At the time that Flandin succeeded Doumergue we posed before the vanguard of the proletariat the question: “Whither France?” The four and a half months which have since elapsed have changed nothing essentially and have weakened neither our analyses nor our prognoses.
The French people have arrived at the crossroads: one way leads to the socialist revolution; the other to Fascist catastrophe. The choice depends on the working class. At its head is the organized vanguard. Again we put the question: “Where will the proletarian vanguard lead France?”
In January, the CEC of the Socialist Party launched a program of struggle for power, the destruction of the mechanism of the bourgeois state, the setting up of the workers’ and peasants’ democracy, the expropriation of banks and heavy industry. However, up to the present, the party has not made the slightest attempt to bring this program before the masses. The Communist Party, in turn, has absolutely refused to come out for the struggle for power. The reason? “The situation is not revolutionary.”
The workers’ militia? The arming of the workers? Workers’ control? A plan of nationalization? Impossible. “The situation is not revolutionary.” What, then, can we do? Launch weighty petitions with the clergy, compete in empty eloquence with the Radical Socialists and wait? Wait how long? Until the situation becomes revolutionary of its own accord. The scholarly doctors of the Communist International have a thermometer which they place under the tongue of old lady History, and by this means they infallibly determine the revolutionary temperature. But they don’t show anyone their thermometer.
We submit: the diagnosis of the Comintern is entirely false. The situation is revolutionary, as revolutionary as it can be, granted the non-revolutionary policies of the working-class parties. More exactly, the situation is pre-revolutionary. In order to bring the situation to its full maturity, there must be an immediate, vigorous, unremitting mobilization of the masses, under the slogan of the conquest of power in the name of socialism. This is the only way through which the pre-revolutionary situation will be changed into a revolutionary situation. On the other hand, if we continue to mark time, the pre-revolutionary situation will inevitably be changed into one of counter-revolution, and will bring on the victory of Fascism.
At the present time, all that the pious mouthings of the phrase “non-revolutionary situation” can do is to crush the minds of the workers, paralyse their will and hand them over to the class enemy. Under the cover of such phrases, conservatism, indolence, stupidity and cowardice take possession of the leadership of the proletariat, and the ground is laid, as it was in Germany, for catastrophe.
In the pages which follow, we, the Bolshevik-Leninists, will submit the analyses and predictions of the Communist International to detailed, Marxist criticism. At times we will touch on the points of view of various Socialist leaders, to the extent that this is needed for our fundamental purpose: namely, to show the radical falsity of the policies of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party. To the shouts and insults of the Stalinists we oppose facts and arguments.
We shall not, of course, stop with a merely negative criticism. To the false points of view and false slogans we shall oppose the creative ideas and methods of Marx and Lenin.
We ask the reader to pay close attention. We are concerned here in the most immediate and literal sense with the lives of the French workers. No class conscious worker has the right to be passive in the face of these problems, upon the solution of which depends the fate of his class.
The first and most important premise of a revolutionary situation is the most intense sharpening of the contradictions between the productive forces and the property relations. The nation stops going forward. The arrest in the economic development and, even more, its regression signify that the capitalist system of production is definitely worn out and must give way to the socialist system.
The present crisis, which encompasses all countries and thrusts economy back decades, has definitely pushed the bourgeois system to absurdity. If, at the dawn of capitalism, ignorant and starving workers broke machines, today it is the capitalists themselves who destroy machines and factories. The further maintenance of the private ownership of the means of production threatens humanity with degeneration and barbarism.
The basis of society is economic. That basis is ripe for socialism in a double sense: modern technology has advanced to a point where it can assure a high standard of living to the nation and to all mankind; but the capitalist property system, which has outlived itself, dooms the masses to ever-increasing poverty and suffering.
The fundamental premise of socialism – that is, the economic premise – has already been present for some time. But capitalism will not disappear from the scene automatically. Only the working class can seize the forces of production from the stranglehold of the exploiters. History places this task squarely before us. If the proletariat is, for one reason or another, incapable of routing the bourgeoisie and of seizing power, if it is, for example, paralysed by its own parties and trade unions, the continued decay of economy and civilization will follow, calamities will pile up, despair and prostration will engulf the masses, and capitalism – decrepit, decayed, rotting – will strangle the people with increasing strength, and will thrust them into the abyss of a new war.
Other than the socialist revolution, there is no way out.
At first the presidium of the Comintern tried to explain that the crisis which started in 1929 was the last crisis of capitalism. Two years afterwards, Stalin declared that the present crisis, “truly understood”, was not yet the last. We also meet the same attempt at prophecy in the Socialist camp: “Is it the final crisis, or is it not?”
“It is imprudent to say”, wrote Blum in Populaire, February 23, “that the present crisis is the final spasm of capitalism, the last death throe before agony and decay.” Grumbach had the same point of view when he said at Mulhouse on February 26: “Some say this crisis is a passing phase, others see it as the final crisis of capitalism. We do not yet dare to take a definite position.”
In this manner of putting the question there are two cardinal errors: first, it confuses the cyclical crisis with the historical crisis of the whole capitalist system; second, it assumes that independently of the conscious activity of classes, a crisis can be by itself the “last” crisis.
Under the domination of industrial capital, in the era of free competition, the cyclical booms exceeded by far the crises: the first were the “rule”, the second the “exception”. Capitalism in its entirety was advancing. Since the war, with the domination of monopoly finance capital, the cyclical crises far exceed the upswings. We may say that the crises have become the “rule” and the booms the “exceptions”; economic development in its entirety has been going down and not up.
However, the cyclical oscillations are inevitable, and, with capitalism in decline, they will continue as long as capitalism exists. And capitalism will continue until the proletarian revolution is achieved. This is the only correct answer to the question: “Is this the final crisis of capitalism?”
The revolutionary worker must, before all else, understand that Marxism, the only scientific theory of the proletarian revolution, has nothing in common with the fatalistic hope for the “final” crisis. Marxism is, in its very essence, a set of directives for revolutionary action. Marxism does not overlook will and courage, but rather aids them to find the right road.
There is no crisis which can be, by itself, fatal to capitalism. The oscillations of the business cycle only create a situation in which it will be easier, or more difficult, for the proletariat to overthrow capitalism. The transition from a bourgeois society to a socialist society presupposes the activity of living men who are the makers of their own history. They do not make history by accident, or according to their caprice, but under the influence of objectively determined causes. However, their own actions – their initiative, audacity, devotion, and likewise their stupidity and cowardice – are necessary links in the chain of historical development.
The crises of capitalism are not numbered, nor is it indicated in advance which one of these will be the “last”. But our entire epoch and, above all, the present crisis imperiously command the proletariat: “Seize power!” If, however, the party of the working class, in spite of favourable conditions, reveals itself incapable of leading the proletariat to the seizure of power, the life of society will continue necessarily upon capitalist foundations – until a new crisis, a new war, perhaps until the complete disintegration of European civilization.
The imperialist war of 1914-18 was also a “crisis” in the career of capitalism, and, indeed, the most terrible of all possible crises. No book carried the prediction whether the war would be the last bloody folly of capitalism. The experience of Russia showed that the war might have been the end of capitalism. In Germany and Austria, the fate of bourgeois society in 1918 depended entirely upon the Social Democracy, but the Social Democracy revealed itself as the handmaiden of capitalism. In Italy and France, the proletariat might have seized power at the end of the war, but it did not have a revolutionary party at its head. In a word, if the Second International had not, at the time of the war, betrayed the cause of socialism to bourgeois patriotism, the whole history of Europe and of mankind might today be entirely different. Assuredly, the past is irrevocable. But one can, and one ought, to learn the lessons of the past.
The development of Fascism is, in itself, irrefutable witness to the fact that the working class has been tragically late in fulfilling the task imposed upon it a long time ago by the decline of capitalism.
The phrase “this is not yet the ‘last’ crisis” can have only one meaning: in spite of the lessons of the war and the convulsions of the post-war period, the working-class parties are not yet able to prepare either themselves or the proletariat for the seizure of power; still worse, the leaders of these parties do not yet understand the task confronting them – they reject it for themselves, their party and their class, and hand it over to “the process of historical development”. Their fatalism is a betrayal of the theory of Marxism, and a justification for a political betrayal of the proletariat, that is, the preparation for a new capitulation to a new “last” war.
The fatalism of the Social Democracy is a heritage of the pre-war period, when capitalism was advancing almost without interruption, when the number of workers was increasing, and when the number of party members, votes at elections and parliamentary representatives was growing. From this automatic rise was born little by little the reformist illusion that it was enough to continue along the old road (propaganda, elections, organization) and victory would come of itself.
The war, no doubt, interfered with this automatic development. But the war was an “exceptional” phenomenon. With the help of Geneva there would be no new war, everything would return to normal and the automatic development would be re-established.
In the light of this perspective, the words “This is not yet the ‘last’ crisis” meant: “In five years, in ten years or in 20 years, we will have more votes, more representatives, and then, let us hope, we shall take power.” (See the articles and lectures of Paul Faure.) This optimistic fatalism, which seemed convincing for a quarter of a century, today resounds like a voice from the grave. It is a radically false idea that in going towards the future crisis the proletariat will inevitably become more powerful than at present. With the further inevitable decay of capitalism, the proletariat will not grow and reinforce itself but will decompose, constantly increasing the army of the unemployed and slum proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie, meanwhile, will be declassed and sink into despair. Loss of time holds out the perspective of Fascism, and not of proletarian revolution.
It is worth remarking that the Comintern, bureaucratized to the marrow, has replaced the theory of revolutionary action with a religion of fatalism. It is impossible to fight because there is no “revolutionary situation”. But a revolutionary situation does not fall from the sky. It comes about in the class struggle. The party of the working class is the most important political factor in the development of a revolutionary situation. If this party turns its back on its revolutionary task, lulling the workers to sleep and deceiving them into playing with petitions and fraternizing with Radical Socialists, the situation that comes about will be not revolutionary, but counter-revolutionary.
The decline of capitalism, together with the extraordinary high level of the productive forces, is the economic premise of the socialist revolution. On this foundation the class struggle takes place. A revolutionary situation develops and matures in the living struggle of the classes.
How does the big bourgeoisie, master of modern society, size up the present situation? And what is it doing? The 6th of February, 1934, was unexpected only by the organizations of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. The leading bodies of finance capital prepared the plot over a long period of time, intending, by violence, to substitute Bonapartism (“personal” rule) for parliamentarianism. That is to say, the banks, the trusts, the general staff, the capitalist press believed the danger of revolution to be so close, so immediate, they hastened to prepare for it by a “little” coup d’état.
Two important conclusions follow from this fact: 1) the capitalists, at the beginning of 1934, believed the situation to be revolutionary; 2) they were not content to await passively the development of events, to resort to “legalistic” defence at the last minute, but they took the initiative themselves by sending their gangs into the streets. The big bourgeoisie taught the workers an inestimable lesson in the strategy of class warfare.
L’Humanité maintains that the “United Front” drove Doumergue out of office. But that is hollow bombast, to say the least. On the contrary, if finance capital believed it possible and feasible to replace Doumergue by Flandin, it is precisely because the United Front, as experience proved to the bourgeoisie, does not yet represent an immediate revolutionary danger. “Since the formidable leaders of the Comintern, in spite of the situation in France, did not prepare for struggle, but trembled with fear, that means that we can wait a while before making use of Fascism. It is useless to force events and compromise the Radical Socialists prematurely, since we may still have need of them.” This is what the true masters of the situation said. They upheld the Cabinet of the National Union and its Bonapartist decrees, they terrorized parliament, but they allowed Doumergue to go back to sleep. Thus the leaders of the bourgeoisie introduced a certain correction into their first analysis, recognizing that the situation was not so much immediately revolutionary as pre-revolutionary.
A second remarkable lesson in class strategy! It shows that even finance capital, with the levers of the whole social machine under its control, cannot infallibly estimate, at a single a priori glance, the full reality of a political situation. It enters into the struggle and, in the development of the struggle, on the basis of experience gained in the struggle, it corrects its analysis and makes it more precise. This, in general, is the only possible method in political questions of being oriented correctly and at the same time actively.
And the leaders of the Communist International? In Moscow, away from the French working class, a few badly informed, mediocre bureaucrats – the majority of them even unable to read French – pronounced an infallible diagnosis, with the aid of their thermometer: “The situation is not revolutionary.” The Central Committee of the French Communist Party is obliged to close its eyes and ears and repeat this hollow phrase. The road of the Communist International is the shortest road to the abyss!
The Radical Socialist Party represents that political instrument of the big bourgeoisie which is the best adapted to the traditions and prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie. In spite of this, the most responsible leaders of Radical Socialism, under the whip of finance capital, bowed humbly before the coup d’état of February 6, though it was directed in the first instance against them. For they recognized that the development of the class struggle threatened the fundamental interests of the “nation”, that is to say, of the bourgeoisie, and they felt obliged to sacrifice the parliamentary interests of their party. The capitulation of the most powerful parliamentary party before the guns and knives of the Fascists is an external expression of the complete upset in the political equilibrium of the country. But to say this – is to say that the situation is revolutionary, or, more exactly, pre-revolutionary.
The development which is taking place among the masses of the petty bourgeoisie has exceptional importance for an understanding of the political situation. The political crisis of the country is above all a collapse of the confidence of the petty-bourgeois masses in their traditional parties and leaders. The discontent, the nervousness, the instability, the fluidity of the petty bourgeoisie are extremely important characteristics of a pre-revolutionary situation. As a sick man, burning with fever, tosses from right side to left, so the feverish petty bourgeoisie can turn to the right or to the left. In the coming period, the side towards which millions of French peasants, artisans, small merchants and minor officials turn will determine whether the present pre-revolutionary situation will develop into a revolutionary or a counter-revolutionary situation.
The alleviation of the economic crisis might – though not for long – retard, but not stop, the shifting of the petty bourgeoisie to the right or the left. On the other hand, if the crisis becomes intensified, the bankruptcy of Radical Socialism and of all the parliamentary groupings around it will proceed with redoubled speed.
It must not be thought that Fascism has to become a strong parliamentary party before it can take over power. This was the case in Germany, but not in Italy. In order that Fascism should succeed, it is not necessary that the petty bourgeoisie should break beforehand with the old “democratic” parties. It is enough if the petty bourgeoisie has lost its confidence in these parties, and looks uneasily about it for new roads.
In the next municipal elections the petty bourgeoisie may still give a large number of votes to the Radicals and similar groupings, in the absence of a new political party which could succeed in gaining the confidence of the peasants and the urban middle classes. And, nevertheless, a Fascist military coup, with the aid of the big bourgeoisie, might take place a few months after the elections; and by its influence attract the sympathies of the most desperate layers of the petty bourgeoisie.
That is why it would be a serious illusion to take consolation in the thought that the Fascist banner has not yet become popular in the provinces and the villages. The anti-parliamentary tendencies of the petty bourgeoisie, after breaking away from the channel of the official parliamentary politics of the old parties, may directly and immediately support a military coup d’état when that becomes necessary for the safety of finance capital. Such a method of action is most closely adapted to the traditions and temperament of France.
The outcome of elections has, of course, a symptomatic importance. But to rely on this index alone would be to fall victim to parliamentary cretinism. We are dealing with much more profound processes which, one fine day, will catch our friends, the parliamentarians, off guard. Here, as in other matters, the question is settled not by arithmetic, but by the dynamics of the struggle. The big bourgeoisie does not register passively the evolution of the middle classes, but, rather, prepares tentacles of steel with which to seize these tortured and despairing masses at the opportune moment.
Marxist thought is dialectical, it considers all phenomena in their development, in their transition from one state to another. The thought of the conservative petty bourgeois is metaphysical; its conceptions are fixed and immovable, and between phenomena it supposes that there are unbridgeable gaps. The absolute opposition of a revolutionary situation to a non-revolutionary situation is a classic example of metaphysical thought, according to the axiom: whatever is, is: whatever is not, is not: and anything else is the Devil’s doing.
In the processes of history we find stable situations which are altogether non-revolutionary. We find likewise situations which are obviously revolutionary. And again, there are counter-revolutionary situations (we had better not forget them!). But the most striking features of our epoch of capitalism in decay are intermediate and transitional: situations between the non-revolutionary and the pre-revolutionary, between the pre-revolutionary and the revolutionary or . the counter-revolutionary. It is precisely these transitional stages which have a decisive importance from the point of view of political strategy.
What would we say about an artist who could distinguish only between the two opposite colours in the spectrum? That he had no sense of colour or was half-blind, and that he ought to give up the easel. What will we say about a political strategist who can distinguish only between the two states: “revolutionary” and “non-revolutionary"? That he is not a Marxist, but a Stalinist, who might make a good functionary but never a proletarian leader.
A revolutionary situation develops out of the reciprocal action of objective and subjective factors. If the party of the proletariat is incapable of analysing in time the tendencies of a pre-revolutionary situation we shall inevitably have a counter-revolutionary situation. The French proletariat now faces this danger. The short-sighted, passive, opportunist policies of the United Front – above all of the Stalinists, who have become its right wing – are the chief obstacle in the path of the proletarian revolution in France.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party rejects the struggle for the nationalization of the means of production as a demand incompatible with the existence of the bourgeois state. But the Central Committee likewise rejects the struggle for power in order to create the workers’ state. To these tasks it opposes a program of “immediate demands”.
As a matter of fact the United Front now has no program at all. At the same time, the experiences of the Communist Party itself in the struggle for “immediate demands” has been of an extremely unfortunate character. All speeches, articles and resolutions on the necessity of combating capitalism by strikes have up to now resulted in nothing, or almost nothing. In spite of the situation in the country, which is becoming more and more acute, the working class is in a state of dangerous stagnation.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party accuses everybody except itself of being guilty of this stagnation. We do not want to whitewash anybody. Our point of view is well known. But we believe that the chief obstacle on the path to the development of the revolutionary struggle right now is the one-sided, almost maniacal program of “immediate demands”, which contradicts the whole situation. We wish now, at sufficient length, to throw some light on the considerations and the arguments of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Not that these arguments are either serious or profound: on the contrary, they are miserable. But we are dealing with the question upon which the fate of the French proletariat depends.
The most authoritative document on the question of “immediate demands” is the programmatic resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (see l’Humanité, Feb. 24, 1935). Let us examine this document.
The outline of the immediate demands is given in vague general terms: against wage cuts, for increased social insurance, for collective bargaining, “against inflation”, etc. Nothing is said about the character that the struggle for these demands can and must have under the conditions of the present social crisis. However, every worker knows that with two millions of partially or wholly unemployed, the ordinary trade-union struggle for collective bargaining is utopian. Under present conditions, in order to force the capitalists to make important concessions, we must break their wills; this can be done only by a revolutionary offensive. But a revolutionary offensive, which opposes one class to another, cannot be developed solely under slogans of partial economic demands. We have here a vicious circle. This is the principal reason for the stagnation of the United Front.
The general Marxist thesis, “Social reforms are only the by-products of the revolutionary struggle,” has in the epoch of the decline of capitalism the most immediate and burning importance. The capitalists are able to cede something to the workers only if they are threatened with the danger of losing everything.
However, even the greatest “concessions” of which contemporary capitalism – itself in a blind alley – is capable, are completely insignificant in comparison with the misery of the masses and the depth of the social crisis. This is why the most immediate of all demands must be for the expropriation of the capitalists and the nationalization (socialization) of the means of production. But is not this demand unrealizable under the rule of the bourgeoisie? Quite so! That is why we must seize power.
The resolution of the Central Committee recognizes in passing that “the Party has not yet succeeded in organizing and extending the resistance to the offensive of capitalism,” but the resolution does not stop at all to consider the question why, in spite of the efforts of the Communist Party and the CGTU, the successes in the defensive economic struggles are completely insignificant. Millions of workers and wage earners participated in the general strike of February 12, which did not make any “immediate demands”. However, up to the present, only a small fraction of this number has participated in the defence against the offensive of capitalism. Does not this astonishingly clear fact lead the “leaders” of the Communist Party to draw any conclusion? Why is it that millions of workers risked participation in a general strike, in violent demonstrations in the streets, in battles with the Fascist gangs, but refuse to participate in strikes of a purely economic character?
“We must understand”, says the resolution, “the feelings which agitate the workers, who want to proceed to action.” We must understand, but the misfortune is that the authors of the resolution themselves understand nothing. Whoever goes to workers’ meetings knows as well as we that general talk about immediate demands usually leaves the audience in a state of complete indifference; on the other hand, clear and precise revolutionary slogans get a sympathetic response. This difference in the reaction of the masses characterizes the political situation in the country in the clearest possible manner.
“In the present period,” the resolution unexpectedly states, “the economic struggle requires heavy sacrifices on the part of the workers.” It ought to have added further: and it is only in exceptional cases that the sacrifices promise any positive results. However, the struggle for immediate demands has for its task the alleviation of the condition of the workers. By putting this economic struggle at the head of the list and by renouncing revolutionary slogans for its sake, the Stalinists no doubt believe that it is precisely the partial economic struggle which can best arouse large masses. The truth is just the opposite: the masses make hardly any response to appeals for strikes on a purely economic plane. In politics, how can anyone avoid facing the facts?
The masses understand or feel that, under the conditions of the crisis and of unemployment, partial economic conflicts require unheard of sacrifices which will never be justified in any case by the results obtained. The masses wait for and demand other and more efficacious methods. Messrs. strategists, learn from the masses: they are guided by a sure revolutionary instinct.
Basing themselves on badly assimilated citations from Lenin, the Stalinists repeat: “Strike struggles are possible even in times of crisis.” They do not understand that there are crises and crises. In the epoch when capitalism was on the ascendant, both industrialists and workers, even during an acute crisis, looked forward toward the next boom period. But the present crisis is the rule, not the exception. On the purely economic level, the working class is thrown into a disorderly retreat by the terrific pressure of the economic catastrophe. On the other hand, the decline of capitalism, with all its weight, pushes the proletariat on the road toward the revolutionary mass struggle for political power. However, the leadership of the Communist Party tries with all its force to bar this road. Thus in the hands of the Stalinists the program of “immediate demands” becomes an instrument for the disorientation and disorganization of the proletariat. But a political offensive (a struggle for power) with an active defence army (militia) would at once alter the relationship of class forces and would at the same time, even for the most backward layers of the working class, open up the possibility for a victorious economic struggle.
Capitalism in its death throes, as we know, also has its cycles, but these cycles are declining and diseased. Only the proletarian revolution can put an end to the crisis of the capitalist system. The cyclical crisis will inevitably give way to a new and brief upturn, if neither war nor revolution intervenes.
In case of an upturn in the business cycle, the strike struggles no doubt will have more extensive possibilities. This is why it is necessary to follow closely the movement of trade and industry, particularly the changes in employment, without capitulating to the meteorologists of the school of Jouhaux and all the while giving practical help to the workers in applying pressure to the capitalists at the necessary moment. But even in the case of extensive strike struggles it would be criminal to have them limited to partial economic demands. The upturn in the business cycle can be neither considerable nor of long duration, for we now are confronted with the cycle of a capitalism which is irremediably diseased. The new crisis, after a brief upturn, will be found to be more devastating than the present. All the fundamental problems will rise up anew with redoubled force and sharpness. If we lose time, the growth of Fascism will be found irresistible.
But today the economic upturn is no more than a hypothesis. The actuality is a deepening of the crisis, the two-year term of military service, the rearmament of Germany, the danger of war.
This actuality must be our point of departure.
The last idea in the programmatic resolution of the Central Committee worthily crowns the whole structure. Let us quote literally: “While fighting every day in order to relieve the toiling masses from the misery which the capitalist régime imposes upon them, the Communists emphasize that final emancipation can be gained only by the abolition of the capitalist régime and the setting up of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” This formula did not sound so bad at the dawn of Social Democracy half a century or more ago. At that time, and not without success, the Social Democracy guided the struggle of the workers for immediate demands and isolated reforms, for what they called the “minimum program”, all the time emphasizing that the final emancipation of the proletariat could be realized only by the revolution. The “final goal” of socialism was at that time seen across the cloudy distance of the years. It is this conception, which was completely outworn already at the beginning of the war, that the Central Committee of the Communist Party has unexpectedly transported into our epoch, repeating it word for word to the last comma. And these people invoke the names of Marx and Lenin!
When they “emphasize” that “the final emancipation” can be obtained only by the abolition of the capitalist régime they manipulate this elementary truth in order to deceive the workers. For they give the workers the idea that a certain alleviation, even an important alleviation in their condition can be obtained within the framework of the present régime. They picture rotting and declining capitalism in the same way that their fathers and grandfathers pictured robust and ascending capitalism. The fact is indisputable: the Stalinists have taken over the refuse of reformism.
The Marxist political thesis must be the following: “While explaining constantly to the masses that rotting capitalism has no place either for the alleviation of their situation or even for the maintenance of their customary level of misery, while putting openly before the masses the tasks of the socialist revolution as the immediate task of our day, while mobilizing the workers for the conquest of power, while defending the workers’ organizations with the help of the workers’ militia – the Communists (or the Socialists) will at the same time lose no opportunity to snatch this or that partial concession from the enemy, or at least to prevent the further lowering of the living standard of the workers.”
Compare this thesis carefully with the lines cited above from the resolution of the Central Committee. The difference, we hope, is clear. In one instance, Stalinism; in the other, Leninism. Between them lies an abyss.
Higher wages, collective bargaining, against inflation. But what about unemployment? The resolution of the Central Committee will come to our help here also. Let us quote:
“They (the Communists) demand public works. To this end, they have elaborated specific proposals adapted to each local and regional situation, and have prescribed the means for financing them (a capital levy, government loans, etc.).”
Isn’t this astonishing? This charlatan’s recipe is copied almost word for word from Jouhaux: the Stalinists reject the progressive demands of his “plan”, and adopt the most fantastic and utopian parts.
The principal productive forces of society are paralysed or half-paralysed by the crisis. The workers are in a stupor before the machines which they have created. Our saviour, the Central Committee, proposes: outside of the real capitalist economy, alongside it, we shall create another capitalist economy on the basis of “public works”.
Don’t let anyone tell us that we are dealing here with temporary undertakings: present unemployment does not have a temporary character; it is not merely cyclical unemployment, but structural unemployment, the most deadly expression of the decline of capitalism. To do away with it, the Central Committee proposes to create a system of public works adapted to each region of the country, with the help of a special system of financing, alongside of the disarranged finances of capitalism. In a word, the Central Committee of the Communist Party proposes quite simply that capitalism change its residence. And it is this “plan” that is counterposed to the struggle for power and a program of nationalization! There are no worse opportunists than frightened adventurists.
On the problem of how to get public works, a capital levy, government loans, etc., the resolution says not a word. No doubt, with the help of . petitions. This is the most opportune and the most efficacious method of action. Neither crises, nor Fascism, nor militarism, can put up a fight against petitions. Moreover, petitions will revive the paper industry and thus relieve unemployment. Let us take note: the organization of petitions is a fundamental part of the system of public works according to the plan of Thorez and company.
Whom are these people making fun of? Of themselves, or of the working class?
“It is astonishing that the proletariat endures passively such privations and such terror after a class struggle of more than a century.” On every occasion we hear this lofty phrase from the mouth of a Socialist or a Communist in his study. Is there insufficient resistance? The blame is put on the backs of the working masses. As if the parties and the unions stood apart from the proletariat and were not its organs of struggle! It is precisely because the proletariat, as the result of its more than a century-old struggles, has created its political and trade-union organizations, that it is difficult and almost impossible for it to carry on the struggle against capitalism without them and against them. What was built as the main spring of action has become a dead weight, a brake.
The whole situation imbues the workers with the idea that revolutionary actions are necessary to change all the conditions of existence. But precisely because it is a question of a decisive struggle, which must include millions of men, the initiative naturally rests with the directing organizations, with the working-class parties, with the United Front. From them must come a clear program, slogans, the mobilization for battle. In order to rouse the masses, the parties must themselves be aroused, and must launch a strenuous revolutionary campaign throughout the country. But the directing organizations, the Communist Party included, haven’t the courage. The Communist Party tosses its tasks and its responsibilities on to the masses. It wants millions of men, left by it without revolutionary leadership, to engage in isolated struggles for partial demands and to show sceptical bureaucrats that they are ready to do battle. Perhaps after that the big chiefs will consent to command an offensive. In place of directing the masses, the bureaucratic Central Committee examines the masses, flunks them, and thus justifies its own opportunism and cowardice.
During the time of relative economic and political stability in France (1929-33), the Central Committee of the Communist Party proclaimed the “Third Period”, and would not be satisfied with anything less than the conquest of the streets at the barricades. Now, at the time of the economic, social and political crisis, the same Central Committee is satisfied with a modest program of “immediate demands”. This absurd contradiction is the complex product of many factors: fright at former errors, inability to understand the masses, the bureaucratic habit of laying down a blue print for the proletariat – and, finally, intellectual anarchy, the result of zigzags, falsifications, lies and repressions without number.
The first author of the new program is, no doubt, the present “leader” of the Comintern, Béla Kun, who goes day by day further on the road from adventurism to opportunism. After reading in Lenin that the Bolsheviks were for strikes under certain conditions, and the Mensheviks against them, in the wink of an eye Béla Kun founded his “realistic” policies on this discovery. But to his misfortune, Béla Kun had not opened Lenin . at the right page.
During certain periods, purely economic strike struggles did in fact play an enormous role in the revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat. Now, Russian capitalism was not rotting at that time, but was growing and advancing rapidly. The Russian proletariat was a virgin class, and the strikes were for it the first form of awakening and activity. Finally, the extensive spread of the strikes coincided each time with a rise in the business cycle.
None of these conditions exists in France. The proletariat has behind it a mighty schooling of revolution, of trade-union and parliamentary struggle, with the whole positive and negative heritage of this rich past. From this, one would hardly expect a spontaneous strike wave in France, even in a period of a rise in the business cycle, and still more so while the cyclical crisis deepens the misery of declining capitalism.
The other side of the question is not less important. At the time of the first impetuous strike wave in Russia, there was only a single fraction of the Russian Social Democracy which tried to restrict it to partial economic demands: this was the group called the “Economists”. In their opinion, it was necessary to reject the slogan, “Down with Autocracy!” until the appearance of a “revolutionary situation”. Lenin thought that the “Economists” were miserable opportunists. He showed that a revolutionary situation must be actively prepared, even during a strike movement.
In general, it is absurd to try to carry over mechanically into France the various stages and episodes of the Russian revolutionary movement. But it is even more absurd to do it after the manner of Béla Kun, who understands neither Russia, nor France, nor Marxism. In the school of Lenin, we must learn the method of action, and not try to change Leninism into citations and recipes, good for every occasion in life.
Thus, the situation in France, in the opinion of the Stalinists, is not revolutionary; revolutionary slogans, on this analysis, are out of place; we must concentrate all attention on economic strikes and on partial demands. This is the program. It is an opportunist and a lifeless program, but still, it’s a program.
Alongside it there is, however, another. L’Humanité repeats every day the triple slogan: “Peace, Bread, Freedom”. It was under this slogan, l’Humanité explains, that the Bolsheviks conquered in 1917. Following the example of the Stalinists, Just repeats the same idea. Very good. But in 1917, in Russia, there was a situation notoriously revolutionary. How then can this slogan, which assured the success of the proletarian revolution, be any good along with “immediate demands” in a non-revolutionary situation? Let the seers of l’Humanité explain this mystery to us simple mortals.
On our part, we recall that “immediate demands” reinforced the triple slogan of the Bolsheviks.
“For Peace”. That meant in 1917, under the war conditions, struggle against all the patriotic parties from the monarchists to the Mensheviks, the demand for the publication of the secret treaties, the revolutionary mobilization of the soldiers against the general staff, and fraternization at the front. “For Peace!” That meant defiance of the militarism of Austria and Germany on one side, and of the Allies on the other. The slogan of the Bolsheviks thus meant the most daring and revolutionary policy ever known in the history of mankind.
To “struggle” for peace in 1935, in alliance with Herriot and the bourgeois “pacifists” (that is to say, the hypocritical imperialists), means simply to uphold the status quo, which is satisfactory at the present moment to the French bourgeoisie. It means to put the workers to sleep and to demoralize them with illusions about “disarmament” and “non-aggression pacts”, with the lie of the League of Nations, while preparing a new capitulation of the working-class parties at the moment when the French bourgeoisie or its rivals choose to upset the status quo.
“For Bread!” That meant for the Bolsheviks in 1917 the expropriation of the land and of the grain reserves belonging to the landlords and speculators, and the monopoly of the grain trade in the hands of the workers’ and peasants’ government. What does “For Bread!” mean to the Stalinists in 1935? A mere verbal formula!
“For Freedom!” The Bolsheviks showed the masses that freedom was an illusion while schools, press and meeting halls remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie. “For Freedom!” meant: the seizure of power by the soviets, the expropriation of the landlords, workers’ control of production.
“For Freedom!” in alliance with Herriot and the old ladies of both sexes in the League for the Rights of Man means to uphold the semi-Bonapartist, semi-parliamentarian government, and that is all it can mean. The bourgeoisie needs right now not only the gangs of la Rocque, but likewise the “left” reputation of Herriot. Finance capital is busy arming the Fascists. The Stalinists are restoring the left reputation of Herriot with the help of the masquerading “People’s Front”. This is what the slogans of the October revolution are used for in 1935!
As the single example of the new style “realistic” policies, the resolution of the Central Committee tells how the unemployed of Villejuif are eating the Croix de Feu’s soup, and yelling: “To the stake with la Rocque!” How many are eating soup and how many yelling, they don’t tell us: the Stalinists are never able to endure figures. But that is not the question . To what point has a “revolutionary” party fallen when, in a programmatic resolution, it can find no other example of proletarian policies than the impotent yells of harassed and starving workers, forced to nourish themselves on the crumbs of Fascist philanthropy? And these leaders feel neither humiliated nor ashamed!
Once, while talking about certain of his disciples, Marx quoted the words of Heine: “I have sown dragons, and I have harvested fleas.” We are very much afraid that the founders of the Third International will have to repeat these same words . However, our epoch needs not fleas, but dragons.
The program of the Communist International, written in 1928, during the period of the theoretical decline of the CI, states, “The epoch of imperialism is the epoch of capitalism in its death throes.” By itself, this statement, which was formulated by Lenin a long time ago, is absolutely incontestable, and is of decisive importance for the policies of the proletariat in our epoch. But the authors of the program of the Communist International failed utterly to understand the thesis on capitalism in its death throes or in decay, which they had mechanically adopted. This lack of comprehension stands revealed with especial clarity in respect to what is to us the most burning question, namely, Fascism.
The program of the Communist International has the following to say on this subject: “Side by side with the Social Democracy which assists the bourgeoisie to stifle the proletariat and to lull its vigilance, Fascism appears.” The Communist International failed to understand that it is not the mission of Fascism to function side by side with the Social Democracy, but to destroy all the existing workers’ organizations, including the reformist. The task of Fascism, in the words of the program, is to “annihilate the Communist strata of the proletariat, and their leading cadres.” Fascism, then, does not at all threaten the Social Democracy and the reformist trade unions; on the contrary, the Social Democracy itself plays a “Fascist” role to an ever increasing degree. Fascism achieves nothing more than the consummation of the labours of reformism, by functioning “side by side with the Social Democracy”.
We are quoting not from an article by some Thorez or Duclos who contradicts himself at every step, but from the basic document of the Communist International, its program. (See Chapter II, paragraph 3: The Crisis of Capitalism and Fascism.) We have here before us all the basic elements of the theory of social fascism. The leaders of the Communist International failed to understand that capitalism in decay is no longer able to come to terms with the most moderate and most servile Social Democracy, either as a party in power, or as a party in opposition. It is the mission of Fascism to take its place not “side by side with the Social Democracy”, but on its bones. Precisely from this there flows the possibility, the need and the urgency for the united front. But the miserable leadership of the Communist International made no attempt to apply the policy of the united front except during the period when it could not be forced upon the Social Democracy. As soon as the position of reformism was shaken, and when the Social Democracy began to fall under blows, the Communist International rejected the united front. These people have the grievous habit of wearing their overcoats in the summer and of venturing out in the winter without so much as a fig leaf!
Despite the instructive experience of Italy, the Communist International inscribed on its banner the genial aphorism of Stalin, “Social Democracy and Fascism are not opposites, they are twins.” Herein lies the main cause for the defeat of the German proletariat. True, the CI has made a sharp turn on the question of the united front: facts proved themselves more potent than the program. But the program of the Communist International has been neither suppressed, nor modified. Its fundamental mistakes have not been explained to the workers. The leaders of the Communist International, who have lost confidence in themselves, are preserving against possible eventualities an avenue of retreat towards the position of “social fascism”. This has invested the policy of the united front with its unprincipled, diplomatic and unstable character.
The inability to understand the meaning of Lenin’s thesis on “capitalism in its death throes” has invested the present policies of the French Communist Party with its character of noisy impotence, supplemented by reformist illusions. Although Fascism represents the organic product of capitalist decay, the Stalinists have suddenly become convinced of the possibility of putting an end to Fascism without touching the foundations of bourgeois society.
On March 6, Thorez wrote for the one hundredth time in l’Humanité:
“In order to assure the decisive defeat of Fascism, we again propose to the Socialist Party joint action in defence of immediate demands”
Every class conscious worker must ponder well this “programmatic” phrase. Fascism, as we know, is born out of the union between the despair of the middle classes and the terrorist policy of big capital. The “immediate demands” are those demands which do not transcend the framework of capitalism. How, then, by remaining upon the arena of capitalism in decay, is it possible to “assure the decisive (!) defeat” of Fascism?
When Jouhaux says that by putting an end to the crisis (easier said than done!) we shall by this very thing vanquish Fascism, Jouhaux, at least, remains faithful to himself: he is again as always the watchdog of the hopes in the regeneration and rejuvenation of capitalism. But the Stalinists recognize, verbally, the inevitability of the progressive degeneration of capitalism. How, then, can they promise to render the political superstructure healthy, by assuring the decisive defeat of Fascism, and at the same time leave intact the decaying economic base of society?
Do they suppose that big capital is capable of turning the wheels of history back at its whim, and once again resuming the road of concessions and “reforms”? Do they think that the petty bourgeoisie can be saved by means of “immediate demands” from growing ruin, from being declassed and from despair? And how then to reconcile these trade-union and reformist illusions with the thesis on capitalism in its death throes?
Taken on the theoretical plane, the position of the Communist Party sums up, as we have seen, to a most complete absurdity. Let us see how this position appears in the light of the actual struggle.
On February 28, Thorez expressed in the following words this very same central and radically false idea of the present policies of the Communist Party:
“To beat down Fascism decisively, it is necessary to put a halt, in no uncertain terms, to the economic offensive of capitalism against the living standards of the toiling masses.”
Why then the workers’ militia? What need of a direct struggle against Fascism? We must strive to raise the living standards of the masses, and Fascism will disappear, as if by magic.
Alas, along these lines, the entire perspective of the struggle immediately ahead is completely distorted, and the actual relationships are turned topsy-turvy. The capitalists arrive at Fascism not at their own whim, but through necessity: they cannot any longer preserve the private ownership of the means of production save by directing an offensive against the workers, save by strengthening the oppression, by sowing misery and despair around them. At the same time, fearing the inevitable resistance on the part of the workers, the capitalists, through the medium of their agents, arouse the petty bourgeoisie against the proletariat and, while accusing the latter of prolonging and aggravating the crisis, they finance Fascist gangs to annihilate the workers. Should the resistance of the workers to the offensive of capital increase on the morrow, should the strikes become more frequent and important, Fascism, despite what Thorez says, will not evaporate but instead grow with redoubled force. The growth of the strike movement will impel the mobilization of strikebreakers. All the “patriotic” thugs will participate in the movement. Daily attacks against the workers will be put on the order of the day. To close our eyes to this is to walk toward certain defeat.
Do you mean to say, Thorez and his colleagues will demand, that there must be no resistance? (And they will append the customary insults addressed to us, which we pass by as we would a cesspool.) No. It is necessary to resist.
We are no adherents of that school which thinks that the best means of safety lies in silence, retreat and capitulation. “Don’t provoke the enemy!” “Do not defend yourselves!” “Don’t arm yourselves!” “Roll over on your backs and play dead!” Theoreticians from among this school of strategy should be sought not among ourselves but among the editors of l’Humanité! It is necessary for the workers to resist if they do not wish to be annihilated. But in that case no reformist and pacifist illusion is permissible. The struggle will be ferocious. It is necessary to foresee beforehand the inevitable consequences of resistance and to prepare for them.
By its present offensive the bourgeoisie invests with a new and incommensurably more acute character the relation between the economic conditions and the social situation of capitalism in decay. Just so, the workers must invest their defence with a new character which corresponds to the methods of the class enemy. In defending ourselves against the economic blows of capital, we must know how to defend at the same time our organizations against the mercenary gangs of capital. It is impossible to do this save by means of the workers’ militia. No verbal assertions, no shrieks, no insult on the part of l’Humanité can invalidate this conclusion.
In particular we must say to the trade unions: comrades, your branches and your publications will be pillaged, your organizations reduced to dust, if you do not immediately proceed to the formation of trade-union defence squads (“trade-union militia”), if you do not demonstrate by actions that you will not surrender a single inch of Fascism without a struggle.
In the same article (Feb. 28), Thorez laments:
“The Socialist Party has not accepted our proposals for wide scale action, including the strike, against the decree laws which are being ever more enforced.”
Including the strike? What strike? Since the abolition of the decree laws is involved here, what Thorez apparently has in view are not partial economic strikes but a general strike, that is to say, a political strike. He does not utter the words “general strike” in order not to make it obvious that he is repeating our long-standing proposal. To what humiliating subterfuges must these poor people resort in order to mask their vacillations and contradictions!
This procedure has become, it seems, a method. In the open letter of March 12, the Central Committee of the Communist Party proposed to the Socialist Party to inaugurate a decisive campaign against the two-year term of military service, “through all methods available, including the strike”. Once again the same mystic formula! The Central Committee has in mind evidently the strike as an instrument of political struggle, that is to say, as a revolutionary weapon. But why then does it fear to utter aloud the word general strike and simply speak of “a strike”? With whom is the Central Committee playing hide and seek? Is it with the proletariat, or no?
But putting aside these unbecoming manoeuvres to maintain “prestige”, there remains the fact that the Central Committee of the Communist Party proposes the general strike for the struggle against the Bonapartist legislation of Doumergue-Flandin. With this we are in full accord. But we demand that the leaders of working-class organizations themselves understand and explain to the masses the meaning of the general strike under the present conditions as well as how it must be prepared.
Even an ordinary economic strike requires, as a rule, a militant organization, specifically, pickets. Under the present aggravated conditions of the class struggle, faced with the Fascist provocation and terror, a real organization of pickets is the essential prerequisite for all important economic struggles. Let us imagine, however, that some trade-union leader would assert, “Pickets are not necessary, that would be a provocation – self-defence will suffice the strikers!” Isn’t it obvious that the workers would amiably advise such a “leader” to go to a hospital; if not directly to an insane asylum? The fact is that pickets are precisely the most important organ of self-defence of the strikers!
Let us view more closely the line of reasoning relating to the general strike. We have in mind not an ordinary demonstration, nor a symbolic strike of an hour’s or even 24 hours’ duration, but a war manoeuvre, with the aim of forcing the enemy to submit. It is not difficult to understand what a terrific aggravation of the class struggle the general strike would imply under the present conditions! The Fascist gangs would sprout on all sides like mushrooms after a rain and they would attempt with all their might to bring confusion, provocation and demoralization among the ranks of the strikers. How else can we guard the general strike against needless sacrifices and even complete annihilation if not by means of military and strictly disciplined workers’ detachments? The general strike is the generalization of the partial strike. The workers’ militia is the generalization of the picket squads. Only windbags and pathetic braggarts can play with the idea of the general strike under the present conditions, and refuse at the same time to carry on the stubborn work for the creation of the workers’ militia!
But the wretched members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party do not stop with this.
The general strike, as every Marxist knows, is one of the most revolutionary methods of struggle. The general strike is not possible except at a time when the class struggle rises above particular and craft demands, and extends over all occupational and district divisions, and wipes away the lines and the parties, between legality and illegality, and mobilizes the majority of the proletariat in an active opposition to the bourgeoisie and the state. Nothing can be on a higher plane than the general strike, except the armed insurrection. The entire history of the working-class movement proves that every general strike, whatever may be the slogans under which it occurs, has an internal tendency to transform itself into an open revolutionary clash, into a direct struggle for power. In other words: the general strike is not possible except under the conditions of extreme political tension, and that is why it is always the incontestable expression of the revolutionary character of the situation. How then can the Central Committee propose a general strike in this case? “The situation is not a revolutionary one!”
Might not Thorez perhaps retort that he had in mind not a real general strike, but a little strike, quite peaceful, just exactly suited to the personal requirements of the editors of l’Humanité? Or perhaps may he not add indiscreetly that, foreseeing the refusal of the leaders of the SFIO, he risks nothing by proposing a general strike to them? But most probably Thorez, in refutation, will merely accuse us of entering into a conspiracy with Chiappe, ex-Alfonso XIII and the Pope: this is the sort of rejoinder that suits Thorez best!
But every Communist worker who has a head on his shoulders, must ponder over the crying contradictions of his hapless leaders: it is impossible, you see, to build workers’ militias because the situation is not revolutionary, it is impossible even to carry on propaganda in favour of the arming of the proletariat, that is to say, of preparing the workers for a revolutionary situation in the future; but it is possible, it appears, even today to call the workers to a general strike despite the absence of a revolutionary situation. In truth, we find transcended here all the boundaries of giddiness and absurdity!
At all meetings we hear the Communists repeating the slogan which they have inherited from the “Third Period” – “Soviets Everywhere!” It is absolutely clear that this slogan, if one takes it seriously, bears a profoundly revolutionary character: it is impossible to establish the soviet régime otherwise than by means of an armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie. But an armed insurrection presupposes arms in the hands of the proletariat. Thus the slogan of “soviets everywhere” and the slogan of “arming the workers” are intimately and indissolubly bound with one another. Why then is the former slogan being incessantly reiterated by the Stalinists while the latter is proclaimed a “Trotskyist provocation”?
Our bewilderment is all the more legitimate since the slogan of arming the workers most closely corresponds to the present political situation and the state of mind of the proletariat. The slogan of “soviets” is, by its very essence, offensive in character and presupposes a victorious revolution. The proletariat, however, finds itself today in a defensive situation. Fascism threatens it directly with physical annihilation. The necessity for defence, even with arms in hand, is actually more comprehensive and more within the grasp of the widest strata of the masses than the idea of a revolutionary offensive. Thus the slogan of arming could at the present stage count upon a response much greater and much more active than the slogan of soviets. How then could a working-class party, unless it has really betrayed the interests of the revolution, let slip so exceptional an opportunity and so dishonestly compromise the idea of arming instead of ardently popularizing it?
We are ready to allow that our question is prompted by our “counter-revolutionary” nature, in particular, by our hopes of provoking military intervention; everyone knows that as soon as the Mikado and Hitler become convinced by our question that air currents are whistling through the heads of Béla Kun and Thorez, they will declare war against the USSR.
All this has been irrefutably established by Duclos and needs no proof. But all the same, deign to reply: how can one come to soviet power without an armed insurrection? How can one come to an insurrection without arming the workers? How can one defend oneself against Fascism without arms? How can we achieve armament, even partial, without propaganda for this slogan?
But is the general strike possible in the immediate future? To a question of this sort there is no a priori answer possible, that is to say, none ready made. To obtain an answer it is necessary to know how to question. Whom? The masses. How question them? By means of agitation.
Agitation is not only the means of communicating to the masses this or that slogan, calling the masses to action, etc. For a party, agitation is also a means of lending an ear to the masses, of sounding out its moods and thoughts, and reaching this or another decision in accordance with the results. Only the Stalinists have transformed agitation into a noisy monologue. For the Marxists, the Leninists, agitation is always a dialogue with the masses.
But in order that this dialogue give the necessary results, the party must estimate correctly the general situation within the country and outline the general course of the immediate struggle. By means of agitation and probing the masses, the party must bring into its concepts the necessary corrections and exactitude, particularly in everything relating to the rhythm of the movement and the dates for major actions.
The situation in the country has been described above; it bears a pre-revolutionary character along with the non-revolutionary character of the leadership of the proletariat. And since the policy of the proletariat is the principal factor in the development of a revolutionary situation, the non-revolutionary character of the proletarian leadership checks the transformation of the pre-revolutionary situation into an open revolutionary situation and by this very thing contributes towards transforming it into a counter-revolutionary situation.
In objective reality there are, of course, no sharp boundaries between the different stages of the political process. One stage interpenetrates with another, and as a result of this the situation reveals various contradictions. These contradictions certainly make diagnosis and prognosis more difficult but they do not at all make it impossible.
The forces of the French proletariat remain not only un-exhausted, but are indeed still intact. Fascism as a political factor among the petty-bourgeois masses is relatively feeble as yet (much more powerful, nevertheless, than it seems to the parliamentarians). These two very important political facts allow us to say with firm conviction: nothing has been lost as yet, the possibility for transforming the pre-revolutionary situation into a revolutionary situation is still entirely open.
But in a capitalist country such as this there can be no revolutionary struggles without the general strike: if working men and women remain in the factories during the decisive days, who then will do the fighting? Thus, the general strike is on the order of the day.
But the question of the moment for the general strike is the question of knowing whether the masses are prepared to struggle and whether the workers’ organizations are ready to lead them to battle.
Is it true, however, that the only thing lacking is the revolutionary leadership? Does not there exist a great force for conservatism within the masses themselves, within the proletariat? Such voices are raised from different sides. And there is nothing astonishing about it! When a revolutionary crisis approaches, many leaders, fearful of the responsibilities, hide themselves behind the pseudo-conservatism of the masses. History has taught us how a few weeks, even a few days prior to the October insurrection, such distinguished Bolsheviks as Zinoviev, Kamenev and Rykov (it is needless to mention such people as Lozovsky, Manuilsky, etc.) asserted that the masses were worn out, and did not want to fight. And yet as revolutionists, Zinoviev. Kamenev and Rykov tower in stature far above the Cachins, Thorezes and Monmousseaus.
Whoever declares that the proletariat does not want to wage or is incapable of waging a revolutionary struggle, himself spreads calumny by ascribing his own feebleness and his own cowardice to the toiling masses. Up to the present moment there has been not a single case either in Paris or the provinces where the masses remained deaf to a call from above.
The greatest example in point is the general strike of February 12, 1934. Despite the complete division of the leadership, the lack of any serious preparation, the tenacious efforts of the leaders of the CGT to reduce the movement to a minimum, since they could not evade it altogether, the general strike achieved the greatest success possible under the given conditions. It is clear that the masses want to struggle. Every class-conscious worker must say to himself that the pressure from below must have been extremely powerful if Jouhaux himself had to bestir for a moment out of his immobility. True, involved here was not a general strike in the proper meaning of the term, but only a 24-hour demonstration. But this restriction was not put by the masses; it was dictated from above.
The demonstration of February 10 of this year in the Place de la République confirms the very same conclusion. The only weapon which the leading centres utilized to prepare for it was the cold water bucket. The only slogan which the masses heard was, “Hush! Hush!” And nevertheless the number of demonstrators surpassed all expectations. In the provinces things have been and remain during the past year in exactly the same state. It is impossible to adduce a single serious fact that would prove that the leaders wanted to struggle and the masses refused to follow them. Always and everywhere just the reverse relationship is to be observed. It preserves its full force even today. The rank and file want to fight, the tops apply the brake. It is here that the chief danger lies and it may end in a real catastrophe.
The same relationship is to be found not only between the parties (or the trade unions) and the proletariat but also within each of the parties. Thus Frossard has not the least support among the rank and file in the SFIO; the only ones who support him are the deputies and the mayors who want everything to remain as in the past. On the other hand, Marceau Pivert, thanks to his stand which is becoming more and more clear and resolute, has become one of the most popular figures with the rank and file. We recognize this all the more readily since we have never renounced in the past, as we shall not refrain in the future, from speaking out openly when we are not in agreement with Pivert.
Taken as a political symptom this fact by its importance far transcends the question of personalities of Frossard and Pivert: it indicates the general tendency of development. The rank and file of the Socialist Party, as of the Communist Party, is more to the left, more revolutionary, more audacious than the upper crust: this is precisely why it is ready to place confidence only in the left-wing leaders. Still more: it is pushing the sincere Socialist always further to the left. Why does the rank and file itself become radicalized! Because it finds itself in direct contact with the masses of the population, with their misery, their revolt and their hatred. This is an infallible symptom. We can rely on it.
The leaders of the Communist Party can, indeed, cite the fact that the masses failed to respond to their appeals. But this fact does not invalidate, instead it confirms our analysis. The working masses understand what the “leaders” do not understand, that is to say, that under the conditions of a very great social crisis, a partial economic struggle alone, which requires enormous efforts and enormous sacrifices, cannot achieve any serious results. Worse yet, it can weaken and exhaust the proletariat. The workers are ready to participate in fighting demonstrations and even in a general strike but not in petty, exhausting strikes, without any perspective. Despite the appeals, manifestos and articles in l’Humanité, the Communist agitators hardly appear at all before the masses to preach strikes in the name of “partial immediate demands”. They sense that the bureaucratic plans of their leaders do not correspond at all either to the objective situation or the mood of the masses. Without great perspectives, the masses cannot and will not begin to struggle. The policy of l’Humanité is the policy of an artificial and false pseudo-“realism”. The failure of the CGTU in calling partial strikes is the indirect but very actual confirmation of the profundity of the crisis and of the moral tension in the workers’ districts.
One should not think, however, that the radicalization of the masses will proceed by itself, automatically. The working class waits for initiative on the part of its organizations. When it arrives at the conclusion that its expectations have been false – and this moment is, perhaps, not so very distant – the process of radicalization will break off and be transformed into manifestations of discouragement, apathy and isolated explosions of despair. At the periphery of the proletariat, anarchist tendencies impinge upon Fascist tendencies. The wine will turn to vinegar.
The shifts in the political mood of the masses demand the greatest attention possible. To probe this living dialectic at every stage – that is the task of agitation. So far, the United Front criminally continues to lag behind the development of the social crisis and the mood of the masses. It is still possible to make up for lost time. But we must not lose any more time. Today history is to be reckoned not in terms of years, but in months and weeks.
To determine to what degree the masses are ripe for the general strike and at the same time to strengthen the militant mood of the masses, it is necessary to place before them a program of revolutionary action. Partial slogans such as the abolition of the Bonapartist decree laws and of the two-year term of military service will find, of course, an important place in such a program. But these two episodic slogans are entirely inadequate.
Above all the tasks and partial demands of our epoch there stands the QUESTION OF POWER. Since February 6, 1934, the question of power has been openly posed as a question of armed force. The municipal and parliamentary elections can be of importance insofar as the evaluation of forces is concerned – but nothing more. The question will be settled by the open conflict between the two camps. Governments of the type of Doumergue-Flandin, etc., occupy the forefront only up to the day of the decisive climax. On the morrow, either Fascism or the proletariat will govern France.
It is precisely because the present intermediate state régime is extremely unstable, that the general strike can achieve very great partial successes by forcing the government to take to the road of concessions on the question of the Bonapartist decree laws, the two-year term of military service, etc. But such a success, extremely valuable and important in itself, will not re-establish the equilibrium of “democracy”: finance capital will redouble its subsidies to Fascism, and the question of power, perhaps after a brief interlude, will be posed with redoubled force.
The fundamental importance of the general strike, independent of the partial successes which it may and then again may not provide, lies in the fact that it poses the question of power in a revolutionary manner. By shutting down the factories, transport, generally all the means of communication, power stations, etc., the proletariat by this very act paralyses not only production but also the government. The state power remains suspended in mid-air. It must either subjugate the proletariat by famine and force and constrain it, to set the apparatus of the bourgeois state once again in motion, or retreat before the proletariat.
Whatever may be the slogans and the motive for which the general strike is initiated, if it includes the genuine masses, and if these masses are quite resolved to struggle, the general strike inevitably poses before all the classes in the nation the question: Who will be the master of the house?
The leaders of the proletariat must understand this internal logic of the general strike, unless they are not leaders but dilettantes and adventurers. Politically this implies that from now on the leaders will continue to pose before the proletariat the task of the revolutionary conquest of power. If not, they must not venture to speak of the general strike. But by renouncing the general strike, they renounce thereby all revolutionary struggle, that is to say, they betray the proletariat to Fascism.
Either complete capitulation or revolutionary struggle for power – such is the alternative which flows from all the conditions of the present crisis. Whoever has not understood this alternative, has no business in the camp of the proletariat.
The question of the general strike is complicated by the fact that the CGT proclaims that it has a monopoly on declaring and conducting the general strike. From this it follows that this question does not at all concern the working-class parties. And at first sight, what is most astonishing is that there are to be found Socialist parliamentarians who consider this claim to be quite in order: in reality, they merely wish to rid themselves of the responsibility.
The general strike, as the name itself already indicates, has for its goal the inclusion, in so far as it is possible, of the entire proletariat. The CGT includes in its ranks probably not more than 5 to 8 per cent of the proletariat. The influence of the CGT itself outside the confines of the trade unions is absolutely insignificant to the extent that on general questions it does not equal the influence of the working-class parties. Is it possible, for example, to compare the influence of Le Peuple to the influence of Le Populaire or l’Humanité?
The leadership of the CGT, in its conceptions and methods, is incomparably still further away from the tasks of the present epoch than the leadership of the working-class parties. The lower one passes from the upper crust of the apparatus to the rank and file of the trade unions, the less confidence one finds in Jouhaux and his group. The lack of confidence changes more and more into open distrust. The present conservative apparatus of the CGT will be inevitably swept away by the subsequent development of the revolutionary crisis.
The general strike is, by its very essence, a political act. It opposes the working class, as a whole, to the bourgeois state. It assembles together union and non-union workers, Socialists, Communists and non-party men. It requires an apparatus with a press and agitators, such as the CGT alone does not have at its disposal.
The general strike poses directly the question of the conquest of power by the proletariat. The CGT has turned and is turning its back on this task (the leaders of the CGT turn their faces towards the bourgeois power). The leaders of the CGT themselves know that the leadership of the general strike is beyond their forces. If they, nevertheless, proclaim their monopoly to direct it, it is solely because they hope in this way to stifle the general strike even before its birth.
And what about the general strike of February 12, 1934? It was only a brief and peaceful demonstration imposed upon the CGT by the Socialist and Communist workers. Jouhaux and his colleagues themselves took over the nominal leadership of the resistance precisely in order to prevent it from transforming itself into a revolutionary general strike.
In its instructions to its propagandists, the CGT said, “On the morrow after February 6th, the labouring population and all the democratic elements, at the appeal of the CGT, demonstrated their firm will to bar the road to the factionalists.” On its own part, the CGT took note neither of the Socialists nor of the Communists – only of the “democrats”. In this single phrase, Jouhaux is summed up. That is precisely why it would be criminal to place confidence in Jouhaux to decide the question of knowing whether it should or should not be a revolutionary struggle.
Of course in the preparation and conduct of the general strike the trade unions will play a very influential role; yet not by virtue of a monopoly, but side by side with the working-class parties. From the revolutionary standpoint it is particularly important to collaborate intimately with local trade-union organizations without the slightest injury, of course, to their autonomy. As regards the CGT, it will either take its place in the common proletarian front by cutting away from the “democrats”, or remain on the sidelines. Shall we co-operate loyally with equal rights? Yes! Shall we decide jointly the time and the methods of conducting the general strike? Yes! Shall we recognize Jouhaux’s monopoly to stifle the revolutionary movement? Never!
Last updated on: 22.4.2007