Alfred Rosmer

Trotsky in Paris During World War I

Recollections of a Comrade and Co-Worker

(July 1950)

From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 5, September–October 1950, pp. 263–278.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We are proud to present herewith a memoir written especially for this issue of The New International by Alfred Rosmer, one of the great figures of the modern French revolutionary movement, and for many, many years the friend, comrade and co-worker of Leon Trotsky. – The Editors


It was at the beginning of the First World War and in connection with it that we entered into contact with several Russian socialists, notably with Trotsky. “We” was the editorial board of La Vie Ouvrière [Workers’ Life], the syndicalist review founded in Paris in 1909 by Pierre Monatte. The rapprochement, which was to become so solid and listing, occurred fortuitously; it was brought about by the publication of a letter from a Russian socialist to Gustave Hervé If the contact was easy from the start and proved in the years that followed to withstand every test, it is because the accidental initial cause was joined by others, fundamental ones, which would soon have effected it in any case.

Up to the outbreak of the war, there had been no contact between us. Revolutionary syndicalists and socialists of the parties of the Second International followed two different paths. Even the joint demonstrations organized against the war danger when the peril became definite could not dispel the divergences that made them opponents; they scarcely diminished them. The revolutionary syndicalists pursued their activity and the realization of their goals, immediate or distant, by the direct action of their organizations. They ignored or denounced the parliamentary operations of the Socialist Party whose leaders inspired no confidence in them.

To be sure, the Russian socialists were exempted from this all-around and conclusive condemnation. They were known to be of different mettle. It could not be denied that they were revolutionists, and the difference with them could only be over method. It was not they who could be reproached for using socialism in order to make a career. But in Paris, they lived apart, among themselves, forming an islet in the large city.

Rare were those, even among the French socialists, who knew Lenin during his sojourn in Paris and the Bolshevik school at Longjumeau. They had their papers, their meetings, their fierce controversies, and it is hardly exaggeration to say that what was known about them above all other things was that they were tough wranglers, merciless polemists.

The collapse of the Second International on August 4, 1914, was for them what the abdication of the Confédération Générale du Travail (General Labor Federation), the incarnation of revolutionary syndicalism, was for us. It must appear strange today, perhaps incredible: their parties, so differentiated from one another by conceptions and program, reacted similarly, that is, they decomposed in the same fashion. The Bolshevik group of Paris did not stand up any better than the others, Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists. There were “defensists” in all three parties, and since the Russians do nothing by halves, most of the “defensists” went off to enlist in the French army.

In opposition to them, the resisters of the three parties felt themselves on the same foundation, united by conceptions which were thenceforward determinant essentials as to the origins and the meaning of the war, the defense of socialism and of the International. They had a printing shop at their disposal; they decided to publish a paper which would be a rallying point for all the faithful socialists. Their position was that of the revolutionary syndicalists who denounced the “Sacred Union” to which the majority of the leadership of the CGT had rallied, and who maintained proletarian internationalism against them.

The two new groupings thus formed had to come together. Yet an interval was necessary. We had known Martov first of all by his letter to Gustave Hervé in which the position of the Russian socialists on the war was defined. But relations with him were confined to personal contact and private conversations. We had to await Trotsky, whose early arrival was announced by Martov.

Trotsky arrived in Paris alone, some time in the month of November 1914. He took a room in the Hôtel d’Odessa, at the corner of Rue d’Odessa and Boulevard Edgar-Quinet, in the vicinity of the Montparnasse Station. The war had caught him in Vienna where he had immediately become an undesirable enemy alien. Viktor Adler had facilitated his departure, and that of his wife and two sons. The family had made its first stop in Zurich, then Trotsky had left to scout out Paris, for that is where he wanted to take up residence. Immediately upon his arrival he went to the editorial office of the paper that the “resisters” were publishing. Its name at the time was Nashe Slovo [Our Word] and it was a daily, for the Russian socialists performed the miracle of publishing a socialist daily against the war in wartime Paris, and they published it “to the bitter end,” limiting themselves only to changing the name when the French government decided to prohibit it.

One of the first effects of Trotsky’s participation in the life of the paper and the group was to place on the order of the day the question of the liaison to establish with the French opposition. He himself was appointed to assure this liaison, along with Martov and a Polish socialist, Lapinski. The three of them were supposed to come to our office and participate in our Tuesday evening meetings. After that I often had occasion to see them, but our subsequent encounters have not weakened the very lively memory I still have of the first evening that found them among us. It was an event.

In that lugubrious first winter of the war, faced by the collapse of the Internationals, our thoughts were often somber. Our regular meetings, limited to our own forces, cut down by the mobilization, were an inestimable comfort. But that one took on an exceptional character: a friendly encounter between syndicalists and socialists, each very much attached to its respective doctrines. A war was needed for such a thing to be possible.

A young socialist writer, Raymond Lefebvre, who was to be killed by the war, has so exactly evoked these joint meetings that I should like to present here some extracts from his narrative:

Right near the corner of Rue Grange-aux-Belles and the Quai Jemmapes, in Paris, a little gray shop still stood open in 1914, a Librairie du Travail [Labor Publishers] ... This shop closed on August 2nd. And yet, on certain evenings of the autumn, along about nine o’clock, police might have noted that a furtive life sparkled there, that conspirators slipped in one after the other. I participated in it more than once. No more was done than to poke dolefully the warmed- over remnants of the International; to draw up with a bitter memory the vast list of those who had failed; to catch glimpses, with useless clairvoyance, of how the exhausting struggle would last in which civilization would be the only vanquished.

A somber pride was left us. The pride of loyalty to the faith, the pride of resisting the inundation of the stupidity in which, Romain Rolland alone excepted, the mightiest minds were wallowing.

Rosmer, the poet Martinet, Trotsky, Guilbeaux, Merrheim and two or three others whose names I do not know – we were able, right in Paris, to be at once among the last Europeans of that fine intelligent Europe that the world had just lost forever and the first men of a future International about which we remained certain. We were the chain between the two centuries. Aye, those are proud souvenirs.

Let us return to that meeting at which Trotsky, Martov and Lapinski were with us for the first time. As was natural, the conversation remained general at the start, moving from one subject to another. Among our syndicalist friends, some, not many, were still hesitant. The sentimental reaction engendered among them by the aggression of semi-feudal Austria against little Servia, and enhanced by the German thrust through Belgium, disturbed them, and obscured in their minds the true and profound causes of the war. They were to move away from us later on, but they were present that evening, and one of them exclaimed, when the conversation got around more specifically to the war: “But, after all, Austria is the one that jumped cravenly upon Servia!”

Then Trotsky spoke up. The liberal paper of Kiev Kievskaya Mysl [Kievian Thought], with which he had collaborated, had made him a war correspondent during the two Balkan wars. He was thus particularly well equipped for a reply. In the friendly tone that had marked the conversation from the beginning, he gave a luminous exposition of a situation that was complicated only in appearance. The Balkan peoples who had fought against one another were all victims of the diplomatic intrigues and maneuvers of the Great Powers who regarded them as their pawns on the European chessboard. There was neither smugness nor pedantry in his remarks: an exceptionally well-informed comrade was dealing with a subject which circumstances had enabled him to know thoroughly, in its entirety and in its regional characteristics.

The conclusion forced itself upon us without any need to formulate it, with no room left for doubts and even less for a serious contradiction. All of us had the impression that our group had just gained a remarkable recruit. Our horizon widened. Our meetings were going to take on new life. We felt a great contentment.

Nevertheless, these encounters, so happily begun, had to come to a speedy end. Martov was a sort of official personage in his party. He represented the Menshevik faction of the Social-Democratic Labor Party of Russia in the International Socialist Bureau, the permanent organism of the Second International. His party, like the others, had been broken into three fragments by the war: a defensist section – the one that had supplied the enlisted volunteers; a vacillating center; and an internationalist left.

Precisely because he belonged to the last tendency, Martov deemed that he must maintain a certain prudence, to do nothing that might seem to commit arbitrarily the party as a whole. Common work with us, who belonged to no socialist party, ran the risk of putting him in a difficult situation, of warranting criticisms by the leaders of the French Socialist Party who did not take kindly to his speeches – to them, he was not a comrade but a nuisance.

As for Trotsky, he had much more freedom of movement. He had broken with the Bolsheviks because he was hostile to their principles of organization, and with the Mensheviks because he condemned their politics. He was at the head of a group that had constituted itself around the conception of the “permanent revolution,” which he had worked out in part with Parvus. Very solidly Marxist, he was nonetheless not of those social-democrats for whom revolutionary syndicalism was a heresy to be condemned on every score; neither did the general strike frighten him off, for he already had one, a famous one, to his credit, that of 1905. In the discussions held in the Nashe Slovo group he defended warmly the liaison established with us and the possibility of joint work. His point of view, which Martov joined in without too much difficulty, carried.

No sooner had he arranged himself in wartime Paris – he already knew the city, having made brief visits to it on two occasions, but the state of war had created new complications – than Trotsky hastened to bring in his family. He had found a modest boarding house in the vicinity of Montsouris Park, at the top of La Glacière, at the entrance to Rue de l’Amiral-Mouchez. According to a stubborn but fairly harmless legend – infinitely worse ones were forged – he was always seen at a table of the Café de la Rotonde among the chess players.

There is a mix-up here. It is Martov, a bohemian by taste and habit, who was a cafe frequenter. As for Trotsky, he was the very contrary of a bohemian and he liked neither the atmosphere nor the talk of the cafe: too much time lost.

The boarding house of Rue de l’Amiral-Mouchez was a very simple two-storied building. There were hardly a dozen boarders. The man and woman who managed it were a rare exception in the category of the usual businessmen. They became friends of the family, especially of the two boys. They continued to meet when the family had found regular lodgings. I went there once a week, generally on Sunday. One of our evenings was exceptionally stirring and I want to speak of it in some detail. Trotsky had asked us, Lapinski and me, to come to dinner and he had insisted that we come early. We had the explanation right away. “I have invited,” he told us, “a Belgian anarchist whom I met by chance a while ago. He is an extremely congenial person who, out of impulsiveness, it seems, has reacted violently against the German invaders. He has organized assaults against them in the Liège region, and fled just in time to escape being caught. His reports are therefore very interesting and very instructive. They help understand the Belgian resistance whose violent and spontaneous character has surprised everybody. [1] Besides, they also help understand how and why anarchists have been led to behave like frenzied patriots. Naturally, there is no point in discussing the war with him. That would get us nowhere. He has a lively, hot-headed character and, above all, he is not in a state of mind right now to discuss calmly with opponents.” We took our oath, Lapinski and I, to behave like men of the world, experts in the art of avoiding explosive subjects.

The dinner went off perfectly. The menu was simple even on gala evenings and there was no danger of either wines or spirits going to our heads. I knew our partner even though I had never met him during my trips to Belgium. I had read the recital of his activity and his writings. He was an attractive figure of Belgian anarchism, which had no few of them. The passage of Elisée Reclus through the New University of Brussels had left deep traces. When we reached Trotsky’s room, I opened up the conversation by speaking of memories and friends we had in common. Trotsky and Lapinski spoke up in turn. Our conversation unfolded in an agreeable atmosphere of cordiality and we rejoiced in the thought that the evening would end as pleasantly as it had begun, when suddenly our partner blazed up. What had happened? We were unable to clear up what was to remain a mystery. Was it that our ideas about the war were poorly concealed beneath our uninflammable words? In any case, we had to endure the assault of our unbridled companion: we were Germanophiles, cravens, we were against the war out of cowardice, and the fidelity to internationalism that we proclaimed was nothing but a convenient pretext to mask the real reasons ... Reply had to be made, but the only result was that voices were raised to the point where the peaceful house was disturbed. We were all displeased.

Before his family came to join him, Trotsky had already organized two big trips in France. His paper did not ask him to go to the front and follow the armies. Besides, the accredited war correspondents did not see very much; they were reduced to spinning out more or less adroitly the official communiqués, and trench warfare marked a lull in the spectacular operations. What was interesting, however, was to cross the country, to question people, to converse with them in order to reveal the real feelings which conventional falsehood concealed under flashy heroism. Trotsky had first visited Marseille and moved down the coast to the Italian frontier. Then, planning to go toward the North, he asked me to accompany him, thinking that I could help him in the conversations with the English soldiers we were going to meet. One of our friends was then in Boulogne; that is where we decided to go first. Mobilized on the first day, he had since found himself completely isolated. He was avid for news, wanted to know what was happening at the rear, in the socialist and syndicalist general staffs. In the end he learned more from us than we from him. From the English, we did not gather very much. During our walk through the city, we had met a company of volunteers – England had not yet resigned herself to conscription. From place to place, a man – a pal – shouted out the question: “Are you downhearted?” and, naturally, all of them responded with: “No!” After the “soup,” we saw some of them playing ball in the street. They looked as little like soldiers as they could look and I could not refrain from saying to my companion: “Too bad that they too are going to learn militarism and the brutishness of barracks life.” “Not at all,” he riposted, “it’s a good thing for them to take their turn in going through it.” We saw others in the café to which we had gone to finish the evening with our friend. They belonged to the quartermaster’s division and for them the war was not too tough. They had already taken on a fair load of beer; they uttered nothing but commonplaces.

The next day we were able to get as far as Calais, then the farthest point of the zone open to civilians. It had been foggy all day long and when we arrived there, night had already fallen; we had a time of it finding lodgings in a hotel. We had come close to the front, but there was nothing whatever to see there. Many of the inhabitants had left for the interior. The city was dead. We went to the offices of the local newspaper in the hope of finding someone from whom some authentic information could be gathered about the state of mind in a region near the front. All we met there was a pitiful chap, symbol of the misery of small provincial papers, further aggravated by the conditions imposed on the press by the war: censorship and compulsory buncombe. Our questions astonished him. The idea that he could tell us anything interesting, us who came from Paris, produced a stupor in him that he did not try to conceal: “You know more than we do,” he kept on repeating. But as to the threat, the possibility of a German push, he thought himself obliged to play the braggart: “The ‘boches’ don’t scare us, we are not afraid of either their cannons or their planes.”

In the train that took us back to Paris, we had a young Belgian soldier with us for a while. He busied himself with notes, sketches and maps, raised his head, looked at us. It was plain that he was impatient to engage us in conversation. After a few words from us, he replied by telling us his story. He was in the artillery. His battery having been put out of commission by the Germans, he was sent to the rear to rest until further orders. Taking one of his sketches, he told us: “Here’s where our piece was when we were attacked. A first shell fell pretty far behind us; a second fell ahead, but the third hit right on the head. We had been betrayed!” This sudden substitution of the convenient conventional lie for the plain and simple reality made us think for a moment that we were dealing with a humorist. But nothing of the kind. Our good Belgian was perfectly serious, for, in order to edify us about the “betrayal,” he enumerated for us several exploits of the same kind which he had heard from comrades who had also been sent to the rear. War hatches lies spontaneously, being itself a big lie: it cannot present itself for what it is.

Early in 1915, changes took place in our two groups. A revision of the list of men who had not performed military service made it possible to send the best-known oppositionists into the armies. Monatte was soon mobilized; my turn came two months later. Among our Russian friends, there had been a break between Martov and the editorial board of Nashe Slovo. The war, protracted far beyond what the experts had foreseen and the soldiers had been made to believe, engendered important transformations in the state of mind of the draftees as well as the men and women at home. Discontentment became very active. The need to act, to do something progressively eliminated the confident passivity of the early Sacred Union. Martov felt himself bypassed, not so much perhaps so far as he was personally concerned, but with regard to the center and in fact the majority of his party. Pretty vehement controversies brought him into conflict with Trotsky in particular, after which he decided to settle in Switzerland. A newcomer took his place in the delegation of Nashe Slovo: he was Dridzo-Lozovsky. Unlike his comrades, he had been involved pretty closely in the French trade-union movement, having been secretary of a wholly exceptional kind of union, that of the capmakers, all of whose members were Jews. Our meetings were now held fairly often at his place; his wife was a dentist and her office was large enough for us to be at our ease.

The Parisian life of Trotsky was thenceforth well ordered. In the morning, he read the papers. A born journalist, loving, as he reports in his autobiography, to sniff the smell of printer’s ink, of freshly moist proofs, he had easily oriented himself among the Parisian press, which was yet so different from what he had been used to in Vienna. The French newspapers of the time were extremely poor. The censorship hardly left them the freedom to embellish upon the official communiqués. The papers were thus, in form and substance, put together from the same pattern. For this reason, Trotsky found l’Action Française of the Maurassian neo-royalists interesting. By the side of the not always harmless buffoonery of Leon Daudet, the “doctrinary” snarling of Maurras sprawled over massive columns, while Louis Dimier cut up Germany into morsels every day – into serpent’s fragments – before he quit the house and revealed its secrets. It maintained an incontestable originality, due in part to the fierce campaign that it conducted at the time against Clemenceau, which earned it favorable censorship treatment. He saw soon enough, however, what there really was behind this surface originality: “Why, these interminable articles of Maurras,” he said to me, “they’re always the same thing, and the famous verve of Daudet is no doubt amusing only in peacetime.”

Toward eleven o’clock, he left the house to go to the Nashe Slovo printshop, where the editors would come together to discuss and prepare the paper. By their connections with their emigré comrades in Switzerland, England, Scandinavia, America, they were able to gather together, in those days of penury, an exceptional informational service which enabled them to understand better and interpret more exactly the events of each day. The commentaries were accompanied by discussions and important studies that the censor treated with a certain respect, doubtlessly judging that this paper, confined to a small circle of emigrés, represented no danger to the French. In the afternoon and evening, Trotsky wrote, or participated in the debates that the various Russian groups organized. He excelled in enlivening the debates. But he always found the time to occupy himself with the school work of the two boys who, having hardly had the time to start on French, attended a Russian school on the Boulevard Blanqui.

In the course of my visits, he initiated me into the life of the Russian parties and the lively controversies that agitated them. He, on his part, had nurtured them by the publication of an important brochure written in Zurich during his short sojourn, which appeared there in German under the title, Der Krieg und die Internationale [The War and the International]. This brochure had a strange fate. At the beginning of 1915, the German government ordered its confiscation. The court that sat in the case pronounced sentence upon the author for the crime of lèse-majesté. It was to reappear three years later, in New York, in English, under a new title, The Bolsheviki and World Peace. An enterprising publisher had made a book out of it – there was no lack of substance for that – and Lincoln Steffens wrote an introduction to it. Appraising pretty accurately Trotsky’s position toward the war, he wrote: “Trotsky is not pro-German ... He is not pro-Allies; he is not even pro-Russian. He is not a patriot at all. He is for a class, the proletariat, the working class of all countries, and he is for his class only to get rid of classes.” But the most astonishing thing is that the book aroused a lively interest in another man, a much more important personage in American society of that day than Lincoln Steffens – President Woodrow Wilson, whose ambition it was to arbitrate the conflict. But for the peace that he intended to realize, he came into collision with the ill- will of the Entente statesmen. So, while he could not, of course, approve of the entire contents of the book, he did find in the peace program set up by the author several points of his own: no reparations; the right of every nation to self-determination; the United States of Europe – without monarchies, without standing armies, without ruling feudal castes, without secret diplomacy. All this was not of a kind to frighten off the liberal American intellectual who was more at home with it than were his compeers of Europe. He commented on the book, recommended it, made it a success. Trotsky was not to know about this interesting adventure until years later, but he was informed of it by the publisher himself, Charles Boni, who visited him in Prinkipo.

My visits to the boarding house on Rue de l’Amiral-Mouchez ended in the month of May, when I was mobilized and sent to the provinces. At the beginning of August, I was able to take advantage of a service provision to return to Paris, where I arrived just in time to participate in the last meeting at which we were to discuss and define the attitude of our delegate to the international conference that was soon to meet in Switzerland. Through Merrheim, I learned what had happened to the leadership of the C.G.T. in my absence, and Trotsky recounted in detail the preparatory work of the conference. An Italian socialist deputy, Morgari, had come to Paris, credentialed by his party to sound out the leaders of the socialist party and get them to participate in the conference. At the same time, he was supposed to raise the question of an international conference in the Bureau of the Second International which claimed that it was already too late to convoke the representatives of its sections. He had had no success among the leaders of the French party, nor any more among those of the Second International. Vandervelde had dismissed him brutally, even boasting of preventing any attempt at an international socialist get-together.

For France to participate in the conference, it was evidently necessary to be content with oppositional groups which we would endeavor to make as representative as possible. Conferences of the socialist party and of the C.G.T. had taken place. It was not possible to pretend any longer to ignore that oppositions existed. The most important of the trade- union organizations was the Fédération des metaux [Metal Workers’ Federation] and all told it already represented a third of the general federation’s membership. In the socialist party, one of the most solid departmental federations, that of Haute-Vienne, had proceeded to distinguish itself publicly from the attitude of l’Humanité and the party leadership. Through the medium of Morgari, contacts were established between the Russian group of Nashe Slovo, the trade-union opposition and the socialists of Haute-Vienne. Several joint meetings had been held; they remained without positive results. The deputies of the minority were satisfied with the moderate and harmless form of the opposition they had adopted. They feared before all else to make a gesture which would have opened them to the accusation of imperilling the unity of the party. The urgent arguments of the Russian socialists which should have been decisive for them did not succeed in pushing them ahead an inch toward a consistent attitude; throughout the war and afterward they never went further than Kautsky. So, nothing was gained from this side and since it was necessary above all to keep the enterprise secret, it was decided to be satisfied, so far as French representation was concerned, with two absolutely sure delegations: Merrheim, secretary of the Fédération des metaux, and Bourderon, an old militant of the socialist party who was in addition the secretary of a trade-union federation, that of the coopers.

This last meeting which I was able to attend by chance was, intentionally, not large in numbers, Merrheim and Bourderon were there and, from the Russian side, Trotsky and Lozovsky. The resolution on which the syndicalist minority had united at the national [C.G.T.] conference of August 15 was very clear in its opposition to the war, its denunciation of the Sacred Union, in its proclamation of the principles of revolutionary syndicalism; it remained vague about the specific action to be undertaken. Trotsky and even Lozovsky, who was always very moderate, insisted that it be supplemented by a fairly precise program of action. But Merrheim and Bourderon replied invariably that they considered themselves bound by their own resolution and did not have the right to change it. In reality, both of them, highly prudent, aimed to reserve to themselves complete freedom of movement. A few days later, Merrheim, Bourderon and Trotsky left for Switzerland.

The secret had been well kept. Brief repercussions appeared in the papers when the conference had already concluded. Trotsky notified me of his return, making an appointment with me at the Nashe Slovo printshop. His family had just moved into a small house in Sèvres which a friend, the painter René Parece, being out for several months, had placed at its disposal. A long afternoon and part of the evening were needed to exhaust the report of the conference. Trotsky had followed its developments and incidents close at hand; he knew personally the score of men who had come together in the alpine hostelry of Zimmerwald; and he was the one assigned to draw up the text of the document on which there could be unanimous agreement. He was in a position to make the best and completest report. I must confine myself here to underscoring the two salient points of the debates which were very vehement at times. Lenin wanted the deputies present to commit themselves to voting against war credits upon their return home. He harassed mercilessly Ledebour who refused to make a definitive commitment, and he upset the Italians who, not yet having abandoned the hope of winning over Bernstein and Kautsky and starting up the machinery of the Second International again, absolutely refused to hear anything about a new International.

Even though Lenin was displeased at not having been able to carry his point of view, he gave his approval to the manifesto adopted at the end of the conference, and those who supported his thesis, forming the left wing of the conference, signed along with him. He entitled the article in which he analyzed the debates and the reasons for his attitude, The First Step. The Zimmerwald conference, such as it was, was one of the important events of the first world war, perhaps the most decisive one, for this “first step” inevitably dictated others. It marked the reawakening of the labor and socialist movements; the scattered oppositions which had till then more or less ignored one another now had a center for mutual contact. Each one now knew he was not alone, that he had comrades in France and in all the countries. There was the certitude that proletarian internationalism, betrayed or scoffed at, had not been wiped out of the consciousness of the workers. It was alive and it would triumph. For confidence was reborn and with it the need to act. New groups were formed or came together: socialists, syndicalists, anarchists, foreshadowing the composition of the new International which was to emerge from the war.

In France, where the workers were particularly exploited, strikes broke out. Taking advantage of circumstances, the employers had imposed “war wages.” The workers in the fashionable clothing houses were the first in the fight under the slogan, “Down with war wages!” The employers had to give in. Then, what was infinitely more important, the agitation reached the munitions plants. The special manufacturing processes, notably in the case of shells, allowed the employment of ordinary labor and specialized laborers, and the employers resorted to female labor which they exploited relentlessly. Work was paid by the piece; speed-up production was pushed, but as soon as a certain wage was reached the employers reduced the base rate of pay, so that every day the workers exhausted themselves more and more physically only to get the same skimpy wage. A strike broke out in a plant of the Paris suburbs. Supported by the unions and by a solidarity movement in which the oppositional groupings participated, the women workers triumphed over the resistance and the threats of the government and the employers. The first trade-union sections of women workers were created.

In Paris, following meetings at the Labor Exchange where Merrheim and Bourderon set forth the work and the conclusions of the Zimmerwald conference, the Committee for the Resumption of International Relations was constituted. Now the opposition had at its disposal a center of information and action. The Committee published pamphlets and tracts and even though its material means were feeble, its mere existence disturbed the socialist and trade-union leadership which hastened to disavow and denounce it. A similar movement developed throughout the country. The Bulletin published by the International Socialist Commission set up by the Zimmerwald Conference could soon publish a list of 25 organizations which had approved the manifesto and, as a consequence, the Commission decided to convoke a new conference which was able to meet during the last week of April.

Everything was now clearer, but for us the problem of direct participation was a hard one to solve. The government which had been accused of weakness and severely criticized by the fireside warriors, refused to grant passports to every one of those who might have represented us. The Nashe Slovo group, likewise unable to send one of its own people, proposed to us to prepare a common declaration and manifesto for the conference which would be published in the pre-conference Bulletin and would thus assure our participation. Trotsky was assigned to draw up the documents and when they were ready he asked me to come discuss them with him. This time the preliminary declaration put the questions clearly. The events of the past five months had fully confirmed the conceptions expressed at Zimmerwald. Now it was necessary to move more resolutely along the road marked out. The problem of national defense had to be settled categorically without preoccupation with the existing military or diplomatic situation, and the accent was placed on the intensified revolutionary struggle of the working class against capitalism, for it was only in that way that the peace conception formulated in Zimmerwald could be realized. Our documents appeared in No. 3 of the Commission’s Bulletin, February 29, 1916; a complete English translation of it can be found in the work of Gankin and Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War (Stanford University Press, pp. 390–394). While I approved the draft worked out by Trotsky in everything that was essential, I asked him to make a change, to eliminate the passages concerning the “centrists” (their leader in France was Jean Longuet). One of the consequences of Zimmerwald was to push these people to organize themselves because they wanted at all costs to distinguish themselves from it and at the same time to keep their hold, by means of an intermediate position, on as many as possible of the socialists who were ready to join it. Trotsky attacked them, denounced their ambiguous and timorous attitude. That did not shock me, quite the contrary, I would rather have added to it. We knew them well and had no illusions about them. But we had always so harshly forbidden them any intrusion into the trade-union field which we defended jealously against them, against the efforts they tried to make to turn the unions off the right road, that we considered it natural, in return, not to mix into their internal dissension. Trotsky, was not very happy about amputating his document in this fashion, but in our common work he always showed himself very understanding, defending his ideas as only he knew how but ready nevertheless for necessary conciliation. Thus the documents could appear under the double signature of Nashe Slovo and Vie Ouvrière.

Nevertheless, there were three Frenchmen at this second conference which likewise met in Switzerland, in Kienthal, from the 24th to the 30th of April, 1916; three deputies who made the trip in the greatest secrecy. They had no contact with the Committee for the Resumption of International Relations and did not seek to get any. They wanted to carry on their opposition in their own way, afraid to link themselves with more resolute and consistent elements. All three of them were teachers; Brizon, a high-school teacher, was the most capable and it was he who acted as their spokesman at the conferences. He was an impulsive, uneven, capricious person. On occasion, he could be utterly unendurable – which is precisely what happened from the very first sessions of the conference where he showed his disagreeable side and provoked unpleasant incidents. But with him the business ended better than it began: he was the one entrusted with drawing up the manifesto and, back in France, he did more than had been expected, voting against war credits the first chance he got, followed only by the other two pilgrims to Kienthal, defying the clamor, the insults and the threats of almost the entire Chamber, particularly of the majority socialists who were not among the least furious. Besides, he thereafter made a “communist” use of the parliamentary tribune by reading off the newspaper articles which the censorship had prohibited and which were then to appear in the Journal Officiel, in the report of the debates. The Committee for the Resumption of International Relations immediately reprinted them in the form of tracts which fostered and expanded its propaganda.

The opposition became stronger, more conscious, more aggressive, while the situation of the governments of the belligerent countries worsened: at the beginning of 1916 there seemed to be no way out for them; the tiredness became more general; privation became harder and there was all the less inclination to accept it because there were no more illusions about the outcome of the war. Seeking to obtain a decision, Germany had unleashed a terrible offensive against Verdun. There it wore out its forces, but it also wore out those of France. As is customary, the frenetical patriots spoke of treason, manufactured newspaper novels, melodramatic stories to capture the attention of the peoples and to dupe them. Every morning they demanded that the government crack down upon the “defeatists.”

I was then in Paris and I had resumed my visits to Trotsky and his family in their lodgings in the Gobelins where they had moved when they had to leave the house in Sèvres. One evening, I found Trotsky sad and preoccupied. He participated regularly in the meetings of the Committee for the Resumption of International Relations. His remarks were highly regarded, all the more because they expressed the feelings of the great majority of the members who, like Trotsky, desired to expand the activity of the Committee on the outside. Toward this end, he had insisted at the last meeting of the Committee on the need of giving the Committee an organ, of publishing at least a Bulletin that would establish connections between Paris and the rest of the country. This proposition had irritated Merrheim, who had also fought against it and, carried away by anger, he had reproached Trotsky for “lacking in tact.” Trotsky had not replied to this surprising accusation on the spot; he did not want to aggravate the incident, being certain that Merrheim would come off second best. What could be the meaning of this? Only that Trotsky, being a “foreigner,” was supposed to maintain more reserve than the other members of the Committee, to refrain from taking the initiative and to content himself with approval. But precisely because he was a “foreigner,” Trotsky was more exposed than anyone else, and events were soon to prove that.

At the meeting of the National Council of the Socialist Party on August 7, the majority had denounced the opposition in new language. Minister Sembat had declared: “I consider it the duty of the majority to react against the propaganda that the minority is organizing with tireless activity. We must not allow the continuation of this sort of corruption of the mind of the public in general and of socialists in particular.” Echoing him immediately, the man who then figured as the leader of the party, Renaudel, asserted: “I have in my pockets letters from soldiers who write me: ‘We are sent letters that give us the blues,’ they say; and this is no time for that.” The reactionary press, that is, the whole of the Parisian and provincial press, immediately picked up these words, adding the conclusion implicit in them but which the two “socialists” had not dared formulate openly in a party conference: the government must gag the corruptors of the public mind. It was an appeal to repression and the preparation of it. Trotsky was to be its first victim.

Frightened by the mounting figure of its losses in men, France had decided to appeal to Russia and its “inexhaustible reservoir” to send contingents of Russian soldiers to fight on the French front. The operation was to prove disastrous and shortly after the first disembarkments a grave incident occurred. Russian soldiers stationed in Marseille mutinied; their colonel, unable to mollify them by his eloquence, struck one of them, who turned on him and killed him.

According to the first accounts, the explanation of this tragic affair seemed simple. The Russian soldiers were subject to a severe discipline, they were absolutely forbidden to walk through the city, which was an all the more intolerable regulation when they could see other soldiers of all colors, English, Indian, black, move about freely after their day’s military work. Irritation, added to expatriation, was more than enough to explain the fight.

However, disturbing signs appeared. The inquest had disclosed, said the newspapers, that the killer had copies of Nashe Slovo in his possession. Thereafter the affair took a different turn: Russian journalists who went into the matter particularly, established the fact that an active role had been played by an agent provocateur. All sorts of documents were then recollected. Gustave Hervé, then still a member of the Administrative Commission of the Socialist Party, had demanded of Ministy Malvy, since 1915, to throw out of France all the Russian refugees guilty of revolutionary internationalism. On the other hand, Professor Durkheim, chairman of the commission appointed by the government to take care of the Russian refugees, had informed their representative of the coming prohibition of Nashe Slovo and the expulsion of its editors. The hour of application had come: on September 15, 1916, the government suppressed Nashe Slovo; on September 16 it notified Trotsky of its decree on his expulsion.

The eve of the day set for the expulsion I went to Rue Oudry to greet Trotsky. He received me with a smile: “I am not leaving,” he said. Minority socialist deputies had intervened with Briand, then president of the Council, and reminded him that no French government to date had consented to turn over a Russian revolutionist to the czar. Briand denied any such plan; he granted a delay so that a country could be found to admit Trotsky. After he had given me these explanations, Trotsky added that his friends of Nashe Slovo, who had arranged a farewell party, had decided not to call it off. There could be no illusions about the outcome of the affair; it was only postponed. Natalia then joined us and we left for the Russian canteen on Rue Broca where the “banquet” was to be held, with a Russian menu on which only tea was in abundance. Even though there was scarcely reason for rejoicing; good humor prevailed from start to finish and so late into the night that I had to leave before the end. The Russian revolutionists present that evening had all passed through stiff tests and the weightiest threat now seemed removed.

If there had been any illusions, they would soon have been dispelled. From that time on, Trotsky was subjected to rigorous police surveillance. Police were installed in an empty shop at the mouth of the Rue Oudry from which no movement of Trotsky could escape their watch. However, Trotsky succeeded one day in outsmarting them. He had been summoned to the police prefecture for noon, and since he could not stand having the police trail him, he left the house before daybreak, resolved to wander around the city throughout the morning. At the stroke of noon, as he approached the office of the commissioner, he had time to perceive the tormented face of the policeman, upset at having let him escape. Shortly after this interlude, the order for his immediate expulsion arrived, this time definitively. That day, when I appeared at Rue Oudry, I found only Natalia and the two boys, who were preparing to leave for Spain; two new police agents, more important ones, had presented themselves that morning.

When Trotsky understood that the expulsion measure was definitive, he prepared a letter addressed to Jules Guesde. For the Russian socialists, Sembat was an amateur, a dilettante amused by the socialist game. But Jules Guesde had been a pioneer, he had known Marx. Up to the war, he had retained so much prestige in their eyes that all of of them remained more or less “Guesdists.” So it was to him that Trotsky wanted “to express some ideas which will probably be of no use to you, but which may at least be useful against you.” Then, after having recited in detail the “Marseille affair,” the pretext for the repression, he wrote:

At the beginning of the war, when generous promises were distributed with an open hand, your closest companion, Sembat, gave Russian journalists a glimpse of the most beneficial influence of the democratic Allies upon the internal regime of Russia. In addition, this was the supreme argument with which the government-socialists of France and Belgium sought, perseveringly, but unsuccessfully, to reconcile the Russian revolutionists with the czar.

Twenty-six months of constant military collaboration, of communion with the generalissimos, diplomats, parliamentarians, visits of Viviani and Thomas to Tsarskoye Selo, in a word, twenty- six months of uninterrupted “influence” of the Western democrats upon czarism, have strengthened the most arrogant reaction in our country, modified only by administrative chaos, and have at the same time brought the internal regime of England and France extremely close to that of Russia. The generous promises of M. Sembat are cheaper, as you can see, than his coal. The hapless fate of the right of asylum thus appears only as a striking symptom of militaristic and police domination on both sides of the Channel.

... Is it possible for an honest socialist not to fight against you? You have transformed the Socialist Party into a docile choir accompanying the coryphées of capitalist banditry in an epoch when bourgeois society – whose mortal enemy you, Jules Guesde, once were – has disclosed its true nature through and through. Out of the events prepared by an entire period of world pillage, whose consequences we foretold more than once, out of all the blood spilled, out of all the suffering, the misfortunes, all the crimes, all the rapaciousness and felonies of the governments, you, Jules Guesde, draw but one single lesson for the French proletariat, namely, that Wilhelm II and Franz-Josef are criminals who, unlike Nicolas II and M. Poincaré, do not respect the rules of international law!

... The socialism of Babeuf, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Blanqui, the Commune, Jaurès and Jules Guesde – yes, of Jules Guesde too – finally found its Albert Thomas to deliberate with Romanov on the surest way of seizing Constantinople; its Marcel Sembat to parade his dilettante’s I-don’t-give-a-fig over the cadavers and ruins of French civilization; and its Jules Guesde to train with the others behind the chariot of conqueror Briand.

And you thought, you hoped, that the French proletariat which, in this idealess and fruitless war, is being bled white by the crime of the ruling classes, will support silently to the end this shameful pact drawn between official socialism and its worst enemies. You were mistaken. An opposition arose. In spite of the state of siege and the furor of nationalism, which always preserves its same capitalist substance under divers forms, royalist, radical or socialist, the revolutionary opposition is advancing step by step and is winning ground every day.

Nashe Slovo, the paper you have strangled, lived and breathed in the atmosphere of reawakening French socialism. Ripped out of the Russian soil by the will of the counter-revolution that triumphed thanks to the aid of the French Stock Exchange – which you, Jules Guesde, are now serving – the Nashe Slovo group was happy to reflect, even as incompletely as your censorship allowed us, the voice of the French section of the new International, arising out of the midst of the horrors of the fratricidal war.

... Perhaps you draw consolation from the thought that we are few in number? Yet we are more numerous than think the policemen of all ranks. They do not perceive, in their professional myopia, that spirit of revolt that is rising in all the centers of suffering, that is spreading throughout France and all of Europe, in the workers’ suburbs and the countryside, the shops and the trenches.

... Step down, Jules Guesde, from your military automobile, get out of the cage where the capitalist state has shut you up, and look about you a little. Perhaps fate will one last time take pity on your sorry old age and you will hear the muted sound of approaching events. We await them; we summon them; we prepare them. The fate of France would be too frightful if the Calvary of its working masses did not lead to a great revenge, our revenge, where there will be no place for you, Jules Guesde, nor for yours.

Expelled by you, I leave France with a profound faith in our triumph. Over your head, I sent a fraternal greeting to the French proletariat which is awakening to great destinies. Without you and against you, long live socialist France!

As to the influence that Trotsky exercised in France, outside of Russian circles, during the first two years of the First World War, I can give no better evidence of it than by reproducing here some passages from an address drawn up at the moment when, having been accused by Kerensky and his socialist ministers of being “agents of the kaiser,” Lenin had to hide in Finland and Trotsky was arrested and imprisoned. It was signed by militants and organizations belonging to the anarchist and syndicalist movements, among them: Hubert and Barthe, of the excavators’ union, Péricat, of the Comité de Défense Syndicaliste, Decouzon, of the chemical products union, Millerat, secretary of the clothing union, Beauvais, for the ceramics workers’ union, Vaulop, for the electrical workers’ union, Barrion, for the Socialist Youth of the 13th Ward, the Comité d’Entente des Jeunesses Syndicalistes of the Seine, Gontier, of the bricklayers’ union, Barday, for the chauffeurs Action Group, Thuillier and Broutchoux, trade union militants.

We did not await the triumph of the Russian Revolution to affirm to Lenin and to Trotsky and to the other Maximalist comrades our sympathy in order to protest against the slanders with which the entire press drenches them, especially L’Humanité through the voice of Renaudel, and La Bataille through that of Cornelissen. These men are surely great criminals; they do not play the socialist comedy; they have written as socialists, they have spoken as socialists, they act like socialists. Their extreme sincerity shows up pink socialism, hypocrisy and falsehood before the eyes of the socialist and sympathizing masses of France. The masks are falling.

... The revolutionary French proletariat will not be duped by the slanders. We know the men that are being insulted, who they are and what is their worth. Many of them, like Trotsky, lived among us. We admired their courage, their abnegation, their lack of self-interest.

... The crime of these men lies in having remained faithful to their ideas, their convictions, to that program of internationalist and socialist action which others, who now rage against them, acclaimed with them at Zimmerwald and Kienthal.

... They did not think that the change in governmental personnel of March 1917 was sufficient reason to abandon these ideas and this program. They wanted the Russian Revolution to realize: peace imposed by the workers, emancipation of the working class.

Four years later, describing the beginnings of the opposition in France, Amédée Dunois wrote (Bulletin Communiste, March 3, 1921):

We knew Trotsky. He had just arrived in Paris. We were suffocating. Trotsky brought us the exhilarating air of the open spaces; he apprised us that the protests were everywhere legion, that treason affected only the general staffs and that socialism having remained alive the main question was to reconstitute the International.

If there is a bit of exaggeration in these lines as to the remarks ascribed to Trotsky on the subject of the oppositionists who, at the beginning, were nowhere legion, there is none in the scope of new strength that Trotsky brought us, our group in particular and the movement in general. His ascendancy among the revolutionists was to increase to the degree that we learned to know him from his writings and his actions, and also to the degree that we learned of his past activity, of his role in Russian socialism, in the revolution of 1905, of his audacious escape from the icy steppes where czarism sought to confine him – of all those things about which he spoke only when he was questioned.

Paris, July 11, 1950

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1. In the editorial office of l’Humanité in the evening of the attempt on the life of Jaurès, Merrheim had met the Belgian socialist Camille Huysmans, deputy and secretary of the Permanent Bureau of the Second International: “What will you do,” he asked him, “if the Germans break through across Belgium?” Marking his words with a descriptive gesture, Huysmans replied: “A little corridor for them to pass through.”

Last updated on 19 October 2018