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New International, March–April 1954


A. Giacometti

Crisis in French Stalinism

The Meaning of Recent Purges in French CP


From New International, Vol. XX No. 2, March–April 1954, pp. 84–92.
Marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The recent demotion of Auguste Lecoeur, Organization Secretary of the French Communist Party, member of its Executive Committee, Secretariat and Central Committee, has shed new light on the crisis that has shaken French Stalinism since September 1952.

The origins of the crisis must be sought in the change of tactics imposed by the international situation on Russia’s foreign policy. The failures in the West and the deadlock in Korea caused a reversal of the original policy of “militant” conquest. In the Stalinist parties of Western Europe the new approach meant collaboration with certain sections of the bourgeoisie in broad anti-American “National Fronts.” In France, the policy of the National Front was officially adopted by September 1952.

The new orientation was summed up in the phrase “No struggle for bread without struggle for peace.” (Jeanette Vermeersch, writing in France Nouvelle, the CP’s weekly, in May 1952, shortly after her return from Moscow). More concretely, it means defeating EDC at any cost. This policy implies alliance with those sections of the bourgeoisie which are, for their own reasons, opposed to EDC, and which include violently reactionary French isolationists: Radicals, like Daladier, of Munich fame; most of the Gaullists; many of Pinay’s Independents; General Juin, who so brilliantly “liberated” the Moroccans from their own Sultan last August. The sources of these people’s patriotism are easy to define. Their concerns are to defend stagnating French capitalism against German competition, to protect the independence of the French military caste and to strengthen French domination in the colonies by shutting out possible European interference. The voting record of the bourgeois opponents of EDC in Parliament shows them to be opposed to all progressive social measures (like a general wage raise) and in favor of all colonialist and imperialist policies (like the prosecution of the Indo-Chinese war.) If these groups are to collaborate with the CP in an anti-American National Front, they must be given solid guarantees on the social scene, that is, the government and the patriotic bourgeoisie must not be embarrassed by undue militancy on social issues. Accordingly, last August, the strike wave was side-tracked by the CGT (Confederation Genérale des Travailleurs). In December, the representative of the CGT metal workers at Malakoff, writing in Mouvement Syndical Mondial (No. 20) says that “it is necessary that in the formulation of the agenda the defense of peace should be given more importance than the struggle for the improvement of living conditions.” In December also, the cement workers and masons were called upon to write to their deputies in Parliament to express ... their opposition to the Bonn treaty. In March the CGT calls for the “formation of Peace Committees in the factories” four days after Duclos says that they would be a good thing to have. This is also why the CP failed to organize any serious protest actions against the deposition of the Sultan of Morocco and against the wave of terror that followed it.

It is true that the National Front also could imply collaboration with the left wing of the Socialist Party, which is opposed to EDC. This is undoubtedly the kind of combination the Stalinoid elements had in mind when they were propagandizing for a Popular Front after the August strikes. However, such an alliance would exclude collaboration with the bourgeoisie, since the left wingers in the SP who oppose EDC are precisely those who are least ready to sacrifice the interests of the French workers to considerations of bourgeois or Stalinist foreign policy. With a few exceptions, the SP’s opportunists are for EDC, not against it. The choice before the CP, then, was either to seek some sort of Popular Front with the SP and the CFTC (Catholic trade-union federation) or a National Front with the bourgeoisie. It chose the latter, because Russia needs the bourgeois alliance.

This does not mean that the CP will cease making overtures to the SP. It simply means that it will propose collaboration on the same terms as with the bourgeoisie: instead of a Popular Front policy based on the slogan of working-class unity, it will propose a policy based on class-collaboration, chauvinism and anti-American “Union Sacrée.”

The proclamation and the application of the new policy immediately threw the CP into a serious political crisis. Those of its cadres who were accustomed to think in terms of revolutionary action against the government became obstacles to the National Front policy and had to be silenced. In September, 1952, the “militant” faction was beheaded by the expulsion of Marty and the demotion of Tillon. After this, two tendencies were left in the Central Committee: One was headed by Duclos, Fajon, Servin, which may be considered to represent the apparatus mentality in its pure state, ready to enforce obedience to any line at any time. The other faction was Lecoeur’s, the party boss in the Nord and in the Pas de Calais, representative of the “hard” line in the CGT, the “sectarian” who kept embarrassing the Popular Front Stalinoids by his rigid hostility to everything that was not 100 per cent Stalinist. [1] Ordinarily a conflict would probably not have developed between these two factions, which only represent different shadings of the CP’s bureaucracy. But this was no ordinary situation.

The effects of the Marty-Tillon purge on the party organization were immediate and serious. Soon after, Georges Guingouin, the CP’s hero of the Resistance, was also expelled from the party for having supported Tillon. In December 1952, the Central Committee was asked to discuss the orientation and the tactics of the party and the Marty-Tillon crisis. The low degree of participation in the discussion shows the uneasiness of the party’s secondary leaders in the face of these issues. Out of 90 members, only 9 spoke on the first point and only 11 on the second. Shortly afterwards, L’Humanité published the number of cells who had approved the sanctions against Marty and Tillon: only 2,200 out of approximately 21,000 cells nationally. In Paris and in the Northern departments “Comités de Redressement Communiste” were formed, in support of Marty. In March, 1953, Guyot, a member of the Central Committee, had to admit in France Nouvelle:

Marty-Tillon have done much harm in the Paris region. They have thrown doubt on the party’s policy, they have spread skepticism and slandered the party leadership; they have broken cadres by the dozens. They violated systematically the rules of democracy and have attempted to create a second center of direction in the Seine ... In several factories and localities, expelled party members and Trotskyite elements lead a campaign in support of Marty-Tillon, maintain anti-party centers, attempt to bring confusion into the minds of the workers and even into the ranks of the party’s organizations. The increase of police-inspired sheets is intended to help them in their work ... On the other hand, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that precisely in this moment difficulties are created by certain comrades ... etc.

Also in March 1953, the Central Committee met in a conference in Aubervilliers, which became the scene of faction fighting between Duclos and Lecoeur. Here is a picture of the organization crisis that emerged from the “criticisms and self-criticisms”: in the department of the Somme: suspensions, disappearance of 75 per cent of the factory cells in 6 years; Calvados: resignations; Seine: suspensions, denunciations; Var, Vosges, Bas-Rhin: resignations, expulsions, suspensions, demotions. In the Seine Infèrieure, the federation secretary is accused of “opportunism” and “deviationism” for having suggested that the party should “speak less of the USSR.” In the Pas de Calais, “social-democratic” tendencies are rampant, and the Nord Maritime is infected with “economism,” which means that the rank and file of these regions demanded more concern with concrete issues rather than peace campaigns.

These demotions, expulsions, suspensions and other disciplinary sanctions were published because they affected locally well-known functionaries in the secondary and tertiary leadership of the party. But each of these stands for several ordinary militants, against whom similar sanctions were taken which were not mentioned in the CC.

In April, further crisis in the Seine Infèrieure: in the local elections the Stalinists were confronted with several “independent” and “progressive” lists headed by ex-party functionaries who had resigned a few months earlier. In May, in the local elections in the Tarn, the departmental CGT put up a list against the Stalinist candidates and obtained more votes than the CP.

Probably not all of this opposition comes from followers of Marty, but the Marty conflict contributed decisively toward strengthening it.

In July, spectacular change in policy: the Central Committee was informed that the Political Bureau had decided to ask Marty to re-enter the party. This after a tremendous slander campaign of several months, culminating in Lecoeur’s “old police agent.” But nothing came of this move, Marty having refused to re-enter the party.

The August strikes marked a decisive stage in the evolution of the crisis. Far from improving the CP’s position, they sharpened the factional struggle in the leadership and increased the disaffection of the ranks. Far from being able to lead the strike movement and to attract the most active elements into its ranks, as after June 1936, the CP found itself paralyzed: the full implications of the National Front policy became clear in the light of the strike. To provoke a serious social crisis would have been contradictory with the appeasement policy followed by Russia, so the bureaucrats of the CGT had to limit the struggle wherever they could. Their sabotage of the strike in the Renault works is a clear example of this. The CGT declaration on August 14, proclaiming its readiness to “discuss with the government in the interests of the workers” is another. Moreover, the CGT’s policy on unity of action among the different trade union federations, was designed to make it impossible for any of the other organizations to accept unity of action. The importance of this attitude can be best appreciated if one remembers reformist leaderships of FO (the Force Ouvrier) and CFTC, always ready to compromise and to run for cover in deals with the government.

Concerning the effects of this policy, Comrade D. Mothe gives the following analysis of the situation in Socialisme ou Barbarie:

So the workers who defended one or two years ago the policy of the CGT with the utmost energy when it organized political strikes against German rearmament, against Ridgway or for the liberation of Duclos, happened to be in general among the first to criticize the passive attitude of their union. Their support of CGT policy was rooted in the opposition of the CGT to the government. In the last conflict, this opposition showed its limitations, its lack of consistency; it was lost completely in some sort of petty-bourgeois legalism. It seemed to the workers that the reasons which made them support their union’s policy were collapsing.

It is no wonder, then, that the party organization continued to decline after the August strikes. On October 6, the CGT called a “day of struggle.” Most of the slogans were political: against the Indo-Chinese war, against German rearmament, against EDC. The FO does not participate, CFTC in only two industries. The movement was a complete flop: the work stoppages were short and the strikers were few. The economic life of the country was in no way affected.

On October 22 the Central Committee met again, in Drancy. This is the famous meeting where Duclos called for the “assembly of all good Frenchmen, whoever they may be” against EDC, and proclaimed the CP’s readiness to support a government of “working-class, republican and patriotic forces” on a program which is “neither our final program, nor our immediate program.” Much of the discussion in that meeting had to do with the state of the party organization after the August strikes. Here are a few significant admissions:


“The life of the factory cells still shows an unquestionable underestimation of their role. The lack of life of the party in the factories is also a cause of the lack of consistency of the strikes in the private sector, particularly in the metal industry.”

Servin, complaining about the October flop:

“Where is the spirit of responsibility, where is the devotion to the cause of the working class, where is the party spirit of the comrades who do not boil with impatience when the time for struggle has finally come?”

Lecoeur, still Organization Secretary, proceeds to “self-criticism”:

Yet an important number of our members are not active. Recruitment is still not organized systematically in the factories, many of which are without cells. For example: at the S.E.V. works (Issy-les-Moulineaux), 1,500 workers, no cell. At Geoffroy-Delore (Clichy) 780 workers, no cells. In the Pas de Calais, at H.G.D. (Isbergues) more than 1000 workers, no cell. This carelessness, still too widespread, explains the persistent variation [sic – A.G.] in the membership of certain federations ... federations such as the Seine, Ardennes, Oise, Aisne, Nord must admit to themselves that the variations in their membership originate in the factories ... The Cherbourg section does not organize a cell in the Arsenal, where 4,000 workers are employed, even though Communists work there. The Asnières section also fails to organize a cell in the Citroen works, which employs 1,500 workers.

The great farmers strikes of September 1953, also failed to strengthen the party in any way. Waldeck-Rochet, the editor of La Terre, the party’s paper for the farmers, complains that the rural cells do not function properly because their social composition is wrong: it seems they do not contain enough wage workers. Servin also complains:

The struggle in the countryside, just as the August strikes, brought about a selection in our cadres. The investigation made in Lot et Garonne shows that the responsible comrades were very far from leading the masses, even in the counties where our party dominates. The same is true for the Landes. In all, only 23 farmers attended the party’s schools. No farmer or other student attended in the departments of Aube, Côte d’Or, Nièvre, Puy du Dôme, Vienne, Yonne, etc.

The Central Committee meeting of October also decided to organize a “Month of the Press” for November: “Even after the Month of the Press, which calls for the nationwide mobilization of our forces, the defense and the diffusion of the press remain a permanent and particularly important task for the party as a whole.” At the beginning of the “Month of the Press” L’Humanité was selling 172,091 copies daily. At the end of the month it was selling 169,955 copies daily. [2]

In December there was a major shake-up in the CP federation of the Nord, which played an important part in the fall of Lecoeur. After its meeting of December 12, the CC of the Nord demoted Lambin, the federal secretary [half a line of text from later in the text was superimposed on some text here] sons: “personal direction methods,” “personal attacks against members of the CC” (the national CC is meant – A.G.) and “refusal to submit to self-criticism.” Lambin had not been federal secretary very long. His rise was the outcome of two purges, the first five years ago against Ramette, then federal secretary, the second against Lallemand, Ramette’s successor. Both purges were conducted by Lecoeur, who finally put Lambin into office. Thus Lambin’s fall announced the fall of Lecoeur, and Ramette was one of Lecoeur’s most articulate accusers when he fell.

What were the circumstances of Lambin’s elimination? The department of the Nord is a key region of France from the point of view of working-class politics. It is one of the densest areas in population and it contains important coal mining and textile industries. The industrialists have a powerful organization, and so do the workers, who are traditionally combative and class-conscious. It is an area where the CP cannot afford to lose its positions. It is also one of the few areas where the SP has a workingclass basis and where it has a fairly solid organization, even outnumbering the CP.

In November 1952, elections took place in the Nord, and the CP lost 28,000 votes by comparison with 1951, 28 per cent of the working-class voters abstaining. This December, the federal secretary was accused of “not having drawn the consequences of this failure.” However, at the time, Lambin drew the following conclusions (at the national CC meeting of December 6, 1952): “The workers are tired of hearing the same old speeches – this is why they refused to come to the polls.” It seems that Lambin did worse than “not to draw the consequences”: he drew the correct ones.

We know from the CC conference of March 1953, that “economist” and “social-democratic” tendencies were rife in the northern departments. We also know that in CP language this means neglect of general political slogans and emphasis on concrete issues, mostly local issues. Opposition to manipulation from the Cominform was particularly strong in the Lille and Valenciennes regions. Lambin himself had to admit, in the Liberté du Nord, “the comrades feel that it would be preferable not to talk of the USSR, that what happens in the country of Socialism is of no interest to the textile workers, and some militants even question the principle itself of loyalty to the USSR.” The resolution against Lambin admits the same trend in an underhanded way when it insists: “it is the permanent task of the party to develop solidarity without reservations towards the USSR in the working-class ... not to do so is to admit the slanders of the worst enemies of the working-class.”

It would seem, then, that in the Nord the CP ranks were among the least inclined to sacrifice their demands as workers to National Fronts, Peace Campaigns and similar projects. Also, it is probable that the party leadership in these departments had shown too much leniency toward these particularly vicious forms of deviationalism, and that it refused to reject “without discussion” protests against the party’s policy in the Marty case.

Opposition in the party against the National Front policy is not limited to the Nord; the bureaucrats, themselves, admit it, as diplomatically as they can, in the CC meeting of March 5, in Arcueil, the same that heard Duclos’ excommunication of Lecoeur. Duclos, himself, asks a rhetorical question:

Has the will towards working-class unity and towards the unity of all good Frenchmen been properly understood, and has it been translated into action by the militants and the organizations of the party? ... The facts force us to think more of what could have been done in this field [struggle against EDC – A.G.] ...


“Even though the militants express their agreement with the CC decisions concerning the extension of the assembly of Frenchmen against EDC, in practice residues of sectarianism produce a lack of boldness in this respect.”

Vandel, speaking of the recent elections in Seine et Oise, thinks that “the party organizations do not sufficiently insist on the struggle against EDC as a central issue.”

Voguet says that “in Paris, reservations remain in the party toward the policy defined at the last CC meeting concerning the necessary union of all Frenchmen, whoever they may be.”

More evidence on the crisis affecting the party’s organization came with the yearly renewal of membership cards for 1954. This renewal is an occasion for comparison with the previous year and for taking stock. This time it appears that the recruitment campaign has been far from successful, particularly among the workers. Here is what we read about it in France Nouvelle:

On Dec. 19, Bardol, of the Nord Maritime, complains:

“Our recruitment was directed too much toward the city districts rather than toward the factories. We had no connection with the peasant masses except on election time, and even then, only relatively so.”

On January 2, we read concerning the Nord: “Out of 613 cells in our federation only 151 are factory cells.”

On January 9, an editorial:

“Where do we stand on the renewal of membership cards for 1954? The working program of the federations of Allier, Rhone, Cher, Saône et Loire, Haute Garonne, Nièvre, etc., is not oriented toward the factories. In the departments where the farmers’ struggles became important, such as the Creuse, Haute Vienne, Corrèze, Lot et Garonne, Charente, Loir et Cher, etc., it does not seem that sufficient efforts were made to attract to the party the farmers who were the leaders in these struggles.”

On January 23, Dupuy, of the Seine Infèrieure, writes:

“It must be noted that the principal difficulties come from the factory cells. For instance at Choisy-le-Roy, the cell of the waterworks managed to bring together only a third of the members ... we must pay the utmost attention to the fact that even the most successful meetings did not bring together all the members of 1953. These are not isolated facts; no section has been able to indicate the number of 1953 members absent from the meetings.”

On January 30, France Nouvelle writes about “the weakness of the party in the Pas de Calais, where today there are only 70 factory cells even though there are 110 mines and more than 60 factories in our department. A few instances: in a large mine like the No. 6 in Fouquières there are no cells even though three section secretaries are employed in it. The No. 2 in Oignies employs 2,000 workers but has no cell. On the other hand, the important factories of Isbergues, Beghin at Corbehern, Finolers at Douvin also lack party organization. At Arras, Carvin, etc., not enough is done to keep the party organizations going in the factories.”

On February 13, concerning the party federation in the Bouches du Rhône:

“The St. Marcel section [Marseilles] contains 5 large factories in its area with over 4,000 workers. The local cells have 437 members while the factory cells have only 54. On the other hand, a very small number of the new members that joined us in 1953 and of the 280 members for 1954 come from the factories. Since the end of November the 1954 membership cards have been sent to the sections. Numerous cells begin the distribution of cards in the beginning of December. However, by February 2 only 7,000 stubs out of a membership of 18,000 have been returned to the federation.”

In France Nouvelle of February 20, Plissonnier of the national CC proceeds to a summary of the recruitment campaign. After expressing his disappointment with the “timidity” of the party organizations which are “content with little,” he says that “there are thousands of factories employing over 50 workers which have no party organization and which remain completely outside the reach of the party. Among the new members ... the workers are in a minority, and those that have been recruited by the factory cells are an even smaller number. In sections such as Clermont-Ferrand, where there are 16,000 workers in the chemical industry alone, one has to admit that the life of the party is very weak.”

We are now in possession of most of the facts providing the necessary context for an explanation of Lecoeur’s purge. As a product of the CP’s crisis, it served two important political purposes: to eliminate from the leadership the last elements who might have been in a position to oppose the National Front line as handed down by Duclos; to mask the reasons for the organizational crisis by putting the blame on Lecoeur.

The accusations brought against Lecoeur tell only part of the story. Some are clearly artificial, and only serve to put the blame on Lecoeur for unpopular positions of the party leadership. This seems to be the case for the accusation that Lecoeur had a “sectarian policy” concerning tradeunion matters, thus preventing unity of action with FO and CFTC. This may be true, but it also goes for Duclos. It can be compared to the charge of “sectarianism against the SP” brought against Lambin in December, which amounted to making Lambin responsible for the refusal of the SP Federation of the Nord to have anything to do with a Popular Front maneuver. Other charges against Lecoeur, those concerning his condoning of “social-democratic habits” in organizational matters (“10 dues-payers to one militant”) and his neglect of factory cells as against local cells are a transparent attempt at making Lecoeur responsible for the loss of influence of the CP on the workers and for the drop in membership.

Some of the charges are more significant. Lecoeur was criticized for his move of sending “political instructors” into the factory cells. Here is Duclos’ conclusion: this move, it seems, represented

a definite tendency of the Organization Section [i.e., Lecoeur – A.G.] to interpose itself like a screen between the party leadership and the Federations, a tendency to attempt to by-pass the party leadership in the promotion of the cadres of the Federations. In the last analysis, this amounted to substituting the Organization Section to the leadership of the party ... one can imagine that under these conditions the placing of cer­ tain cadres was considered by the Organization Secretary more from the angle of personal loyalties than from the angle of loyalty to the party.

Billoux also charges:

“He had a political instructor elected ... with the perspective that this instructor would become Federal Secretary.”

This, indeed, is serious. Duclos doesn’t mind Lecouer’s “placing” of cadres, or the fact that Lecoeur “elects” people into responsible party posts – that is common practice. What bothers him is that Lecoeur did so behind Duclos’ back. Today Duclos can rest assured: he has replaced Lecoeur with Servin. Who is Servin? None other than the organizer of the “Central Commission of the Cadres,” the internal police organization of the French CP – none other than the liquidator of Marty. No better person can be imagined to strengthen the police rule in the party.

There are also some political charges. André Stil, editor of L’Humanité, denounces Lecouer’s “laborist and populist demagogy.” Billoux charges “laborist adventurism.” Together with the charges of “sectarianism” they clearly point to the issue: Lecoeur was a potential obstacle to collaboration with the bourgeoisie.

The fact that Lecoeur had to be removed is in itself an indication of the enormous problem the CP’s leadership is facing. Unlike Marty, who is a died-in-the-wool bureaucrat but who is also a political leader with considerable prestige in the party ranks, Lecoeur is a hack with little prestige and political authority. He is known for being narrow, despotic and brutal. What made him dangerous for the party leadership was the fact that he has some roots in the working-class, his belief that a policy of anti-capitalist struggle is the only appropriate one for a Stalinist party (even though he can only conceive a regimented working class with himself as the colonel) and his capacity to build his own apparatus beside the local GPU. In a time of demoralization of the working class, the conflict between Duclos and Lecoeur need not have broken out. Nothing fundamental separates the two factions: the greater servility of Duclos is only a matter of degree. But in a time of mass upsurge, in a time when the French working class has just demonstrated to itself how strong it can be, and how strong it can be independently – this is a time when even types like Lecoeur can threaten to become a focus for opposition inside the party.

Lecoeur’s removal is intended as a warning and an example to the party ranks. In purging Lecoeur, Duclos hopes to stifle any organized opposition that may rise within the party. But what Duclos cannot hope to achieve by it, is to arrest the growing decomposition of the party’s organizations. Duclos cannot resolve the CP’s crisis, because it cannot be resolved by purges: its real reason is that the French working class is not in a mood to swallow the National Front, and that it will rather leave the CP than to submit to class-collaboration in the interests of Russian foreign policy.

* * *


1. It is, incidentally, significant for the political brainlessness of the Stalinoids that they do not hesitate to applaud today Lecoeur’s purge, which they take to mean that Duclos and Thorez have at last adopted a “reasonable” line – probably faltering under the irresistible strength of Claude Bourdet’s, Gilles Martinet’s and Sartre’s arguments.

2. The circulation figure for March 3, 1954, is 167,199 copies daily.

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