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New International, September–October 1934



Bolshevik-Leninists and the SFIO

From New International, Vol. I No. 3, September–October 1934, pp. 69–72.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE crisis of the democratic state of the bourgeoisie necessarily also signifies a crisis of the social democratic party. This interdependence must be pondered and thoroughly analyzed. The passage of the bourgeoisie from the parliamentary to the Bonapartist régime does not yet finally exclude the social democracy from the legal combination of forces upon which the government of capital reposes. As is known, Schleicher, in his time, sought the support of the trade unions. Through the medium of his Marquet, Doumerge naturally negotiates with Jouhaux and Co. Langeron, white baton in hand, indicates the road to both Fascists and socialists. To the extent that the socialist party is aware of the dependence of the Bonapartist equilibrium upon its own existence, it too still relies, so far as its leadership goes, upon this equilibrium, it pronounces itself against revolutionary fighting methods, it stigmatizes Marxism with the sobriquet of “Blanquism”, it preaches the almost Tolstoian doctrine of “Resist not evil with violence”. Only, this policy is just as unstable as the Bonapartist régime itself, with whose aid the bourgeoisie seeks to ward off more radical solutions.

The essence of the democratic state consists, as is known, in that everybody has the right to say and to write what he will, but that in all important questions the final word rests with the big property owners. This result is attained by means of a complex system of partial concessions (“reforms”), illusions, corruption, deceit and intimidation. When the economic possibility of partial concessions (“reforms”) has been exhausted, the social democracy ceases to be the “main political support of the bourgeoisie”. This means: capital can then no longer rest upon a domesticated “public opinion”; it requires a (Bonapartist) state apparatus independent of the masses.

Paralleling this shift in the state system, important shifts take place within the social democracy. With the decline of the epoch of reformism (especially during the post-war decade), the internal régime of the social democracy is a reproduction of the régime of bourgeois democracy: every party member can say and think what he will: but the decisions are made by the summits of the apparatus closely bound up with the state. To the extent that the bourgeoisie loses the possibility of ruling with the support of the public opinion of the exploited, the social democratic leaders lose the possibility of directing the public opinion of their own party. But the reformist leaders, unlike the leaders of the bourgeoisie, have no coercive apparatus at their disposal. To the extent therefore that parliamentary democracy is exhausted, the internal democracy of the socialist party, contrariwise, becomes more and more of a reality.

The crisis of the democratic state and the crisis of the social democratic party develop in parallel, but opposite directions. Whereas the state marches towards Fascism across the Bonapartist stage, the socialist party approaches a life and death struggle with Fascism across a “loyal”, quasi-parliamentary opposition to the Bonapartist state. An understanding of this dialectic of the reciprocal relations between bourgeois state and social democracy is an indisputable prerequisite for the correct revolutionary policy: this is just the question on which the Stalinists broke their necks.

In the Bonapartist stage through which France is at present passing, the leaders of the social democratic party are endeavoring with all their might to remain within the limits of (Bonapartist!) legality. They do not give up the hope that an improvement of the economic conjuncture and other favorable circumstances will lead to the restoration of the parliamentary state. Just the same, the experience of Italy, Germany and Austria compels them to count upon the other, less alluring perspective against which they would like to insure themselves. They are afraid of detaching themselves from the masses who demand a fight against Fascism and await guidance. Thus the socialist apparatus gets caught in the vise of a violent contradiction. On the one hand, it proceeds in its struggle against the radicalization of the masses to the downright preaching of Tolstoianism: “Violence only begets violence; against brass knuckles and revolvers we must oppose ... wisdom and prudence.” On the other hand, it talks about dictatorship of the proletariat, general strike, etc., and betakes itself to the road of the united front policy. In the apparatus itself a stratification takes place at the same time. The “Left wingers” acquire an ever greater popularity. The official leaders are compelled to rest their Right arm on Doumergue (“legality” at all costs!) and their Left on Marceau Pivert, Just, etc. But the objective situation is not likely to preserve such an equilibrium. Let us repeat: the present condition of the socialist party is still more unstable than the preventive-Bonapartist state régime.

There can be no more devastating’ mistake in politics than to operate with ready-made conceptions which relate to the yesterday and to yesterday’s relationship of forces. When, for example, the leadership of the socialist party reduces its task to the demand for parliamentary elections, it is transferring politics from the realm of reality to the realm of shadows. “Parliament”, “government”, “elections” today no longer have any of the content they possessed before the capitulation of the parliamentary régime on February 6. Elections by themselves cannot produce a shift in the center of gravity of power; for this is required a Leftward shift of the masses, capable of completely abrogating and effacing the results of the Rightward shift of February 6.

But a mistake of exactly the same kind is made by those comrades who, in appraising the socialist party, themselves operate with the ready-made formulae of yesterday: “reformism”, “Second International”, “political support of the bourgeoisie”. Are these definitions correct? Yes and no. More no than yes. The old definition of the social democracy corresponds still less to the facts than the definition of the present state as a “parliamentary democratic republic”. It would be false to contend that there is “nothing” left of parliamentarism in France. Under certain conditions even a temporary relapse into parliamentarism is possible (just as a man in death agony usually still retains a glimmer of consciousness). However, the general evolution as a whole is already proceeding away from parliamentarism. Were we to give a definition of the present French state that more closely approximates reality, we should have to say: “a preventive-Bonapartist régime, garbed in the desolated form of the parliamentary state, and veering between the not yet strong enough camp of the Fascist régime and the insufficiently conscious camp of the proletarian state.” Only such a dialectical definition can offer the basis for a correct policy.

But the same laws of dialectical thinking hold also for the socialist party which, as has already been said, shares the fate of the democratic state, only in. the reverse direction. To which should be added, that to a substantial degree, thanks to the experience of Germany and Austria, the evolution of the socialist party even outstrips the evolution of the state to a certain extent: thus the split with the Neos preceded the coup d’etat of February 6 by several months. Naturally it would be a crude mistake to assert that “nothing” has remained of reformism and patriotism in the party since this split. But it is no less a mistake to talk about it as about the social democracy in the old sense of the word. The impossibility of employing henceforward a simple, customary, fixed definition, is precisely the flawless expression of the fact that what we have here is a Centrist party, which, by virtue of a long protracted evolution of the country, still unites extreme polar contradictions. One must be a hopeless scholastic not to discern what is going on in reality under the label: Second International. Only a dialectical definition of the socialist party, that is, primarily, the concrete evaluation of its internal dynamics, can permit the Bolshevik-Leninists to outline the correct perspective and to adopt an active and not a waiting position.

Without the revolutionary impulsion of the masses, which could shift the political center of gravity sharply to the Left – or better yet: before such an impulsion – the state power must identify itself more openly and brutally with the military and police apparatus, Fascism must become stronger and more insolent. Parallel to this, the antagonisms within the socialist party must come to the fore, that is, the incompatibility of the Tolstoian preaching of “Resist not evil with violence” with the revolutionary tasks dictated by the class foe. Simultaneous with the Bonapartization of the state and the approach of the Fascist danger, the party majority must inevitably become radicalized, the internal segregation, which is far from being completed, must enter a new phase.

The Bolshevik-Leninists are duty-bound to say all this openly. They have always rejected the theory of “social-Fascism” and hooligan methods in polemic, in which theoretical impotence unites with lie and calumny. They have no cause to stand themselves on their heads and to call black white. We advocated the united front at a time when it was rejected both by the socialists and the Stalinists. That is just why we remain, even today, with a critical realistic attitude towards the abstraction of “unity”. In the history of the labor movement, demarcation is often the premise of unity. In order to take the first step towards the united front, the socialist party was compelled first to split away from the Neos. This ought not to be forgotten for an instant. The socialist party can take a leading part in a genuine mass and fighting united front only in the event that it sets out its tasks clearly and purges its ranks of the Right wing and masked opponents of revolutionary struggle. It is not a question here of any abstract “principle”, but of an iron necessity resulting from the logic of the struggle. The problem is not one that can be solved by any diplomatic turn of the phrase, as Zyromski believes who endeavors to find the formula that will reconcile social patriotism with internationalism. The march of the class struggle, in its present stage, will pitilessly explode and tear down all tergiversation, deception and dissimulation. The workers in general and the socialists in particular need the truth, the naked truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Bolshevik-Leninists correctly formulated what is and what is to be. But they have not been able – it must be openly avowed – to fulfill the task which they set themselves a year ago: more deeply to penetrate the ranks of the socialist workers, not in order to “lecture” down to them from above as learned specialists in strategy, but in order to learn together with the advanced workers, shoulder to shoulder, on the basis of actual mass experience, which will inevitably lead the French proletariat on the road of revolutionary struggle.

In order the better to illuminate the tasks lying before us on this field, one must, however, dwell upon the evolution of the so-called “communist” party.

* * * *

The socialist party in France, we have written, is developing in a direction opposite to that of the state: whereas for parliamentarism has been substituted Bonapartism, which represents an unstable stage on the road to Fascism, the social democracy, on the contrary, has been moving towards a mortal conflict with Fascism. However, can one invest this view, which at present has an enormous importance for French politics, with an absolute, and consequently an international significance?

No, the truth is always concrete. When we speak of the divergent paths of development of the social democracy and the bourgeois state under the conditions of the present social crisis, we have in mind only the general tendency of development and not a uniform and automatic process. For us, the solution of the political problem depends upon the degree of effective realization of the tendency itself. The contrary theorem can also be advanced, which, let it be hoped, will not encounter any objections among us, namely: the destiny of the proletariat depends, in large measure, in our epoch, upon the resolute manner with which the social democracy will succeed in the brief interval which is vouchsafed it by the march of development, in breaking with the bourgeois state, in transforming itself and in preparing itself for the decisive struggle against Fascism. The very fact that the destiny of the proletariat can thus depend upon the destiny of the social democracy is the consequence of the bankruptcy of the Communist International as the leading party of the international proletariat and also of the unusual acuteness of the class struggle.

The tendency of Centrism to set back reformism, as well as the tendency of the radicalization of Centrism, cannot avoid an international character correlative to the world crisis of capitalism and the democratic state. But what is of decisive importance for practical and above all for organizational deductions, is the question of knowing how this tendency is refracted – at the given stage of development – in the social democratic party of a given country. The general line of development defined by us should only guide our analysis, but it should by no means presage our deductions from it.

In pre-Fascist Germany, the approach of the break between the bourgeois state and reformism found its expression in the constitution of the Left wing within the social democracy. But the power of the bureaucratic apparatus, given the complete disorientation of the masses, proved sufficient to cut off in advance the still feeble Left wing (Socialist Workers Party) and to keep the party on the rails of a conservative and expectant policy. At the same time, the German Communist party, under the spell of the drugs of the “third period” and “social-Fascism”, substituted “Amsterdamian” parades for the revolutionary mobilization of the masses, unrealizable under the actual relationship of forces without the policy of the united front. As a result, the powerful German proletariat proved incapable of offering the slightest resistance to the Fascist coup d’etat. The Stalinists declared: it is the fault of the social democracy! But by that alone, they recognized that all their pretensions of being the leaders of the German proletariat were nothing but empty braggadocio. This tremendous political lesson shows us above all that, even in the country where the communist party was the most imposing – in the absolute as well as in the relative sense – it was incapable, at the decisive moment, of lifting even its little finger while the social democracy retained the possibility of barring the road by virtue of its conservative resistance. Let us bear that firmly in mind!

The same fundamental historical tendency has been refracted in France in an essentially different manner. Under the influence of specific national conditions as well as of international lessons, the internal crisis of the French social democracy has experienced a much deeper evolution than that of the German social democracy in the corresponding period. The socialist bureaucracy found itself forced to deliver a blow at the Right. Instead of seeing a weak Left wing expelled, as was the case in Germany, we have witnessed the break with the consistent Right wing (in its quality as an agency of the bourgeoisie), the Neos. The essential difference existing between the evolution of the German and the French social democracies could not better be underscored than by the symmetry of these two splits, in spite of the presence in both parties of common historical tendencies: the crisis of capitalism and of democracy, the crumbling of reformism and the break between the bourgeois state and social democracy.

What ought to be done is to gauge, from the indicated angle, the internal situation in the socialist parties of all the capitalist countries passing through the various stages of the crisis. But this task goes beyond the framework of this article. Let us mention only Belgium, where the social democratic party, swathed throughout by a reactionary and corrupted bureaucracy – a parliamentary, municipal, trade union, cooperative, and banking bureaucracy – is at present engaged in a struggle against its Left wing and trying not to remain behind its German prototype (Wels-Severing and Co.). It is clear that the same practical deductions cannot be drawn for France and for Belgium.

Yet it would be erroneous to think that the policy of the German and Belgian social democracies, on one side, and of the French social democracy, on the other, represent, once for all, two incompatible types. In reality, these two types can and will more than once transform themselves into one another. One can support with certainty the idea that if, in its time, the German Communist party had pursued a correct policy of the united front, it would have given a powerful impulsion to the radicalization of the social democratic workers, and the whole political evolution of Germany would have acquired a revolutionary character. On the other hand, it cannot be considered excluded that the social democratic bureaucracy in France, with the active aid of the Stalinists, will isolate the Left wing and give the evolution of the party a retrogressive direction; it is not difficult to foresee its consequences in advance: prostration in the proletariat and the victory of Fascism. As for Belgium, where the social democracy retains virtually the monopoly, as a party, in the proletariat, one cannot, in general, imagine a victorious struggle against Fascism without a decisive regrouping of forces and tendencies within the ranks of the social democracy. A hand must be kept on the pulse of the labor movement and the necessary conclusions must be drawn each time.

What has been said suffices, in any case, for an understanding of the enormous importance that has been acquired, for the destiny of the proletariat – at least in Europe and for the coming historical period – by the internal evolution of the social democratic parties. By recalling to mind that in 1925 the Communist International declared in a special manifesto that the French Socialist party no longer existed at all, we will easily understand how great is the retreat made by the proletariat and above all by its vanguard during the years of the domination of the epigones!

It has already been said that with regard to Germany, the Communist International has acknowledged – after the fact, it is true, and in a negative form – that it was totally incapable of fighting against Fascism without the participation in the’ struggle of the social democracy. With regard to France, the Comintern has found itself forced to make the same avowal, but in advance and in a positive form. So much the worse for the Comintern, but so much the better for the cause of the revolution!

In abandoning, without explanation, the theory of social-Fascism, the Stalinists have at the same time thrown overboard the revolutionary program. “Your conditions shall be ours,” they have declared to the leaders of the SFIO [Section française de l’Internationale Ouvriere, i.e., the French Socialist Party]. They have renounced all criticism of their ally. They are quite simply paying for this alliance at the cost of their program and their tactics. And yet, when it is a question of the defensive against the common mortal enemy – defensive, in which each of the allies pursues his vital interests – nobody needs to pay anybody for this alliance, and each has the right to remain what he is. The whole conduct of the Stalinists has such a character that they seem to want to whisper to the socialist leaders:

“Demand still more, squeeze harder, don’t stand on ceremony, help us rid ourselves as rapidly as possible of those coarse slogans which inconvenience our Moscow masters in the present international situation.”

They have thrown overboard the slogan of the workers’ militia. They have labelled a “provocation” the struggle for the arming of the proletariat. Isn’t it better to divide up the “spheres of influence” with the Fascists under the control of Messieurs les Préfets? This combination between wholes is by far most advantageous to the Fascists: while the workers, lulled by general phrases on the united front, will occupy themselves with parades, the Fascists will multiply their cadres and their arms supplies, will attract new contingents of masses and, at the suitable hour chosen by them, will launch the offensive.

The united front, for the French Stalinists, has thus been a form of their capitulation to the social democracy. The slogans and the methods of the united front express the capitulation to the Bonapartist state which, in turn, blazes the trail for Fascism. By the intermediary of the united front, the two bureaucracies defend themselves not unsuccessfully against any interference by a “third force”. That is the political situation of the French proletariat which can very speedily find itself faced by decisive events. This situation might be fatal were it not for the existence of the pressure of the masses and of the struggle of tendencies.

* * * *

He who asserts: the Second as well as the Third Internationals are condemned, the future belongs to the Fourth International – is expressing a thought whose correctness has been confirmed anew, by the present situation in France. But this thought, correct in itself, does not yet disclose how, under what circumstances and within what intervals, the Fourth International will be constituted. It may be born – theoretically it is not excluded – out of the unification of the Second International with the Third, by means of a regrouping of the elements, by the purging and tempering of their ranks in the fire of the struggle. It may be formed also by means of the radicalization of the proletarian kernel of the socialist party and the decomposition of the Stalinist organization. It may be constituted in the process of the struggle against Fascism and the victory gained over it. But it may also be formed considerably later, in a number of years, in the midst of the ruins and the accumulation of debris following upon the victory of Fascism and war. For all sorts of Bordiguists, all these variants, perspectives and stages have no importance. The sectarians live beyond time and space. They ignore the living historical process, which pays them back in the same coin. That is why their “balance” [1] is always the same: zero. The Marxists can have nothing in common with this caricature of politics.

It goes without saying that if there existed in France a strong organization of Bolshevik-Leninists, it could and should have become, under present conditions, the independent axis around which the proletarian vanguard would crystallize. But the Ligue Communiste of France has not succeeded in becoming such an organization. Without in any way shading off the faults of the leadership, it must be admitted that the fundamental reason for the slow development of the Ligue is conditioned by the march of the world labor movement which, for the last decade, has known nothing but defeats and setbacks. The ideas and the methods of the Bolshevik-Leninists are confirmed at each new stage of development. But can it be anticipated that the League, as an organisation, will show itself capable – in the interval which remains until the approaching denouement – of occupying an influential, if not a leading place, in the labor movement? To answer this question today in the affirmative would mean either to set back in one’s mind the denouement for several years, which is confuted by the whole situation, or just simply to hope for miracles. It is absolutely clear that the victory of Fascism would mark the crumpling up of all the labor organizations. A new historic chapter would open up in which the Bolshevik-Leninists would have to seek a new organizational form for themselves. The task of today should be formulated concretely in indissoluble connection with the character of the epoch in which we are living: how to prevent, with the greatest probability of success, the victory of Fascism, taking into account the existing groupings of the proletariat and the relationship of forces existing between these groupings ? In particular: what place should be taken by the Ligue, a small organization which cannot lay claim to an independent role in the combat which is unfolding before us but which is armed with a correct doctrine and a precious political experience? What place should it occupy in order to impregnate the united front with a revolutionary content? To put this question clearly is, at bottom, to give the answer. The Ligue must immediately take its place on the inside of the united front, in order to contribute actively to the revolutionary regrouping and to the concentration of the forces of this regrouping. It can occupy such a place under present conditions in no other way than by entering the socialist party.

– But the Communist party, object certain comrades, is nevertheless more revolutionary. Assuming that we give up our organizational independence, can we adhere to the less revolutionary party?

This main objection – more exactly, the only one made by our opponents – rests upon political reminiscences and psychological appreciations, and not upon the living dynamics of development. The two parties represent Centrist organizations, with this difference: that the Centrism of the Stalinists is the product of the decomposition of Bolshevism, whereas the Centrism of the socialist party is born out of the decomposition of reformism. There exists another, no less essential difference between them. Stalinist Centrism, despite its convulsive zig-zags, represents a very stable political system which is indissolubly bound up with the position and the interests of the powerful bureaucratic stratum. The Centrism of the socialist party reflects the transitional state of the workers who are seeking a way out on the road of the revolution.

In the communist party, there are undoubtedly thousands of militant workers. But they are hopelessly confused. Yesterday, they were ready to fight on the barricades by the side of genuine Fascists against the Daladier government. Today, they capitulate silently to the slogans of the social democracy. The proletarian organization of St.-Denis, educated by the Stalinists, capitulates resignedly to PUPism. [2] Ten years of attempts and efforts aimed at regenerating the CI have yielded no results. The bureaucracy has showed itself powerful enough to carry out its devastating work to the very end.

In giving the united front a purely decorative character, in consecrating with the name of “Leninism” the renunciation of elementary revolutionary slogans, the Stalinists are retarding the revolutionary development of the socialist party. By that they continue to play their role as a brake, even now, after their acrobatic flip-flop. The internal régime of the party excludes, still more decisively today than it, did yesterday, any idea of the possibility of its renascence.

The French sections of the Second and the Third Internationals cannot be compared in the same way as two pieces of cloth: which fabric is the best, which the best woven? Each party must be considered in its development, and the dynamics of their mutual relations in the present epoch must be taken into account. It is only thus that we shall find for our lever the most advantageous fulcrum.

The adherence of the Ligue to the socialist party can play a great political role. There are tens of thousands of revolutionary workers in France who belong to no party. Many of them have passed through the CP, they left it with indignation or else they have been expelled. They have retained their old opinion about the socialist party, that is, they turn their backs to it. They sympathize wholly or in part with the ideas of the Ligue, but they do not join it because they do not believe that a third party can develop under present conditions. These tens of thousands of revolutionary workers remain outside of a party; and in the trade unions they remains outside of a fraction.

To this must be added the hundreds and the thousands of revolutionary teachers, not only of the Fédération Unitaire but also of the Syndicat National who could serve as a link between the proletariat and peasantry. They remain outside of a party, equally hostile to Stalinism and reformism. Yet, the struggle of the masses in the coming period will seek for itself, more than ever before, the bed of a party. The establishment of Soviets would not weaken but on the contrary would strengthen the role of the workers’ parties, for the masses, united by millions in the Soviets, need a leadership which only a party can give.

There is no need of idealizing the SFIO, that is, to pass it off, with all its present contradictions, as the revolutionary party of the proletariat. But the internal contradictions of the party can and should be pointed out as a warranty of its further evolution and, consequently, as a fulcrum for the Marxian lever. The Ligue can and should show an example to these thousands and tens of thousands of revolutionary workers, teachers, etc., who run the risk, under present conditions, of remaining outside the current of the struggle. In entering the socialist party, they will immensely reinforce the Left wing, they will fecundate the whole evolution of the party, they will constitute a powerful center of attraction for the revolutionary elements in the “communist” party and will thus immeasurably facilitate the emergence of the proletariat on the road of revolution.

Without renouncing its past and its ideas, but also without any mental reservations from the days of circle existence, while saying what is, it is necessary to enter the socialist party: not for exhibitions, not for experiments, but for a serious revolutionary work under the banner of Marxism.


PARIS, End of August, 1934



1. Bilan [Balance] is the theoretical organ, in French, of the Italian Bordiguist faction. – Ed.

2. The PUP, or Party of Proletarian Unity, is a Right wing split-off from the communist party, semi-socialist in character, and electoralist in tendency.

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