid that to try to make devoted and disinterested young activists believe that the tactical and strategic decisions of the highest level were taken by a young worker with no political experience even if he had been of a quite different calibre to Pierre Bois!
4 Barta, letter to B, 30th June 1975.
5 Barta, raising a point about L’Histoire du Mouvement trotskyiste en France by Jacques Roussel in August 1972.