Souvarine Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Boris Souvarine


The Crisis in the French Party
as Seen by an Optimist

(12 July 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 63, 1 August 1922, pp. 474–475.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Moscow, July 12th, 1922

In the International Correspondence of June 17th, we read an article by Rappoport which characterizes my commentary on the situation in the French Party at the session of the Enlarged Executive as pessimistic. This seems to me unjust. At any rate it does not correspond to the spirit which inspired the commentary.

Other comrades have formulated the same accusation of pessimism, applying it either to the opinion of the Executive as a whole, or to that of Trotzky, the chief spokesman of the International in the debate on the French working-class movement Trotzky answered in substance as follows:

“It is you who are the pessimists in your estimate of the French Party. You treat it as a dying person at whose bed the voice must be lowered, in whose proximity we must walk on tip toe, to whom medicaments must be administered with infinite precaution. We have a better opinion of the French movement; we believe it healthy and vigorous, and well able to listen to the revolutionary language we address to it.”

Zinoviev observed several times that some comrades are rather inclined to consider their own deficiencies as those of the Party. When they suffer criticism, they protest against the persecution of the Party, as if they were identical with it, or as if the criticism were expressed for pleasure, or to lower the Party.

The reflections of Trotzky and Zinoviev, both of whom know and judge most justly the state of affairs in the French movement, show a clear-sightedness which the development of the situation justifies daily. It is evident to all Communists who are following the problem with attention that it is time to put an end to that childish conception of the present disagreement between the Executive and the French Party as the old story of the wolf and the lamb. How could this idea of the Executive-wolf and the French Party-lamb ever enter a Communist head? Can the interests of a section of the International ever be different from those of the International as a whole? Who could possibly divide the international Communists into friends and enemies of the French Party?

Never have we heard such enormous absurdities clearly expressed, doubtless because those who conceive them are somewhat ashamed of them. The truth is that the central organ of the International, and the Central Committees of all the Communist Parties show a preoccupation for the interests of the French Party at least equal to that of the Central Committee in Paris, and certainly a much greater comprehension of them. Facts and experience prove this to be no mere affirmation. All the acts of the Party which were useful and fruitful were carry out under pressure from the International. All that which could hurt the Party, which could weaken or paralyze it, had long been discerned by the international which pointed out and denounced it to the French Comrades, and proposed the remedies long before imposing them.

The condemnations which I uttered before the Enlarged Executive are not a tenth part of those which my Party deserves, and Trotzky justly began his speech by saying that mine had been “too moderate”. The whole International judges severely, and justly, the direction of the French Party, and all the Comrades who took part in the debate did it in the same sense. Does that mean that we are the pessimists, and that those who try to justify the inexcusable errors of the Party, thus maintaining or repeating them, are optimists? Clara Zetkin recalled in her speech the old proverb, “Who loves well, punishes well”, and told with emotion how dear the French Communist movement was to the world proletariat. It is because so much is expected from the French section of the International, that we have been forced, after a year of temporization, of persuasive efforts, to address it in the somewhat rude fashion of revolutionists who can but poorly embellish the truth.

Is the Party capable of listening to it, and then to understand and answer it? I believe it, the members of the Executive believe it, and therein do we show a more optimistic view than does Rappoport. But our optimism has nothing in common with that of the ostrich.


To appreciate sanely the state of the French Party, it is necessary to distinguish between the Party and its leadership The Central Committee was elected at the Marseilles Congress under circumstances which the two political secretaries of the Party condemned in unforgettable terms. It could do nothing but harm to the Communist movement, and that is what our Comrades who resigned after the elections understood so well. Later experience not only confirmed, but surpassed their anticipations.

Not until the next Congress will it be possible to evaluate fully the detrimental effect of this reactionary Central Committee upon the Party, a leadership which has thrown the Party back to where it was before Tours. The difference, however, is that the real forces of the anti-Communistic fraction are minimal; this fraction possesses no parliamentary staff like that of the dissidents, capable to detract from the Party a large membership and a number of organizations. Nevertheless, it can already be seen that the evil lies deep.

Here, in France, after two years of adhesion to the Third International, we still have to consider the creation of an organization and a press truly Communistic, of a true workers’ party; the work in the unions remains still to be grounded; the first slogans of the economic struggle have still to be uttered. This is the truth, and not a single member of the Party can honestly deny it.

And when a movement manifests itself in the Party, conscious of that truth and trying to recall the Party to its task; when comrades devote body and soul to Communism, and offer the necessary criticism without sparing themselves, they are accused of attacking the Party, their Party! In reality, they are defending it against the saboteurs which the Party has been weak enough to tolerate until now in its ranks; they are defending it against worse enemies, those from the inside, and against its own errors and false steps.

We are also accused of underrating the work of the Party since the Tours Congress. This is not true either. We know as well as any one, what has been done; that is why we know what could have been done, what should have been done, what was not done. In really the Party has only accomplished that which was strictly necessary for its existence. The constant pressure of the Executive could hardly force more. Let us suppose that our desire to see the Party become rapidly a section of the International should have induced us to underestimate the work accomplished (which is not the case). Are we, however, wrong in desiring that it do more, in trying to give it a more vigorous impulse? Is it the work of Communists to congratulate each other without rime or reason? Shall we be satisfied with a party three times stronger than that of the dissidents and a press of ten times the importance of theirs, and rest on our laurels? True, it is also only a beginning. To be convinced of the possibility of giving the Party more cohesion, more homogeneity, more discipline, to desire to give it the direction it deserves, is that a proof of pessimism? The accusation cannot be sustained.

To a comrade who told him, “The Party is better than you believe”, Trotzky answered forcefully: “It is not a question of the Party, but of the Central Committee.” This every Party member must have clearly in mind. In the International no one attacked the French Party, but all the Communist Parties were unanimous in their condemnation of the Central Committee. It is not that the mass of the Party, endowed with all virtues, is above criticism, but its will is good, and its mistakes are sincere. So much cannot be said of those who are trying to mislead it.

And it is precisely because we believe in the health of the Party, in spite of its sick leadership, that we of the Left have no cause for pessimism.

Souvarine Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 29 December 2016